Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lethal White Syndrome LWS (Overo Lethal White Syndrome OLWS)

Equus ferus- Equine Coat Colour Genetic -LETHAL WHITE

One of the mares at the Sand Wash Basin was believed to have given birth to a foal with Lethal White Syndrome.  And although we cannot be absolutely sure the foal was a Lethal White foal, the behaviour strongly suggests it might have been. Lethal White Syndrome has been talked about in the groups and on Facebook, hence this blog post. Without a necropsy (autopsy on an animal) we won't know for certain but here is what we do know...

Similar to Hirschsprung's disease in humans, Lethal White Syndrome affects the colon by making it non-functional and in horses it also affects pigment of the coat. The affected foals are born pure white with blue/grey eyes and occasionally a smudge or darker colour on the body or near the tail however, they die within 72 hours of birth. The colon in these foals is a dead-end and the foals cannot pass feces. They do not act normally and exhibit signs of distress.
Lethal white foal (Picasso x Mingo) photo credit Nancy Roberts 2011

Picasso and Mingo 2012 photo credit Karen McLain

The trait, which is inherited, is carried by the horses who also carry the paint trait frame overo. Frame Overo horses typically have jagged white markings along the center of the body. The back and belly may remain solid colored so the effect is a framed area of white. They may have white faces (apron or bald face) and they may have blue eyes although not always. Some horses may minimally express the trait and the only evidence of the frame overo paint trait is a little spot of white along the neck and an unusually shaped blaze. Some horses may also carry other paint traits such as tobiano and they horses are referred to as toveros. Without genetic testing, nothing is certain so we are basing our assumptions on what we have observed and the reproductive history of the individual mustangs.
Yahtzee (R) & Van Gogh (L)
Photo credit Meredith Hudes-Lowder of Equus ferus Wild Horse Photography

In order to produce a foal with Lethal White Syndrome, both parents must be overo. Not all overo horses carry the trait according to the American Paint Horse Association ( and not all blue-eyed white foals carry the Lethal White gene. Because  Lethal White Syndrome is autosomal recessive, it means when two horses that are overo and each carry the gene , there is a 25% chance the foal with be born with the syndrome. If a dam with the trait and a sire with the trait have three normal foals, it does not mean the fourth foal will carry the trait; the chances a foal will inherit the syndrome resets each gestation and remains one in four with each subsequent preganncy. 
In the Punnett Square below (Horse drawings by Karen McLain)
Oo outside the square
 on top represent the SIRE
Along the left side, the Oo represents the DAM
Both are Overo represented Oo and the carry the trait

One Solid foal (unaffected) -25%
Two Overo foals- CARRIERS of the Lethal White Trait- 50%
One Lethal White Foal 25%

One Solid Foal (OO) 25%

Two Overo Foals (Oo) 50%

One Lethal White Foal (oo) 25%




The photos below are Danielle M. Williams and they show Fleck's foal. Fleck is frame overo and the father is believed to be Eagle, a minimally marked frame overo so it is quite possible the foal carries the Lethal White Syndrome.  Sometimes Lethal White Foals do have darker pigment on the muzzle but this foal is not hunched over in the typical posture of a horse in gastric distress however the witness/photographer Danielle did say the foal did not look well and laid down frequently. She said the foal was unable to stand for any length of time. This is consistent with Lethal White Syndrome and the foals with the disorder often roll from side to side. Another possibility is that the foal may have perished in the fight between the band stallion Eagle and Diego who took over part of the band. Stallion infanticide is unfortunately unavoidable and may be more common than previously thought. Regardless of the manner of death, it is heartbreaking to see a young life extinguished so soon.
Fleck and her foal
Photo by Danielle M. Williams

Fleck and her foal 
Photo by Danielle M. Williams

Fleck and her foal 
Photo by Danielle M. Williams

Please email Meredith with any questions regarding the genetic behind Lethal White Syndrome or horse colour genetic in general.
Equus ferus- Wild Horse Photography
Visit us on Facebook:

*Much thanks to Karen McLain, Heather Robson, Stella Trueblood, Aleta Wolf, Connie Wagner, Danielle M Williams, Nancy Roberts, John Wagner, Joe Tosh, Patrick Brennan, Patti Mosbey, Robin Wadams and all the people who watch observe these horses and report on their behaviour.

