Let’s Discuss: Cloning

News broke recently that the famous Irish stallion, Cruising, has not one, but two clones on the ground. If you are not familiar with Cruising, you probably know his prodigy- Mr. Medicott, or Flexible, for instance, to name a couple. The clone 2 1/2 year old stallions (nicknamed Rooster and Booster), are to be made available at stud to select mares this year. Personally, I was shocked to hear this news.

The late Cruising meets his two clones

The late Cruising meets his two clones / PC: Horse and Hound

When we sold our farm, it was purchased by a man with a vision to breed Irish horses (after going through breed books with my parents over the kitchen table, no less). He went to Ireland, purchased himself one grade-A stallion and 10 purebred mares, and imported them to the States. He then bought 40 Belgian draft mares (some halter broke, some not), and started an embryo transfer practice using the draft horses as the recipient mares. For some time we continued to live in the house while he took over the farm, and a little piece of my heart broke seeing half the barn turned into a laboratory. The Irish Draught registry must have felt similarly, and had an absolute shit-fit. They determined that only one foal by a mare/stallion combination could be registered per year. So, if one Irish mare donates 3 embryos that year that become live foals- which one gets registered?



I’m sure this rule was at one point overturned (this having happened in the late 90s), but the Irish Draught Society still ruled with an iron fist over their registry books. Getting an Irish horse registered is no joke, including hours of preparation, grooming, and training in hand before going to the inspection in your region. And even then you are not guaranteed approval- we were told to represent one full Irish mare the next year because she wasn’t fully matured in her back end. The approval of Ivan as a registered stallion, an even more rigorous test, then was a huge relief.


Ivan at his stallion inspection


So, knowing as I do that the Irish Draught Society errs on the conservative side, how did such a prestigious stallion come to be cloned, and the news stay secret for so long? Is it right of them to allow cloned horses into the registry books? What about the multiple clones, such as in Cruising’s case? Personally I’m not fully decided. But I do think if there’s to be a clone for breeding purposes, maybe it should just be one horse and not two, so as to keep the integrity of the breed by not ‘polluting it’ with one genetic line by having it available for the space of three stallions’ lifetimes.

Read the Horse & Hound’s article on the clones here.

Weigh in! What do you think of introducing cloned horses to the genetic pool, and how do you think this will set an example for future generations?

20 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: Cloning

  1. I watched the video and it was pretty interesting! It was nice to see that she doesn’t jump the babies, so I will be very interested to see how well they end up doing (please keep me updated)!
    I am not very familiar with cloning, but I guess the idea seems a little goofy to me. Isn’t the point of breeding to improve genetics, just not duplicate them? I guess if you want to spend the money (and I would love to know how much money was spent!) go for it, but the registry thing does get a little sticky. I absolutely agree that allowing 3 of essentially the same horse to registered and bred doesn’t sound like a great idea. Too many babies with all the same genes and that’s how genetic defects come to surface!

    • The video was long but well worth the watch. And regarding genetics and creating defects by having too many related horses in the registry books- exactly. I would hate to see the Irish breed go the way of Friesians, where we have to start announcing what percentage is inbred for breeding stock.

  2. I can see the draw of having access to his proven good genes, because don’t we all wish we could clone that perfect special horse and keep him forever? But it definitely gets really tricky when it comes to breeding- lack of genetic diversity is why so many dog breeds have congenital defects!

  3. I can understand cloning a gelding, like Gem Twist. But I don’t understand cloning a stallion as prolific as Cruising. Especially twice. He was a great horse, yes, but let’s widen out the gene pool…

    Aren’t clones illegal in FEI competition?

      • Right- they want to continue making his genetics available, but is that a good or a bad thing?

        I believe there are 2 clones simply because they started with something like 11-12 embryos to have a better chance of a successful live foal. It just so happened that they had 2 successful live foals in this case. Makes for an interesting discussion!

        Also- it will be super interesting to see what the Gem Twist clones do in competition! I think there are a couple Sapphire clones at there as well.

      • I don’t think any of the Gem Twist clones ever plan to compete. They are both just standing at stud and are a little older now (approaching ten?). I guess I just mean “older” for starting to compete.

        I personally don’t have a problem with embryo transfer. If you have a mare that’s going really well (Sapphire) and want to breed her but don’t want to take her out of competition, and you can provide excellent quality care for the surrogate mare, I seriously don’t see a problem with it.

