Clones of Event Horse Che Mr. Wiseguy Expected in March

Two foals that will be born in March 2010 are the first clones of a three-day event horse. A Belgian Warmblood gelding owned by Ronald Zabala-Goetschel of Quito, Ecuador, and Kennett Square, Pa., Che Mr. Wiseguy is a dark bay gelding with three white socks and a blaze. Zabala-Goetschel said that since competing at the Rolex Kentucky CCI 4* in April 2009, the horse has quite a fan club. Based on that performance, horse and rider are qualified to represent Ecuador at the World Equestrian Games in 2010.

"He’s a very good mover and usually goes clean in the show jumping, and so far he has never had a stop in his life in cross country or show jumping," he said. "He's the horse of a lifetime."

Before cloning Wiseguy, Zabala-Goetschel first tried to breed a full sibling to him; he found both his dam and his sire, but dam Noblesse was not for sale and sire Jolie had been gelded. Zabala-Goetschel was able to obtain frozen semen from Jolie and eventually Noblesse’s owner agreed to let him try for a foal but the breeding to the 19-year-old mare was unsuccessful after several attempts. After having success with another stallion, they tried again with Jolie and found out earlier this week that the mare was in foal. The embryo was transferred to a surrogate mare in Belgium.

But Zabala-Goetschel realizes that a full sibling still isn't a match.

"The only way to get a genetic match is by cloning; even identical twins are different," he said. "Everywhere I go top riders want to buy this horse. It’s a compliment, but I would never sell him. There are not many horses in the world that have reached the four-star level with a clean record; everybody wants a Wiseguy."

The cloning is being handled by ViaGen, a company in Texas. Kathleen McNulty, an authorized sales representative, said ViaGen handles everything from collecting the tissue sample to foaling the clones, which go to their owner at two months of age. The conception rate for cloning is around 20%, but because they are manufacturing the embryos they can try again and again, and a live foal is guaranteed.

While cloning runs $165,000 per clone, in the case of cloned geldings that are successful performance horses, owners might be able to make their money back through breeding fees. As McNulty pointed out, "Clones have the exact same strand of DNA, so the clone itself doesn't really have to do anything [to prove itself]."

Zabala-Goetschel plans to use Wiseguy's clones for both sport and breeding. The Zangersheide Stud in Belgium will provide papers and the U.S. Equestrian Federation has agreed to provide the passports necessary for cloned event horses to compete. And what about "nature vs. nurture"? In an effort to help the clones learn the ropes, Zabala-Goetschel plans to turn the youngsters out with Wiseguy so that they can learn from him.

"It will be quite interesting to see how they turn out," he said.

About the Author

Amber Heintzberger

Amber Heintzberger is a journalist, photographer and award-winning author of Beyond the Track: Retraining the Thoroughbred from Racehorse to Riding Horse (Trafalgar Publishing, 2008). She lives in New York City.

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