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'Cloning used to be for rich Americans trying to keep their kids' favourite pony alive'

Earlier this year, Mary McCann unveiled Ireland’s first cloned show-jumping horses.

Believe it or not, these two horses are identical.
Believe it or not, these two horses are identical.
Image: McCann Family

WHEN YOU OWN not just one of Ireland’s finest ever show-jumpers but also one of the most sought-after sires in the world, you’d be forgiven for wanting him to live forever.

For owner Mary McCann, the death of Cruising was difficult, especially as he had brought Hartwell Stud — located just outside Kill, Co. Kildare — so much success in his 29 years.

Ridden by Trevor Coyle, Cruising won some of the world’s most high profile Grands Prix, including those at Aachen and Lucerne, and featured regularly on Ireland’s winning Nations’ Cup teams before his death last September.

But McCann also had a secret, one which she only unveiled to the world earlier this year.

Cruising would live on a little longer in the shape of Cruising Arish and Cruising Encore, the first show-jumping clones ever produced in Ireland.

“An awful lot of people were on to me about doing it,” McCann told The42 earlier this year.

“Cruising lived until he was 29 in 2012 and cloning really only came into being around 2003-2004 and in those days it was only really done for very wealthy Americans who wanted to keep their child’s favourite pony alive.

“It only started to happen in the sports world back in 2007. From that time people were telling me I had to do it. Around that time my agent rang me to tell me that, at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, there was a firm offering storage of Cruising’s tissue for nothing.

“It would normally cost around $1500 but it sort of prompted me to do something about it.”

Cruising as a 4yr old Cruising as a four-year old. Source: McCann Family

The 29-year old Cruising looks a lot different to his clones but, as you can see above, they are very similar to the four-year old version. McCann says the similarities don’t end there.

“Cruising was their colour when he was that age. He looked so like them, you wouldn’t believe. But the colour changes over time so those two will go as white as Cruising was if they live that long as well.

“Personality wise, they both have different bits of him but the character is really coming out.”

However, while they may be genetically identical to Cruising, McCann is keen to stress that replicating his unparalleled success — he remains the only stallion in Ireland to have a five star rating for his own show-jumping performance and that of his offspring in both jumping and eventing — is not a given.

Indeed, the performances of Cruising Arish and Cruising Encore, both in the ring and at stud, is all down to nature versus nurture.

“They are identical to Cruising so when you’re breeding with those horses, you’re breeding from Cruising. Now, that doesn’t mean they’ll be as good at jumping as Cruising was. There’s an awful lot of nurture — the way they’re ridden, they way they’re handled — that impacts on how they perform in the ring.

“Of course things have changed too since Cruising was at the top of his game. Fences are different, courses are different, so, at that high level, we’d be very, very lucky if both of them got that far.

“I learned so much about nature v nurture when we were going through this process.

“I’m not sure of the exact figures but they say with racehorses, for example, that only about 35% of the speed is to do with the genetic make up of the animal.

“So lets say with Cruising that his jumping ability was only 35%, you’ve got to find the other 65% as the owner and trainer.”

Spot the difference

Cruising Arish Cruising Arish Source: McCann Family

Cruising Encore Cruising Encore Source: McCann Family

While cloning is nothing new in Europe or the US, the exact nature of what they’re getting at stud has caused confusion for some Irish breeders.

“We have people from a range of countries in looking for semen already. On the continent there are quite a few high class clones already breeding but this is the first one in Ireland so I think it might take a bit of getting used to.

“I mean, I’ve still people ringing me up and don’t understand that the two horses are identical to Cruising, they’re not just his offspring, at the DNA level they are him.

“But there’s still a huge amount of interest here so there’s no way we’ll be able to cover all the mares. They’re only young and we don’t want to strain them too much.”

For the gamblers among you, don’t get your hopes up that you’ll see a clone of Frankel or Hurricane Fly any time soon as horse-racing is unlikely to follow show-jumping’s lead.

“It will never come in to horse-racing I don’t think. It doesn’t even allow for artificial insemination at this stage so I can’t see it ever allowing cloning.

“But for show-jumping, the studbooks now accept that the clone is the original.”

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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