Brian Walker: To clone or not to clone? *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Cloning has been around for decades. It has been the elephant in the room for some while, as it is practised quietly by some big breeders and advocates for the horse sport worldwide, but is never really spoken about.

    The thoroughbred industry practises only live breeding so cloning will never reach racing. But in showjumping and dressage, it could be very useful for the future of our sport, potentially providing a boost in breeding. Cloning known stallions that produce good horses could benefit many.

    It has become very expensive to buy top-quality young horses because there is a lack thereof, and cloning good mares could give breeders the upper hand by taking some of the guesswork out.

    Successful breeding relies on numbers. More supply to fit the demand could help curb the ever-rising prices in the horse market. Breeders would ultimately make more money as they would have higher quality and quantity to sell, and in turn ease their burdens of ever-increasing costs. The breeding industry has been dying because the costs of running operations have simply become too high.

    Many variables

    Another argument used in favour of cloning is that cloning horses purely for sport can allow riders higher numbers of quality horses. But other than having the same genetics, how can one recreate the same horse? I don’t think you can. To have the same horse you clone, one would need to recreate the horse’s whole life from the time it was born.

    A horse’s development begins at birth, and with how the mother raises the foal. Mares play a huge part in the development of their offspring. Not only do good broodmares have good pedigrees, it is their character that makes the next generation of horses become successful.

    A foal’s development is also dependent on its interactions with other foals and horses. The next step of a young horse’s life is being turned out as a yearling and as a two-year-old. It is also about what food they eat, how they are handled, who breaks them, which rider starts them over jumps. These are all critical stages in the development of a horse, preceding the decision of who rides them at the higher levels. It is impossible to recreate this.

    There are so many variables that are too difficult to control, not to mention that cloning is hardly inexpensive.

    Science vs nature

    I believe cloning has too many unknowns and don’t think we should mix science and nature. Take, for example, the clones from McLain Ward’s medal-winning mare Sapphire: one looks like her and the other, although chestnut, doesn’t bear much resemblance. Those are just the things we can see, but imagine all the things we can’t.

    Although the breeding industry could benefit from more cloning, we need more incentives to attract young professionals to get involved. Scientific development has become so advanced, but some things are better left untouched. If you look at all the problems that we have encountered with gene mutation, we are at a point of no return and constantly doing damage control.

    I think if we really got behind cloning, the unknowns could potentially permanently endanger the main ingredient for our sport — the horses.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 14 September 2017