Horse enthusiasts had a variety of premier equestrian competitions to view in the 2012 Olympics, recently held in London. The contests in jumping, dressage, and eventing were conducted under a radically-revised eligibility rule that, before Dolly the cloned sheep came on the scene in 1996, would have seemed like it emanated from the realm of science fiction.

The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) is the global governing body for equestrian sport and is recognized as such by the International Olympic Committee. In June 2012, the FEI decreed that cloned horses and their progeny are eligible to compete in FEI competitions. This was a total reversal of the FEI’s 2007 ban on cloned horses. Dr. Graeme Cooke, FEI’s veterinary director, told ABC News that much more has been learned about cloning since that edict: “We now know that the clone is only a 98 percent copy of the original.”

The Chronicle of the Horse reports that no clones are competing at the present time. However, several clones of champion dressage horses and show jumpers have been born. Gemini—a clone of the gelding Gem Twist, the 1988 Olympic Games silver medalist in individual and team jumping–is being used as a breeding stallion.

The Thoroughbred breed has steadfastly hued to custom by registering animals conceived the old-fashioned way, ever since the advent of James Weatherby’s General Stud Book in 1791. Yet the distinction between live cover and other means to procreation seems increasingly anachronistic in an era in which cloned horses can officially compete for Olympic gold.

A new generation of Thoroughbred breeders, circa 2022 or 2032, may be bemused looking back on the days when their predecessors debated the genetic implications and economic consequences of artificial insemination, frozen semen transport, and embryo transfer.

The FEI has allowed controversial and cutting-edge science to dramatically enter the staid world of equine breeding and competition. Future disputes for breed registries are likely to revolve around trailblazing questions, such as how many clones can be registered from any one superhorse, how long after a horse dies can it be used to clone, and how entries in competitions and races can be screened for genetic ringers.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

Published originally on the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.