Clones – Where are they now?

I overheard Dr. Bourke talking about cloned horses the other day. Seems like there are a quite a few of them out there now!  I’m still not sure that cloning is a good idea, but it was interesting to learn what the cloned horses are up to.

The world’s first cloned horse was born in Italy way back in 2003 – a Haflinger mare that was named Prometea. What’s really interesting is that in this case, the mare that carried the pregnancy was also the mare they took the genetic material from – she gave birth to her own clone!

In 2005, Italy did it again, producing a clone of the famous endurance Arabian stallion Pierez.  Then things really took off in 2006 when Texas A&M University announced the birth of FIVE clones of the cutting horse stallion Smart Little Lena. That same year the world’s first commercially cloned horses were born in Oklahoma – copies of top Quarter Horse cutting mares Royal Blue Boon, Tap O Lena, and Playboys Ruby.  Since then, there have been handfuls of cloned horses born from several different equestrian disciplines.  Examples include show jumping greats ET, Gem Twist, Calvaro V, and Sapphire, dressage stars Jazz and Rusty, international event horses Che Mr. Wiseguy and Tamarillo, barrel racer superstar Scamper, and several other well known cutters including Doc’s Serendipity and Jae Bar Fletch.

Clones Are Reproducing:  Prometea is now 11 years old, and in 2008 she had her first foal, a colt, which was reportedly healthy. This was the first offspring of a cloned horse, but there have been several others since. The cloned stallions of Pierez, ET and Gem Twist all have foals on the ground. Pierez is even a grandsire. His first daughter gave birth to a colt in 2012.

Clones for Sale:  The Smart Little Lena clones are now 8 years old. One of the five died at the age of 4 from bladder cancer. The remaining four stallions were sold by the syndicate that owned them at the 2009 NCHA World Finals sale.  They went for $2400, $3000, $27,000 and $28,000. The highest selling stallion was exported to Australia and now stands at stud for a fee of $1500.  One cloned polo pony mount from Argentina sold for a whopping $800,000 in 2010.

Clones in Competition:  Because of the high costs involved with producing a clone (roughly $150,000 per horse) it is unlikely that very many will enter competition. The horses being cloned are all from the top ranks of their disciplines, so it would be difficult for the clones to perform as well as the original, let alone surpass or improve on their achievements. Clones have the genetics of superstars, so from a business and breeding standpoint, they have nothing to gain from competition, and everything to lose. For this reason, most clones will be used for breeding purposes.

However, several performance horse organizations   have opened the door to allow for cloned animals in competition.