Seeing Double: The Debate on Horse Cloning

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From a single cell to Dolly the sheep, the science of cloning has expanded almost exponentially over the past two decades and even our horses aren’t exempt. The first horse was successfully cloned in Italy in 2003—a Haflinger filly named Prometea. So what does this mean for the horse world?

In general terms, a clone is an exact genetic copy of another individual. In Prometea’s case, her genetic makeup came from another horse’s skin cell. The DNA from this skin cell was then grafted into an egg and implanted into a mare that carried the embryo until birth. A few months prior to Prometea’s birth, the world’s first cloned mule was born in the US—a male named Idaho Gem.

Cloning is different from gene mapping, which is a tool that allows researchers to know the location of all genes on each chromosome within a certain species. The horse’s genetic code was fully sequenced in 2007 by a collaborative effort stationed at the University of Kentucky called the Horse Genome Project.

Gene mapping does not involve making copies of DNA. Instead, it creates a map of an individual’s genes, which are made up of DNA. Gene mapping is helpful when trying to identify the location of genetic mutations that cause certain genetic diseases or even help understand the complex heredity of different coat patterns, like the leopard spotting seen in some Appaloosas.

Although gene mapping in horses is beneficial for the species since it increases the understanding of complex genetics, cloning is much more controversial. Some breed and showing associations have regulations against allowing cloned animals to compete or even be registered. For example, the Jockey Club does not allow cloned horses to race or be registered while the Federal Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body for equestrian sports, does allow clones to compete.

The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) is currently in a legal battle over the issue of cloning. Having ruled previously not to allow registration of cloned animals, in 2012 an individual filed an antitrust lawsuit against the association, requesting the court to force the AQHA to allow for the registration of clones and their offspring. In 2013, a jury voted in favor of the individual. As of early 2014, the AQHA plans to appeal.

Advocates of cloning horses argue that the technology allows preservation of rare breeds and rare genetics. Additionally, many successful equine athletes are geldings without the ability to reproduce. In these cases, cloning would allow for those particular individuals, if not gelded a second time, to pass on their genetics.

Those against cloning horses argue that the equine gene pool along certain lines is small enough already and producing the same animal repetitively through cloning could make genetic selection even narrower. This may perpetuate some genetic diseases, such as HYPP (hyperkalemic periodic paralysis), a muscle disease seen in some Quarter Horses that can be traced back to a single sire named Impressive.

One thing to keep in mind is that there are multiple factors that create a great equine athlete, not just genetics alone. Environment, diet, and training all have enormous influences in outcomes of success and even though a cloned horse is genetically identical to an elite equine athlete, this does not guarantee greatness.

This interesting debate of bioethics will likely continue within the horse industry for some time as breed associations and competitive equestrian organizations weigh in. Horse owners, too, are asking themselves: a horse is a horse, of course, of course, so what’s the big deal about clones?

41 COMMENTS

  1. I am against cloning altogether. The world has an over-population of people, horses, dogs, cats, etc. Why does man have to mess with nature in all things? This is wrong, wrong, wrong.

  2. Cloning horses is simply ridiculous, as is cloning any animal.
    The AQHA is so pro-slaughter that perhaps having to register cloned horses messes with their “everyone breed at will and cull the undesirable” operation.

  3. It comes back to nature vs. nurture. Even a cloned animal is not going to be the same as the original “product” I could see it only in the case of a gelding that perhaps could now be used as a stallion if he were cloned, but there was probably a good reason he was gelded in the first place. I’m mainly against cloning as there is often too much human emotion attached to it!

  4. let’s leave nature alone, we keep messing with it, it will cause trouble some where down the line. A lot of good horses are out there.

  5. Cloning is a reality. I feel about it as I do abortion. If you are against it, don’t do it but don’t attempt to force your opinion on others.

  6. Each sheep, each horse, each person is unique. Making a copy of another is making a person or animal a product, a thing, something disposable. Cloning is totally going against God’s design for life.

  7. Keep it simple. Provide good care, nutrition, environment and love. Let nature take its course. We are all special and unique in our own way.

  8. I feel we have enought horses starving in this world. Cloning is messing with nature, and that is something that needs to be left along.

  9. I think that cloning a very limited number of race horses might be better for the racing world, but then again, it wouldn’t be very much competition when the same horse is now in four places in the US being raced.
    What I don’t understand about cloning horses is that they can’t clone a horses’ (or any living beings’) personality. I love the personalities of my horses, they are beautiful on the outside, as well, but their personalities are so lovely.
    If it was possible, I might clone one of my horses’ personalities, just because I want to have that horse around for forever.
    Another thing…When a racehorse gets cloned, its not guaranteed for speed, agility, it might even have a sever health issue. Basically what I’m trying to say, is that they can never have two symmetrical horses.

  10. I agree to allow cloning. Cloning is very expensive so it is not going to make for more starving horses. These animals will be carefully selected to allow preserving a certain line of horses when maybe the sire is unable to breed.
    Horses are starving due to the cost of hay. This is due to hay growers switching to corn to make ethanol. Hay prices have doubled in the last 10 years. Breeding numbers have gone down immensely.

  11. I am against horse cloning or any cloning for that matter. AQHA overbreeds horses every year and the resulting foals that don’t match up are shipped to slaughter! Why on earth would anyone want to clone horses when so many are shipped to slaughter? It is simply wrong.