        What is really, really, really fascinating to me through all this is that we are just now uncovering the many effects of maternal influence during pregnancy on the entire life of a foal!! One anecdote is my mother in laws mare. She got three embryos from her mare (ummm I think by accident, one of them split into twins or something? there were only supposed to be two). Two of them were surrogated into big, fat, docile warmblood mares. The third went into a thoroughbred mare who had been at least slightly neglected (underfed), was pretty herd bound and therefore very frantic at leaving her herd, and just generally underhandled. I would bet she was a failed racehorse who had just been turned out in a big pasture with a group of surrogate mares.

        Anyway, the two foals from the warmblood mares were totally friendly from day one. I walked up to them the day they were born and played with them, and their mothers were completely unconcerned. The thoroughbred mare was pretty wary of us even when we had food, and her colt was the same. Even now, SIX years down the road, the colt from the thoroughbred is hotter, more sensitive, and flightier than the other two.

        Fascinating, huh? So what if some of that GOOD sensitivity (much not touch wood! kinda stuff) comes through from hormones in utero? Wouldn’t that be fascinating?

        • I think embryo transplant is a great idea for competing mares, especially ones who have a great record of success! The latest example of this that I know of is the current wonder pony, Forrest Nymph. I will say, however, that using embryo transplant as a way of mass producing expensive foals, which is what I lived with briefly, did leave a bad taste in my mouth.

          It’s really interesting regarding the three foals your mom’s mare produced. Definitely leaves a lot of room for a Nature vs Nurture argument- perhaps making a case for the latter? Thanks for sharing- gives us all a little to think about 🙂

  4. I think it’s a cool concept- but who knows what the results are going to be later on… Denny Emerson posted an interesting article about TB bloodlines and either from that article or another that linked to it, they talked about how inbred TB’s are and how it has lead to the increase of soundness issues and horses breaking down like Barbaro and Eight Bells because of the lack of diversity. Already there are a lot of influential Cruising babies out there and I don’t think it would be a good thing to flood the Irish breed with MORE Cruising babies- UNLESS you plan on gelding them and just having pure performance horses. Having more Mr Medicotts and Flexibles out there as high profile performance horses would be nice but at the same time the purpose of breeding is to IMPROVE the breed and eventually create a stallion BETTER than Cruising. It doesn’t happen overnight and takes many generations but forward should be the direction you go not sideways when it comes to breeding. I feel like cloning is a bit of a sideways movement….

    Also what about environment? There are huge studies dedicated to nature vs. nurture and how each influence the other. Clones technically have the same genetic makeup but will the babies be just as good as Cruising’s or is there some environmental effect that we don’t know about that MADE Cruising the influential stallion that he was?After all identical twins are nature’s clones and they don’t end up being the exact same person!! I don’t think anyone truly knows the answer to all these questions and only time will tell- unfortunately it won’t be for another 50+ years if we find out if cloning was bad or not!!!!

    Even with all this said… WHEN (ha!) I win the lottery… the very first thing I would do would be to clone Johnny and probably keep him a stallion… I know he won’t be exactly Johnny but I do think Johnny has a lot of good things to bring to the breed if they let clones count as sires…. or I will just have some really talented non registered babies that will become future Olympians! hahaha- it’s my dream after all so why not have Johnny Olympic babies??? 😉

    • I tend to agree with you regarding diluting the bloodlines and possibly introducing defects or unsoundness because there will be so many Cruising babies out there. I would hate to see a breed so renowned for its hardiness be tainted because of breeders thinking, as you put it so well, sideways, rather than forward. It will be interesting to see if the Irish Registry (or the studs’ owner herself) puts parameters on just what bloodlines can be to these clones so that the genetic pool can still remain as diverse as possible. Considering that pure Irish Draughts are not the most common of breeds, I don’t see how any overlap in the bloodlines will be entirely avoided.

      Ah, a Johnny clone- now that would be a fun idea! Little Johnnys everywhere! 😀

  5. I just can’t get behind cloning. Call me a traditionalist, but breeding is a huge part of horsemanship and it is such a fuzzy area that I wish it were banned outright.

    • Ah- now that is interesting, and thank you for sharing! It looks like a lot of the points the AQHA makes have been brought up in the comments… Fascinating that many people are thinking along the lines of there being ‘too much of a good thing’ when it comes to cloning superior horses for breeding stock.

  6. reading the comments here has been super interesting, bc i’m still pretty ignorant about breeding programs, registries, pedigrees, etc – it’s all greek to me! but simultaneously, i think it’s a subject worth learning about it bc the implications are so huge…

  7. I’m probably in the minority on this, but I don’t really have a problem with it at all. Then again, I don’t know much (read, hardly at all) about the process — during which my main concern would be maintaining the welfare of the horse(s) involved — but as long as there is no mistreatment, I’m all for it!

    Now, whether or not as a breeder I would want to breed my mare to a clone, that’s an entirely different question in my mind.

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