It’s not science fiction any more.
World polo champion Adolfo Cambiaso made history this December by winning a national championship on a cloned horse, Show Me. He has had much success aboard his 56 other clones as well. One day, he hopes to play an entire match using only cloned ponies. Cloning has become increasingly popular in the world of polo. Polo enthusiast and entrepreneur Alan Meeker became interested in cloning and went into business with Cambiaso. Through his investment, this polo-loving Texan discovered the potential of cloning some of the world’s best horses. His firm, Crestview Genetics, produced their first foal in 2010. Since then they have successfully generated 70 champion equine replicas at a cost of roughly $150,000 each. “Which,” he tells Departures magazine, “is a bargain, given that a clone of another of Cambiaso’s champion mares, Cuartetera, fetched $800,000 at auction.”
Canadian polo professional Brandon Phillips also sees the emerging success and endless possibilities of cloning horses. Phillips says, “Finding a great polo horse is next to impossible, so if you have one and you can make two or three of it, so be it.”
There are more and more options available. Texas A&M University provides a research program involving non-commercial horse cloning. Project leader Dr. Katrin Hinrichs emphasizes that cloning ventures are performed “under donations from interested owners, receiving the cloned foal as gratitude.” While Hinrichs is more wary than Meeker when it comes to cloning, the university has so far experienced 16 successful live births.
Just as identical twins aren’t totally identical, there is no such thing as an exact clone either. “Therefore,” Dr. Graeme Cooke, the FEI’s veterinary director, told ABC News, “we came to the conclusion that there were so many variables, there were no unfair advantages that were contrary to the spirit of sport.”
Clones will be allowed to compete in the Olympics beginning in 2016, and more and more areas of the horse world are opening up to cloning. Germany’s Ulla Salzgeber’s world dressage-champion mount, Rusty 47, passed away this summer, but his legacy lives on through two young clones of the gelding. Famous grand-prix jumper Gem Twist has two clones, Gemini and Murka’s Gem. And Sapphire has Kara BC and Kidjaz BC.
However, for now, the racing world disagrees. Jockey Club rules state “cloning or any other form of genetic manipulation shall not be eligible for registration.” Bob Curran, spokesman for the Jockey Club, says this is “for the long-term health of the breed.”
The cloned specimen is only identical to the dam or sire at the time of birth. As in natural breeding, cloning for temperament can be successful, but it is the training and environment that produce the final animal.
Plus, perfection found in cloning can come with a price. While an exact replica in looks and perhaps athleticism, a cloned horse does not guarantee impeccable health or exact temperament. Without genetic diversity, cloned horses have limited chances of survival in the case of a rapidly spreading disease.
New York Times best-selling author Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote Unbroken and Seabiscuit: An American Legend tells FoxNews.com, “So much of what made Secretariat so stunning was that he was a freak of nature, one in a billion, an alignment of genes so superb as to be the closest thing to perfection we are likely to ever see. What fun would there be in a crowd of Secretariats, if he were merely commonplace?”
But for some, the prospect of having your beloved horse in the paddock once again is a miracle born of scientific engineering—and worth the risks.
—by Robyn Willey