Quarter Horse

What is a Curly?

by Kristin Berkery

Curly horse

Curly horses in the 2007 Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA. Photo by Zeetz Jones

Most horses’ coats become wild and woolly in the winter, but not Curly horses. Starting in the fall, most Curlies grow a winter coat of luxurious curls or waves covering their bodies. The coat sheds in the warmer months leaving smooth or wavy hair behind, and in some cases, they may even shed their entire manes and tails in the summer.

War Horse and Those Amazing Equine Actors

by Kristin Berkery

Hollywood Hoofbeats

Hollywood Hoofbeats by Petrine Day Mitchum

If you haven’t seen War Horse and you don’t like spoilers, you may want to read something else on ilovehorses.net. I’ve tried not to reveal too much about the climactic parts of the movie (of which there are many) while still providing some teasers.

Who Was the Godolphin Arabian?

A small Arabian stallion had a huge influence on equine history.

by Kristin Berkery

Foaled around 1724, the Godolphin Arabian has been the subject of romantic portrayals. One of the best known is King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, the tale of a mute slave and his beautiful bay Arabian stallion named Sham on their hard-knock journey from the Moroccan Sultan’s stables to Gog Magog in England.

The Godolphin Arabian, painted by George Ford Morris. From the Fenwick Hall website.


Makin’ Babies: The Influence of Breeding Technologies, Part III

by Kristin Berkery

go to part IV | part I | part II

The previous I and II installments of Makin’ Babies examined how artificial insemination, transported semen, and embryo transfer can influence breed trends.

Pieraz, the first horse to be cloned.

There’s one breeding technology that isn’t approved by registries in the U.S. but has been used in Quarter Horses, Arabians, and Warmblood breeds — cloning.

One of the first horses to be cloned was an Arabian, the accomplished endurance racing gelding, Pieraz. Because Pieraz can’t be used for breeding, he was cloned so his genes could be passed on to the next generation. Pieraz’s clone, called “Pieraz Cryozootech Stallion,” stands at stud in France. The stallion clone was registered by the Anglo European Studbook, an organization that registers performance horses for competition.

LD Pistal, the double National Champion Senior Stallion who was cloned. Photo by Kelly Campbell

In 2007 a colt who was a clone of the 2006 and 2008 U.S. National Champion Senior Arabian Stallion, LD Pistal, was born.

Horse clones are produced through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a process that involves taking a tissue sample from a horse, extracting the DNA from it, and inserting the DNA into an egg cell that has had the nucleus removed. The egg is stimulated to start dividing into a blastocyst, or early embryo, and then implanted in a surrogate mare who carries it to term.

The donor eggs used in the cloning process are usually from ovaries harvested from slaughtered mares. The horses are not slaughtered specifically for their ovaries; the harvested ovaries are a by-product of processing the animals. Since horse slaughter has been banned in the U.S., cloning facilities must get their donor eggs from other countries. One cloning company, ViaGen, built a facility close to a Canadian slaughterhouse to lower the cost of obtaining donor eggs.

A diagram of SCNT cloning. Therapeutic cloning means the resulting somatic cell is used for regenerative medicine, i.e. growing tissue for burn victims. Diagram by Dr. Jürgen Groth. Click the image for a larger view.

The reason LD Pistal was cloned was because he is subfertile and his clone would replace him in the breeding barn. There is one major roadblock: The Arabian Horse Association doesn’t allow clones to be registered or used for breeding registered horses. After the foal was born, its owner, Jeff Sloan, requested to meet with the registration committee to discuss whether cloning might be permitted by the AHA in the near future. The meeting was not held however, as LD Pistal and his clone were sold as a package to a new owner, Felix Cantu. Sloan chose not to pursue the issue any further, leaving it to Cantu to advocate for clone registrations.

It’s popular to say that a clone is “genetically identical” to the “parent” that donated its DNA to the “child,” but this isn’t actually true in the case of SCNT. According to Wikipedia:

In SCNT, not all of the donor cell’s genetic information is transferred, as the donor cell’s mitochondria that contain their own mitochondrial DNA are left behind. The resulting hybrid cells retain those mitochondrial structures which originally belonged to the egg. As a consequence, clones such as Dolly [the sheep] that are born from SCNT are not perfect copies of the donor of the nucleus.

Mitochondrial DNA is only passed from mother to child, and since there’s not actually a “mother” contributing her DNA to the foal, that missing genetic information is being pulled from the egg that was used in the cloning process. According to studies done on sheep cloned through SCNT, no mitochrondrial DNA from the donor (the animal that was cloned) was present in the resulting cloned offspring. This means the offspring obtained through SCNT cannot be genetically identical to the animal that was cloned.

Dolly the sheep.

The first successfully cloned animal, Dolly the sheep, died at the age of seven after a respiratory infection. (Sheep life expectancy is about 10 to 12 years.) In a report published in Human Molecular Genetics, studies have shown human mitochondrial DNA that has mutated tends to give rise to respiratory defects and age-related disorders, suggesting that SCNT clones will not live as long or be as healthy as their donor “parent.” The subject is not completely understood by scientists, but these studies serve as a warning that when mitochrondrial DNA becomes mutated, the resulting cloned animal may have health issues.

Pieraz clone horse

Pieraz’s clone. Photo from The Horse Magazine.