Meredith Hudes-Lowder WHNP-BC, MSN, BSN, RNC, BS Biology
Meredith received a Bachelor of Science Degree from Binghamton University with an emphasis in ethology and genetics. She received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing also from Binghamton and a Masters of Nursing in Perinatal/Women's Health from Stony Brook University. She currently practices medicine as a Nurse Practitioner in Manhattan for Advantage Care Physicians. She is also enrolled in the Doctoral program at Stony Brook and anticipates graduation in 2016 as a Doctorate of Nursing Practice. Her doctoral thesis is a research study on cervical cancer screening intervals. She is a member of several professional organizations and was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau- the nursing honor society in 2007.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Painting Wild Horses in the Field with Karen McLain or "En Plein Air"

“All pictures painted inside in the studio will never be as good as the things done outside.”
-Paul Cezanne

I have a rule about not looking at all the photos from a summer trip until they have been backed up at least twice. Sure I scan through them but not really look too closely until all 30,000+ photos are safely backed up on my new 6TB hard drive and up in the Carbonite Cloud. So as I wait, not very patiently, for the over 400,000 files to transfer to the new hard drive... I sat back and remembered the trip...

Karen at McCullough Peaks 2014

Watching Karen McLain paint horses during the Mustang Walkabout 2015 was educational and interesting. I admit I know nothing about painting anything aside from a summer job painting houses on Long Island Sound... And perhaps a set or two from a play or musical, but that's the limit of my painting skill. I do, however, like to understand the process from a more scientific background since that's my training, thus I asked Karen numerous questions.

“When you're on the spot, you're seeing the best values, the cleanest color and real edges. You're also seeing objects in a wonderful light, and you're much more apt to paint a clear, un-muddied picture.”
-Wayne E. Wolfe

Karen paints en plein air, or in the field with live subjects and as a photographer of wild horses, I can tell you they don't stand still, not at all. Even when they don't move their feet, they are swishing at flies, or turning their heads. When they do move their feet, it is challenging to keep them in the lens field, let alone try to paint them accurately. But somehow Karen accomplishes just that. She keeps a camera handy to shoot reference photos just in case her subjects spook or decide the grass is indeed greener elsewhere. I asked her why doesn't she simply concentrate on getting a good reference shot and painting at her studio in a more relaxed and leisurely manner.
Here's what she said...

Karen paints at Sand Wash Basin
Painting from a photograph is useful and sometimes necessary if your subject is not local or endangered or simply not readily accessible. However danger comes with painting a photograph and not the actual subject represented in the photograph- and therefore inaccuracies may be introduced and perspective is lost. There is a critical difference in painting a three-dimensional object as opposed to a two-dimensional representation and it shows in the finished painting.  Karen explained that being there, at the moment the paint is first put to canvas, is critical in understanding the light, the shadows, ambient light, reflected light, and negative shapes (I'm still not sure what these 'negative shapes' are- they are elusive but they much sought after by painters). After some musing, I think painting from a photograph- without the memory of actually being there- is much like me photographing a photograph. It can be done, especially those with great skill, but something essential is missing from the finished piece...

“As difficult as it is painting outdoors, there is no where else I'd rather work - all the answers stand right before you. You may need to move some things around, but it is still all right there in front of you. A bit like taking an open book test.” 
-William F. Reese

All of these features combine and Karen paints 'in the moment'; very much in the Buddhist tradition of the here and now or the present moment. She finishes the vast majority of the painting in the field because she says the paintings looks very different when she brings them indoors and so the essence must be captured as swiftly as she can manage. One would think the painting would look hurried and inaccurate but Karen practices endlessly. She attends numerous workshops, studies techniques, she is well-versed in equine anatomy surpassing even my prodigious knowledge base on that topic, and she spends a great deal of time studying her subjects both in the field and with her horses in their paddocks at home. A strong understanding of equine ethology is critical in representing them faithfully in art. Endless exercises on a white board to hone her accuracy and speed, Karen draws, erases and redraws horses: standing, walking, grazing, interacting, fighting. And she wipes a lot of paintings off when they don't quite measure up... literally or figuratively.

