Researchers Give Clone Health Warning - a little outdated now, but still interesting.
Champion Horse Cloned
Cloning & Horse Racing
Cloning Open to the Public
Pacific & Prairie on Horse Cloning - Feb 2009
Why do people do it? I think it can be for a number of reasons:
- the chance to have "ol' lucky" back (particularly as cloning becomes more accessible)
- the same conformation and thus physical ability, but breedable (ie, gelding versus stallion)
- a younger version of the original is created - missed competitions, races, etc may be completed
- preserve particular bloodlines
I suppose I can understand at some level. For example, there is validity in wanting to breed a horse who was gelded at a young age but that possesses excellent bloodlines and proves to be athletic and talented and successful in his particular discipline. Cloning such a gelding and keeping the resultant clone a stallion that may pass along the original gelding's genes could have an impact on the industry. In regards to mares, it could be extremely useful to be able to have a clone of hers maintained as a broodmare at home whilst the original mare continues to compete, as an alternative to embryo transfer. If the mare is highly successful, there could be some merit in having a copy of her producing foals simultaneously with herself, producing a greater number of progeny from that mare's genes. On the other hand, I cannot possibly imagine wishing to have a twin of one of our horses - I already have my boys, I don't need carbon copies of them! I would much rather start a new partnership with a new horse than try to 'relive' a life with a copy of one of my deceased horses.
Conversely, as far as the preservation of bloodlines go, my personal opinion is that while losing certain bloodlines is certainly disappointing, it is part of the business and a part of life. It is what happens. Instead of relying on specific bloodlines, we are then forced to create, develop and experiment in new potentially successful and revolutionary lines.
Furthermore, a cloned horse will not necessarily exhibit the same temperament, personality, drive, heart, or sheer luck of the original. Other variables also impact a clone's success or lack thereof:
- nutritional practises (both in-utero, as a foal nursing from a specific mare, and as a growing horse), which can affect bone density, growth, and muscle development
- illness/disease/other (including worms)
- handling/human interaction
- general training
- under-saddle work
- individual experiences
- how the foal is raised (in a herd, in a stall, with older horses, with only younger horses)
Nevermind the fact that the health and longevity of the 'carbon copy' is still questionable. Remember Dolly the sheep, cloned in Scotland? She had to be euthanised at roughly half the age she should have lived to. Is it fair we pre-destine an animal to an early and undetermined fate?
On the subject of ethics, where do we draw the lines at what is ethical and what is not? For example, would a person having a 'brood/stud copy' at home be tempted to over-race or over-compete the original or the clone, or take risks they would not normally take should they only have 'one copy' of the horse in question?
Current cloning prices run in the low six-figures, but researchers and companies hope that as the process becomes more efficient and available, the price will eventually be dropped to a level acceptable to mid-incomers. However as it stands in 2009, cloned horses are not (to my knowledge) eligible to be registered by any governing bodies. They may still compete in non-sanctioned shows and competitions, but their use is rather limited.
On the other hand, 'clone-type' work and research can definitely be beneficial...such as using stem cell therapy to repair injuries to horses. So where do we draw the line?
Obviously my personal opinion is clear - cloning just somehow sits wrong with me and while I recognise the benefits of the research that yields cloning, I cannot side with cloning itself. I think by attempting to rubber stamp our horses we risk damaging the breed, bloodlines, and the species in general. I also resent that people with the money to throw at this think that they can simply purchase a 'champion' with so little work and effort. I mean, essentially, the way they are looking at is: hey, I can spend thousands breeding, buying, and training horses in the hopes that one becomes a champion, or I can just skip the 'line' and buy a 'pre-made champion'. They are taking away all the creativity and intelligence that comes of breeding and training horses. We had might as well race/compete robots!
What do you think? Would you do it if you had the money?