Did you know there are several hundred horse clones around the world eating, breeding, and even competing? Cloning isn’t science fiction any more. It’s here, and horse associations and federations have different rules about whether or not clones can compete or even register with the breed. Here are 8 things you should know about horse cloning.
#1 – It costs about $150,000 to clone a horse.
That may sound like a lot of money, but consider that top polo ponies are sold for several hundred thousand dollars and race horses are worth millions. A single sperm sample from a top horse can be sold for up to half a million dollars. For people breeding horses worth millions of dollars, $150k for the genes of a proven competitive horse is well worth the price.
#2 – Cloning is becoming very popular in the sport of polo.
The sport of polo has always been in favor of advanced reproductive technologies since most top polo ponies are mares and can’t be bred naturally until after they’ve retired. For about 25 years, most polo horse breeding has been done via embryo transfer. Using this method, top polo mares are artificially inseminated and the resulting fertilized embryos are then transferred into surrogate broodmares. Cloning just adds guaranteed good genes to this process.
#3 – It’s becoming a popular option for continuing the bloodlines of top-performing geldings.
Since horses are typically gelded to make them easier to work with before they’ve had the chance to prove themselves, those champion bloodlines used to be lost forever. Now a clone may be produced in order to pass on the champion’s genes. While the clone typically won’t compete since gelding him would be counterproductive, his offspring can compete.
#4 – Clones can’t be registered with the American Quarter Horse Association.
Many other horse associations also forbid the registration of clones on the grounds that they don’t do anything to improve the breed.
#5 – In 2012, the FEI changed its rules to allow clones to compete.
The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) is the international governing body for all Olympic equestrian disciplines. They decided to allow clones to compete in order to encourage the preservation of the genes of top geldings, meaning clones may someday be found at the Olympics.
#6 – The success rate is only around 12%.
A dozen embryos have to be created and three or four broodmares must be impregnated to ensure the successful birth of even one clone.
#7 – Birth defects, some severe and even fatal, are not uncommon.
Various sources claim that at least 5% and as many as 50% of all clone foals suffer from birth defects.
#8 – The sample must come from a live horse.
The current process takes a sample of cells from a horse’s neck, swaps the nucleus of one of those cells into an equine egg, then gives that egg an electric shock to stimulate development before it’s placed inside a broodmare.