Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Would you clone your horse?

You may have already read the announcement in The Horse magazine -- the French company Cryozootech has produced a clone of Gem Twist, the famous jumper. Is this little guy (pictured left) a doll? The state of cloning has apparently advanced rapidly. Poetin has been cloned, and now Gem Twist (a gelding) may be able to be used in breeding. The cost of cloning is still rather high -- $150K, but its sure to come down. Horses are a good choice for the cloning industry, as their breeding value can go into the millions. The interest in cloning horses does beg a question, though. Will cloning someday be available to the consumer for their companion animals? Will people start to clone their horses? And more to the point, would I ever clone my horse?

O brother where art thou?
I have thought of "finding another Harvey" but not through cloning. I searched horse sale sites for Harvey's brothers/sisters. Several years ago, a horse appeared on Equine.com by Harv's sire, High Tribute. His name was Big Country (BC) and he is pictured right. BC looked amazingly similar to Harvey, and the owners kindly sent me a video. Harv and BC could be twins in terms of type and they had the same had/face. However Big Country was "hot" and his gaits were more impressive. His professional rider had trouble containing him in a first level test. His ears were pinned repeatedly and he kicked out a few times, but he definitely had a show ring presence. BC was reportedly schooling fourth level with FEI potential. Harvey, on the other hand, has a particularly kind way of going, and he's gotten 8's for obedience. His performance may not scream FEI, but when he's under saddle those ears are pricked forward!

Thinking of cloning?
If you have a few hundred thousand to spare, and have a horse or pony you're fond of, here are a few things to think about before you plunk your money down..

  • Cloned horses are not copies of the original. Texas A&M produced five clones of a quarter horse stallion, and the clones look more like brothers than clones: they have different markings; they are different heights; their conformation differs. To explain the color differences, The Horse magazine article says, genetics call for white at the extremities, not necessarily specifying a location. Cells for white pigmentation can migrate differently in different individuals. So socks mix and match, and a donor might have one white hind sock while a clone gets a blaze. See the photos to the right of the barrel horse Scamper and his clone to the right.

  • Although cloned horses don't experience the same level of health issues as sheep and cattle, they horses can experience problems early in life. This is because DNA pulled from cells will have some genes turned "on" while others are "off" depending on what type of cell the DNA is pulled from--skin cells will have skin-related genes turned "on". When the DNA is inserted into the oocyte, the DNA has to be reprogrammed to turn on the genes. Sometimes this process is not 100% reliable. Different animals have different kinds of health issues. Cloned baby horses are more prone to contracted tendons, oxygenation problems, low birth weight

  • The uterus is a critical environmental factor that determines individual differences among horses -- even those that are genetically identical. Natural identical twin horses can vary dramatically in height--by as much as two hands. For example, differences in the availability of the placenta nutrients will alter a horse's appearance. And placenta seems to be the most affected part of cloning. The placenta of a cloned horse may not deliver nutritients as well as that of a non-cloned individual.
My take
I can't really stomach the notion of consumers cloning their companion animal. Imagine cloning the horse of your life to find that the clone just "isn't your baby." And how unfair to the animal! Besides, isn't it kind of creepy anyway? Like hiring a taxidermist so you can still have your horse around?


Equine cloning: Where are we today?

Champion clones join Texas horse stables from NPR

Equine Cloning Expert Reviews Successes, Challenges

Cloning the Equine from Google books

Nuclear transfer saddles up from Nature

Champion horse cloning

Worlds first horse cloning opportunity opens to the public from Medical News Today


  1. With so many unwanted horses available, I can't imagine ever cloning a horse!

    There are simply too many good ones out there going to kill for me to see this a practical solution.

    I also agree with you that it is unfair to the horse to expect it to be exactly like the other horse. For all genetic purposes, identical twins are clones and they are certainly individuals.

  2. Completely agree with jesse...too many unwanted ones already... and I would think that the cloned ones could easily end up just as unwanted because they didn't turn out EXACTLY like the original.

    Cloning is just WRONG on so many levels to me, it just disgusts and angers me.

  3. I wish I could get a carbon copy of my gelding. He is who he is because of all of his life experiences. As practical as it would be to send off a clone of him to be abused so I could rescue him I think I'll pass. Plus as much as I love my horse he had to be retired early because of a mysterious disease which the vets (all dozen of them) feel most likely was based in genetics. So I have to say that I am going to keep my spare $150,000 that I have lying about (I wish) and not clone my perfect pony. Excellent post as usual. Very interesting.

  4. I would definitely not clone a horse. Not even Secretariat. One of the most overlooked parts of the cloning process is that our genes have only a certain number of times they can divide/regenerate. After that, if nothing else has killed an animal before that, it will gradually die from old age, or, IOW, organ failure due to many cells dying. A clone starts life with their cells farther along that process than a regular baby. I think it's terribly unfair to clone a 10-year-old horse and get a baby who will die at 15 rather than 25. (Simplistic, but approximately what does happen) Plus, part of the fun of breeding animals is working towards getting a new and better individual! I wouldn't want to do that kind of shortcut.

  5. Hi, I think that the aging issue is only true of some species, e.g., sheep. At least I recall reading this in the articles quoted. I'm sure I read that horses can expect to live a normal lifespan.

  6. As much as I miss my horse, I would never have considered having him cloned. I think it's creepy. I also think that he was the horse he was because of his life experiences not his DNA. I prefer to remember him as the best horse I've ever had and know he can never be replaced by a replicated horse. In my opinion we should leave well enough alone and not try to bring back something that is gone but remember them and hold them dear.

  7. Interesting. I can't say I'd clone a horse unless it was a top-earning gelding, like Scamper was. If only they'd done this to that loud overo TB moons ago...

  8. I don't mind people cloning animals, as long as they understand the caveats you've outlined. Though personally I don't think it's likely I'd clone a pet, because of the large number of unwanted pets out there. I'd be more interested in medical science extending the lives of my pets as they are, happy, healthy, and educated by their experiences, rather than cloning copies.

  9. Hmm, interesting and informative topic. My question is, what if that Gem Twist clone is only a mediocre jumper? Just because he has Gem Twists' genetics doesn't mean he IS Gem Twist. Does he have Gem Twist's heart - and I don't mean the actual heart but the SOUL of the original horse? You can recreate the "material" stuff, but it's in combination with the soul that wins the race, jumps the fence and performs the piaffe.

    I love my horse Monty. But I would never want to recreate him. And if melanoma tumors have some connection to genetics, all the more reason to let him be the one-and-only.

  10. I just bought a Qh mare she is 5 years old. The lady that had her didn't take very good Care of her. Her feet haven't been done in a year. Well I noticed that she has a ring around her left leg over her hoof. Well I was trotting her yesterday and walking her she did ok didn't act like Anything was wrong well while I was riding she hiked her back left leg up and was holding it out she didn't try to throw me off or Anthing she was just standing there like she has a cramp. Well I got off looked at her and she kept putting her foot up and off the ground then finally just walked away like everything was fine. Some1 told me she may have founder or it could b absest or stifle.. I need answers?! What do y'all think??


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.