USEF Annual Meeting’s Friesian Health and Wellness Virtual Session Discusses Collagen, Related Health Issues

To start the virtual sessions ahead of the 2022 USEF Annual Meeting, Dr. Ken Marcella, Debra Goldmann and Nicole Zerbee discussed the health and wellness of the Friesian breed.

The USEF Annual Meeting runs January 13-15 in Naples, FL, with in-person events, but the organization is also hosting several virtual sessions via Zoom, with the aim of introducing attendees to “some of the diverse breeds and disciplines that are part of the USEF community.”

Dr. Marcella, who has been an FEI veterinarian for more than 25 years, began the presentation discussing the uniqueness of the Friesian breed. These horses have been preserved through careful breeding to maintain genetics; however, with the conservation of Friesian genetics comes the health issues that have been passed down from generation to generation. 

While collagen is a necessary protein in mammals, the way these proteins present in Friesians is different than in most other breeds. Friesians contain collagen that is more expansive—which can be related to their high-stepping abilities but can also cause severe health problems. 

According to Dr. Marcella, the three prominent problems in Friesians are aortic rupture, stomach rupture and megaesophagus. Marcella explained that Megaesophagus occurs when the collagen loses its ability to expand and contract, therefore making it difficult for the horse to pass food, which often causes choking, weight loss, fever, and colic. 

“Megaesophagus is a very real problem in Friesians, because collagen lines the esophagus, and the esophagus is basically the feeding tube that’s supposed to take in a big lump of food and contract as that food moves down into the stomach. With collagen defects, the esophagus loses that ability to expand and contract, and it just expands more and dilates,” says Dr. Macella. 

Debra Goldmann, the executive director of the International Friesian Show Horse Association, gave a presentation on feeding with Megaesophagus. She currently owns a Friesian with the disorder and has had previous experience with Megaesophagus as well. In her presentation, she described the steps needed to avoid choking while providing the horse with the necessary nutrients and hydration. 

Following her presentation, facilitator Nicole Zerbee presented inquiries from the audience, which ranged from questions about ulcers and other health issues to feeding and supplements. Dr. Marcella provided his expertise, while Goldmann offered her knowledge and personal findings from the care of her own Friesians. While many of these health issues are unavoidable, Dr. Marcella explained that the best way to stay ahead of illness is to continuously monitor your horse’s habits and work closely with your veterinarian to ensure that no issue is overlooked. 

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