BY VIVIAN NEMISH
Henry and Nicole Gauthier of LaPlaine Quarter Horses and Paints near Duck Lake, Saskatchewan have been actively involved in the horse industry for over 18 years. Nicole has over 20 years experience in the equine industry and has been training and coaching professionally for 17 years specializing in show horse training and youth show horses. She is an active member of the Saskatchewan Paint Horse Club. Their reputation has earned them many accolades but none as honourable as the most recent award.
The Gauthier’s entered one of their Splash Overo Paint fillies into the Canadian Colours Futurity at Ponoka, Alberta, Canada in September 2012 unaware of the course of events to follow.
LP Silent Chip, aka Bella, is a yearling American Paint Horse Association (APHA) Splash Overo who received top honours in her registered class, which not only pleased her owners but also drew attention from the judges. It was unknown to the Gauthiers at the time that their prize winning filly could have sensory challenge until Nicole was approached by the judges following the class inquiring if Bella was deaf.
Nicole was unsure how to respond as the judges continued to explain how Bella’s markings are very indicative of the genetic trait liked to deafness in the Splash version of the Overo Paint horse. The characteristic bonnet face, the white encompassing the nose and spreading upwards and stopping just in front of the ears, is considered genetically linked to sensory disability.
Professional judge Clinton Fullerton from Kansas City, Missouri, was among one of the judges in Ponoka. He commented that in his 25 years experience with training showing and coaching Paints and Quarter horses, the chance of encountering a hearing impaired horse was low. “Splash Overo is considered one of the least common paint horse colour patterns and more often than not, horses displaying this form of coat colouring is more inclined to deafness than any other horse type and breed.”
“The hearing challenged horse is either very quiet or very wild,” said Fullerton,“there is usually no medium, it is usually one extreme or the other.”
Fullerton explained another distinctive feature on a hearing impaired horse, how the horse’s ears are positioned.
“The ears on a deaf horse are positioned with the ear opening off to the side as opposed to the up and forward position,” explained Fullerton who, in his career of training and coaching horses, has received 162 world and reserve champion awards.
Congenital deafness associated with the Splash Paint breed is a result of the lack of pigmentation within the inner ear causing the death of hair cells necessary to perceive sound. Like in many other animal species, the deafness trait is usually associated with blue eyes and white coat colour. In the case of the Splash Overo, the head and legs are also white and the markings are very straight cut and defined. The Overo pattern is controlled by a dominant gene and does not appear to be gender specific.
Nicole is first to say that Bella is ‘pretty unique’, she is very personable, has a quiet demeanour and because she has had to rely heavily on smell and touch, has developed a trusting bond with her owners and trainer.
The Gauthiers are eager to begin riding Bella in the spring in preparation for the Western Pleasure show in the fall of 2013.
“It will pose another challenge as Bella will not be able to see the rider and thus will not be able to associate the body language with a voice command, however the professionalism shines through once again and both Henry and Nicole have designed a plan of action whereby someone will lead Bella while the trainer is mounted. As leg pressure is applied, the leader will display the hand height signals. Once Bella is able to distinctly associate the leg pressure with the gait, she should be well on her way to the show ring once again.