Not only are SCNT clones not genetically identical to their donor “parent,” they’re also not physically identical. Just like identical twins, there are small traits like white markings that appear different on a clone, which is a result of various cells migrating during gestation.

Should registries allow cloned animals to be registered for breeding purposes? There’s one immediate argument against it: Clones obtained through SCNT are not genetically identical to the original animal. With stallion clones used for breeding, they don’t pass on their mitochondrial DNA because the mares they’re bred to contribute their own mitochondrial DNA, essentially cancelling out the “foreign” mitochondrial DNA that comes from the donor egg during the cloning process.

Compare the markings on show jumper ET (left) with his clone (right).

But mare clones will not “breed true” — since their mitochondrial DNA comes from the donor egg during cloning, mare clones will pass on “foreign” mitochondrial DNA to their foals. The only way around this issue is to use a donor egg in the cloning process that comes from the same mare being cloned, but that requires the donor mare to be alive and still producing eggs. This work-around would also add to the cost of the procedure since it’s more complicated to harvest viable donor eggs from a living horse.

The point of a registering authority is to keep accurate records of all horses’ pedigrees, but how can parentage be determined of a horse that wasn’t the product of conception and carries the genetic material of an unknown donor? A great emphasis is placed on “purity” in Arabians, and the issue of SCNT introduces more purity questions.

read more in part IV | part I | part II

(You may leave your comments on part IV.)

Makin’ Babies: The Influence of Breeding Technologies, Part IV

by Kristin Berkery

return to part III | part I | part II

There are other ethical concerns with using cloned animals for breeding purposes. Natural selection, in this case subfertility, would normally determine that LD Pistal’s genetic influence on the breed would be limited. Cloning might be warranted if he has physical traits or rare bloodlines that would be hard to find elsewhere, but that’s not the case with LD Pistal. His sire, Magnum Psyche, has sired more than 1,500 foals as of May 2011 and his dam, Halana, has produced five registered foals, three of which were sired by Padrons Psyche, his son Magnum Psyche, and another Padrons Psyche son, FS Ritz. Two of Halana’s foals were donated to the Salem Children’s Home in Flanagan, Illinois. (Thank you to Arlene Magid for researching Halana’s production record.)

On paper, LD Pistal doesn’t look particularly uncommon. LD Pistal’s pedigree is a popular “recipe” of Russian, Spanish, Polish, Egyptian, and American bloodlines. Conformationally, LD Pistal also resembles the majority of Arabian halter horses today.

In the case of showjumping Warmblood gelding ET, he was cloned so his athletic genes could continue into the next generation. But when he was a youngster, his light body type wasn’t desireable for the Hanoverian studbook in the 1980s and he was gelded. For the first time in history, we can geld good horses without the concern that their genes will be lost forever. But does that justify the possible complications of cloning?

Smart Little Lena clones

Smart Little Lena and his five clones. Image created by Nature Biotechnology

In 2005 five clones were created of Quarter Horse cutting champion Smart Little Lena, who was no longer breeding. There are still frozen straws of his semen available, but his syndicate owners wanted to stretch Smart Little Lena’s influence well into the future. This certainly raises questions about how much of an impact any one horse should have on a breed, especially when clones can be produced indefinitely in the future, and how much profit motives should drive the decision to clone.

The clones triggered ongoing conflicts in the Smart Little Lena syndicate, spawning lawsuits and a major shakeup in management. In the meantime, one of the clones died of cancer and two were found to be infertile, with one having undescended testicles. The four living clones were sold at auction in December 2010.

You may be thinking it won’t matter that Smart Little Lena’s clones will be available for breeding in the near future since the American Quarter Horse Association won’t register clones or the offspring of clones. However, horses that compete at National Cutting Horse Association shows are not required to be registered, only age-verified by a veterinarian, and the NCHA has said it will allow clones to compete. So expect to see clones in cutting competition.

Magnum Psyche, sire of LD Pistal. Photo by Luiz Rocco

As more clones are produced, there is the issue of ensuring cloned horses receive good care. Let’s say a stallion is found to be subfertile and his clone is used to sire his foals, but the original stallion’s fertility is restored (which can happen) — what about the clone? Is it automatically gelded? Should it continue to breed on behalf of its “parent”? What if a clone is found to be unsuitable for breeding? If it’s gelded and consequently devalued, will it be sold to an appropriate home where it will be cared for — or will it be dumped on the market, or worse, sold at a killer auction?

Texas A&M University reports that they have a 26% live foal rate per cloned embryo transferred, meaning there are many embryos that die in utero and a few foals that die after birth. While future technology may improve the success rate, is it ethical to be willing to lose that many foals in the pursuit of profits and extending a horse’s breeding influence? These clones are, after all, living, breathing animals with feelings and we live in a compassionate nation where many people try to buy products marked “Not tested on animals.”

Even more questions come to mind. Should a horse be cloned multiple times in order to increase its influence on a breed? Should a horse’s genes be available many years into the future, well past a horse’s natural lifetime, or past the time frozen semen is considered viable?

Since SCNT clones are not genetically identical to their “parent,” how would this affect DNA typing during the registration process? Perhaps most importantly, do financially-challenged horse breed registries have the manpower and the funds to investigate all these issues and then govern them? It’s quite a Pandora’s box.

Cloning is a hot topic in Quarter Horses – learn more about it at Quarter Horse News. The American Quarter Horse Journal published a very thorough article on the subject. Leave your opinions below.

return to part III | part I | part II