The horses you´ve cloned so far have been championship cutting horses. What is it about the sport of cutting (in which the horse separates-or "cuts" one calf from a herd of cattle) that makes the breeding so important?
One of the reasons we focused on cutting is because there´s no restrictions on whether the animal is purebred or registered. They participate in events based on their performance. You want a clone to have a chance to participate in all events and cutting is very flexible about that. It just so happened that our first clients were interested in cutting, but we also now have clients in other performance events like jumping and dressage.
The NCHA [National Cutting Horse Association] has said that cloned horses will be allowed to compete, but the American Jockey Club has nixed clones from thoroughbred racing. Do you expect the AHSA [American Horse Show Association] to follow suit for performance horses?
I don´t think the AHSA rules have changed yet for jumping or dressage, so that means it would be okay for a cloned horse to compete in these events right now. But more than performance, the emphasis is on breeding. It´s very hard to train stallions, so most dressage horses are gelded [castrated]. That means a great dressage horse that wins the Olympics is now useless for breeding. With cloning, you can make a copy of that gelding, keep him a stallion, and breed him so you pass along the champion gelding´s superior genes. It makes perfect sense for outstanding geldings to be cloned and used in breeding programs.
How different are cloned horses from their natural-born â€siblingsâ€? If I cloned the horse I rode as a kid, would the new horse feel exactly the same to ride?
If you had a horse when you were little and you raised its clone in the same geographical area and gave it similar training and similar living conditions, the genetics would be there to make it perform in the same way as your old horse. And you know its potential so you could then fine-tune the training and environment to make it express this potential even better. But we tell our clients we can´t guarantee performance. What if a foal gets sick or hurt when it´s young? That could affect future performance. But if you´re going to use these animals for breeding, they´re absolutely identical to the donor, so as far as their offspring, they´ll pass exactly the same genes to the progeny.
How does the cost of cloning a horse compare to a stud fee for a top-notch stallion?
The cost for cloning a horse is $150,000, and stud fees vary widely, but they can be nearly that high for a champion horse.