  12. I am against it. It goes against the laws of nature and more importantly, of God. If the Creator had wanted 12 horses exactly alike, he would have made them.

  13. I am very against cloning. I do not like that a show animal can be cloned and then shown. To me, this is just showing the original animal again and it is NOT fair. Let the good ones pass on their genes to their offspring the natural way.

  14. Over 100,000 domestic horses being shipped to slaughter every yr, and lets not forget about the wild mustangs being rounded up and shipped. I would have to say NO to cloning horses. Too many out there now w/o homes as it is. Stop messing with mother nature!

  15. I am against cloning for several reasons. It is not natural. We do not need cloned animals. We need to rescue & protect those that are being abused. We need to stop breeding horses just because somebody wants a “baby”. We need to stand up & protect the wild mustangs that are being rounded up & sent to slaughter houses.

  16. I support cloning. Good horses are always needed and cloning is simply a tool to allow one to select for horses with the characteristics one finds best.

  17. I do not endorse cloning of horses any more than I think that horses should be created with anything other than a “Live Cover”. I also believe that the entities involved with breeding of horses should be held responsible for them from “cradle to grave”.

  18. No to cloning. Man acting as God is not needed. It will only benefit the rich to get richer by cloning horses that have won races previously in hopes of doing it over and over again. It takes the sport out of it for everyone else that isn’t in their cash category. There are already too many horses going to slaughter.

  19. I am for cloning only in such cases as the Abaco Spanish Colonial horse. There is only one of this rarest of horse breeds left, a mare, due to man wiping out the rest of the herd. To bring this breed back from the brink of extinction would be a true marvel. And since it was not mother nature who wiped out most of this breed, I don’t think that the leaving things to nature argument works in this instance. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to bring back to existence some of the other of God’s creatures that man has taken away. I do agree that domestic horse breeds should not be cloned. There should also be a moratorium on the breeding of most domestic animals, be it dog, cat, horse, rabbit , mice etc. There are too many homeless and abused animals in the world already.

  20. We should not clone, it is just a copy of a horse (animal, person). When you copy something it is like the original but not the same. If we clone horse and then use that copy for a breeding horse what will we get.

  21. I am NOT in favor of unrestricted cloning and believe that AQHA should NOT be forced to accept clones for registrations. However I believe that should be the choice of individual horse owners, but they should just remember since AQHA regulations restricts registration of clones, they will NOT be eligible to compete in AQHA events.

  22. Why not? Just don’t over do it… There is more to a horse than genes… training, diet, care… I really don’t see why cloned horses can’t be registered, their still an AQH, aren’t they?

  23. I might just understand cloning rare breeds, but imagine 500 Zenyattas running around… we that like to train and have imperfect horses will be forced to stop. All of the horses will eventually become super high standard and perfect and probably still expensive. The love of training and working with horses will die with cloning, there will still be training involved but not the same one on one. Don’t clone and take the hundreds of poor Mustangs from West America and train them.

  24. A big problem is if we start cloning rare breeds it can easily get out of hand and into our horses that are winners in the horse world.

  25. We all know it wont stop with horses… soon people will selectivly replicate babies (humans). This is just the gateway to desensitize us to the idea, mark my words the day will come.
    That said, regarding to horses, do people have any notion on sportsmanship? ethics? I mean who wants to go to a hose race and see 5 secretariats race eachother? why do people always want to rig a sport and can’t just enjoy nature and what it currently can offer. So many people want lab experiments as their pets and kids. People who are for it want short cuts and those who say to preserve a breed is ridiculous because you don’t preserve something by limiting it to one horse.

  26. Most of you think cloning is for racing and will create an unfair advantage. Cloning is not allowed in the TB or AQHA registry. They can’t use them for studs either. Then the rest think we are going to make one more horse starve or be slaughtered. Cloning is expensive and it may only create maybe 3-6 new horses a year. This won’t make a dent in the horse world.

  27. Cloning does nothing more than re-use DNA. It does not help whatsoever. Dolly the sheep did not live that long, and neither will horse clones. That plus a clone is still a different animal, and we all know horses that have talent but just don’t wanna. Clones are not total duplicates….their mental keenness and desire are NOT the same as the donor’s. I sense that clones bred to clones could bring chaos…..actually breeding crazy, mad horses. Genetics has proved that over and over in the botony world.

  28. Money wasted that could be used to save our wild horses or contributed to rescues. Already too many horses that are being cast aside for slaughter, we have become sadly enough a throwaway society.
    Oh yes, it would be amazing to see another Seabiscuit or Man O’ War or Yellow Mount, but it’s not a part of the plan. I believe it’s not what God created us to do. To thrive yes, but not duplicated.

  29. Cloning is not something I approve of it is a waste of money unless it is going create a cure for a fatal disease. What is next cloning humans? There is enough natural healthy horses out there so why clone. I agree with Pat it is a waste.

  30. Cloning to save a rare animal is great, I have not read about a rare horse, this will take the wonderfull mystery out of waiting for that speical baby.

  31. I own different breeds of horses. I believe cloning is just another way for a breeder to be able to make more money. Just because a horse a good bloodline does not quarantee that horse will be anything like its parents. So no I do not think they should allow cloning or clones to be registered.

  32. What about cloning a treasured family horse that was taken too soon by chance or tragedy? What about cloning to keep a family line in a series of elderly horses that produced well and there’s no offspring left to continue?

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