Painting Picasso -Sand Wash Basin 2015
I watched her prepare her palette. To me it looked like orderly blobs of colour along the circumference of a glass rectangle with the centre area reserved for mixing these fascinating blobs. Each management area has a unique palette of colours. The Pryors need more green; the bright grass green and the darker pine green with the occasional purple lupine and white or yellow asters.  The McCullough Peaks have rich red rock and Sand Wash Basin is soft pastels of brown, cream, tan, sage and slate blue. Even the horses found at each location have customized palettes- the Pryors are abundant in primitive colours- duns, blacks, deep bays, smokey grullas, and the creamy palominos of the Cloud family. Spring Creek Basin is awash in greys, duns, buckskin and dark bays. The Salt River horses have few greys and no paints so the concentration is on chestnuts and bays as well as the river itself. McCullough Peaks and Sand Wash Basin are the most brilliant with paints, overos, tobianos, dilutions, sooty, splashed whites and every other conceivable coat colour combination. The time of day and the weather also influence the choice of colours Karen selects for each palette.

It is almost magical watching her paint swiftly and decisively that I think, only comes after years and years of practice. I marvel at her ability to turn squiggles and lines into a horse standing in front of me. It is pretty amazing. Please view Karen's beautiful paintings at her website and/or Facebook Page 

Equus ferus Wild Horse Photography
July 2015

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Mustang Walkabout 2015

As I sit at 30,000 feet flying to my home in New York, I find myself reflecting over the past two weeks. Karen and I went to three Horse Management Areas: McCullough Peaks, Pryor Mountain and Sand Wash Basin.  We camped out in the horse ranges and we had the privilege of sharing the lives of these magnificent creatures and my photography will be all the better for such intimate contact. It wasn't easy, the temperatures never dropped below 90 F during the day, the dust was abundant and I had altitude sickness on Pryor Mountain… 

But we persevered and rose each day at dawn and photographed until the sun was directly overhead when we took lunch and a siesta. We resumed photographing the horses until dusk. We drove all over the management areas and often hiking mile after mile to find the mustangs. We drank water and Fresca by the gallon, made cream of wheat in the morning & yaku soba noodles in the evening and treated ourselves to s’mores. We listened to coyotes, thunder and the sound of horses running by our camp… And we photographed- all aspects of the mustangs living free.  Karen took time to paint while I photographed.  We met and spent time with some extraordinary people like Patty, Deb, Rachel, Connie, Robin, Julie, Michael, Heather by proxy...

Still, it is nice to return home, and see the family. I missed Abby, Ben and Bruce as well as my Thoroughbred Ashe and all our pugs plus Stormy and of course, Puppy. It will be wonderful to have a shower every day, indoor plumbing, electricity on demand  and to  luxuriate in air conditioning. But I miss the mustangs and the camaraderie of the other horse people,  especially my best friend Karen.  We are already planning our next Mustang Walkabout for 2016. But before then, I have over 30,000 photographs to catalog and to edit, a new website to update and go live, a book to write, a research paper on ‘Stallion Infanticide’ to finish, and this incredibly fun thing I call work… I miss my patients and my colleagues. I missed my 34-string Celtic floor harp more than I thought and can't wait to practice. But each evening, when the sun gets low, my thoughts will turn to the horses- is Picasso okay? How is Cloud doing? How are all the new foals thriving?

Thank you for joining Karen and I on this incredible journey of sharing the lives of the wild horses of North America with the world through art and photography… 

-Meredith & Karen

Why we do what we do.... Ben's Chase

The air is beginning to cool after 95°F (35°C); dusk is settling over the Basin. Karen and I saw horses heading to the waterhole just...