07/31/2013 3:38PM

Quarter Horse industry reacts to ruling on cloning


The July 30 ruling against the prohibition of cloned horses in the American Quarter Horse Association’s registry could have a far-reaching effect into the breed’s racing industry.

A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled in favor of Jason Abraham and Gregg Veneklasen in their suit against the AQHA alleging violation of anti-trust laws, based on the organization’s denial of registration for at least eight cloned horses belonging to Abraham.

The breed organization’s handbook specifically prohibits horses “produced by any cloning process” from participating in AQHA events, including racing.

Johne Dobbs, president of the AQHA’s Executive Committee, said the organization’s next move is to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, La.

“I always like to be optimistic,” Dobbs said. “It was a very complicated case, because it was an anti-trust case, and economists were involved on both sides. I’m just hopeful that our testimony will come through, and show that we didn’t break any anti-trust laws.

“They were trying to give us a timeline yesterday [for the appeals process], and it’s not just going to be a couple weeks or months,” Dobbs continued. “It could be a year the way the system goes.”

While the court sorts out the legality of the situation, Quarter Horse breeders were left to ponder the basic question of “nature vs. nurture” in regards to cloned racehorses.

“I think people, to be quite honest, are a little bit leery about getting the same kind of results out of a clone as they would out of the actual horse,” said Andrew Gardiner, general manager of leading Quarter Horse breeding operation JEH Stallion Station. “The chances of a clone being as good as its [original], in my opinion, are not any better than a full sibling or a twin.”

Even if cloned Quarter Horses are allowed to compete, Gardiner said that the price tag would be so restrictive that they wouldn’t become overly abundant. Dobbs said that the cost to clone a horse is about $165,000.

In regards to cloning’s potential effect on the racing Quarter Horse stud book, Gardiner did not foresee a drastic change for breeders.

“There’s so many factors that go into making a horse great in the performance arena, and if he’s not great in the performance arena, why is anybody going to breed to him?” he said. “It’s like going to breed to a full brother to a great horse who couldn’t run a jump. Until a cloned horse proves to be as good as what he was cloned [from], I don’t see what the big draw would be to use a horse like that.”

While Gardiner was not sold on the transfer of talent and will that could theoretically produce a great horse through the cloning process, he did note that JEH Stallion Station does have the facilities to potentially clone horses in the future, and would consider doing so if the market demand is there.

JEH Equine Specialists in Whitesboro, Tex., is one of the leading operations in intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), an artificial insemination process that has prolonged the careers of prominent sires including Favorite Trick and Feature Mr. Jess after their deaths.

“We’re two pieces of equipment away from being able to clone,” Gardiner said. “If there’s enough of a market out there, sure, we could do some cloning in the future, but I think the market percentage is small.”

Cloned competitors have already set a small precedent on the mule racing circuit, where cloned mules have been allowed to race since the mid-2000s. However Dobbs said that information was not brought up by either side in the trial.