Student Post: Immortalized Mules

I spent a summer working on an Arabian horse ranch when i was 17. I loved that place and am crazy about Arabians but... let's face it. We've severely inbred horses for show. Exhibit A:
i-ed6ecc64d87f7fa5115a701df17179b8-kazmierek3.jpg

It's not uncommon for an Arabian pedigree to boast seven lines of relation to one horse. Bask, for instance, was a famous Arabian stallion and today a large percentage of Arabs are his decendents including my horse, Rebel, of whom I'm foolishly fond:

i-f7e190d7449ba41f5c455e4dbf15a2f8-rebel.jpg

Well, I learned some interesting news at today's Senior Seminar. Why inbreed when you can clone! It's all the rage among mule racing enthusiasts. Don Jacklin, president of the American Mule Racing Association, almost single-handedly funded cloning research at the University of Idaho of his champion mule line. Cloning champion horses has been made into a very lucrative business in France. Cryozootech turns a large profit cloning gelded or aged horses so that their clones can be used for breeding. If I had 300 grand I could clone Rebel.

It will be really interesting to see what happens to these animals as they age. The mules are reported to be healthy and competitive racers but concerns over telomere length have yet to be addressed.

...And yes. I did just want to use the phrase "mule racing enthusiasts."

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Sorry. the horse clones were used for breeding. The mules just for racing. I wasn't very clear

Heh. How many times and places in the world does one come across the concept of mule racing? And yet, coincidentally, I've written a novel centered around the sport. I was worried that nobody else would even know such a thing existed.

This was sad on two points. That inbred, and the use of clones instead of sex to stave off inbreeding for a few generations more.

I have seen (but never ridden) Arabians, and they are impressive. But do try out an Icelandic horse if you get the chance - they are usually self-confident but will ride spirited. And if they can tölt you are in for a smooth ride.

By Torbjörn Larsson, OM (not verified) on 27 Nov 2007 #permalink

Arabians have the most elegant lines and, if they have a strong, calm and experienced trainer when they're young, they can be as friendly and playful a companion as any horse.

I, being lazy when it comes to practicing to make perfect, always had better luck with a Quarter horse mix. They're as stubborn as mules, but less flighty, or headshy, in my experience. 'Twas the Arabs that broke 3 of my four toes. The Qs just threw me by stopping on a dime.

Good luck saving up that 300K!

:)

I was under the impression that Dr. Kelly White at Utah State did all the cloning work on the racing mules. His lab is well known to be expert at somatic nuclear cell cloning and racing mules is only one of his accomplishments. He is currently working on cloning prime grade cattle for the high end steak market.

Where I trained horses in my younger days we had two mules and a hinney we used for cross country racing. Had very good results, they always finished and many horses did not.

We also had a jenny who would breed. If she covered by a horse she'd throw a horse colt, if with an ass of some type she'd throw an ass, usually a pretty big one.

The Qs just threw me by stopping on a dime.

Umm, that is a prized skill in the reining, cutting and working cow horse circles! You had yourself a winner there.

Unfortunately, poor breeding practices are not limited to the Arab world. I have seen performance Quarter Horses with 4 lines of relations back to Doc Bar only 3 generations deep. Which is ironic given that the modern AQHA sprung forth out of a 1950s dispute over allowing outcrosses to thoroughbreds, which the modern organization did, and still does, support.

I suspect cloning is coming to the horse industry in a big way once the cost comes down. The AQHA lost a suit over a rule against registering embryo transfer foals a few years ago on antitrust and restraint of trade grounds. How much longer can it be before the ban on registering clones is challenged on the same grounds?

By carlsonjok (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

I can't write much or I'll miss my plane. But I'd be very interested to see where cloning goes in the Thoroughbred (vs. mule) racing industry. At the moment, the U.S. Jockey Club doesn't even allow artificial insemination, let alone cloning.

But think of all those famous racehorses who proved to be duds in the breeding barn (i.e. Cigar). Would cloning produce a replica with more viable semen (ooh, that word will set off the spam filters!) -- especially since the horse's fertility problems are often said to be man-made? (What? Give a race horse performance-enhancing drugs? Never!)

Then again, if the horse needed drugs to be successful in the first place, would a non-drugged version be worthy of passing along his genes?

It's got me very confused, ethically. There's a big problem in the horse industry (as well as the dog and cat industry) of breeding horses because they can't do anything else. Got a mare with poor conformation who's not sound enough to ride? Breed her! Got a stallion who's so rank you don't dare climb on his back? Breed him!

Which means we end up with a bunch of crap horses who spend their days slowly starving to death in overgrazed pastures.

Ack, I gotta go. Thanks for this post -- I'd be interested to hear follow-ups. And Rebel looks like a good guy.

Oh, and "mule racing enthusiast" is fun to say!

I have to admit I was a bit worried about that first photo until I read the text. Mind you it isn't anything compared to what we have done to the wolf skull...

By Peter Ashby (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

The question of telomere lenght and nuclear transfer has been addressed in a number of studies. Just go to PUBMED, type in "telomere length nuclear transfer" and presto.
Sarge: a breeding hinny throwing horse or donkey foals ? You don't say. The reason horse/donkey hybrids are generally sterile is that horses and donkeys have different chromosome numbers and meiosis in hybrid offspring generally does not produce fertile gametes. There are very few reported cases of foals born to mules and only one report where this has happened in a hinny.

Oops. Sorry Sarge, you said "jenny" I read "hinny". Still, acccording to my sources, a jenny is a female donkey. So then a jenny when mated to a horse would not produce a horse foal but a mule.
The larger question, of course, is how desperate would a stallion have to be to make out with a donkey...

I think this is too much interspecies buggery for me before my second cup of coffee.

Umilik, you certainly need that coffee. Interspecies buggery certainly won't produce offspring. Either that or you've been doing buggery wrong all these years. :-)

By Mike from Ottawa (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

Wow, that is an interesting thought; I mean cloning seems antithetical to the entire philosophy of selectively breeding horses and dogs, but when an animal can't reproduce as in the case of mules it makes sense.

Neat post!

In a perverse way, cloning race horses could makes a lot of sense. It could be sort of like stock car racing. Everyone races clones of the same horse. No one gets a "souped up" horse. Winning becomes only about how well the horse is raised, trained, and ridden.

OK, that's an oversimplification, since even clones aren't absolutely identical, but you get the idea.

Good post, Katie. MSNBC had a good article on this last month. I thought the neatest bit in the article was the part about Scamper and his clone Clayton. Scamper was the best barrel racing horse ever, but he was gelded before anyone knew he was such an awsome athlete. His owner had him cloned for $150,000 in Texas so she could breed him.

Pretty cool stuff. I'm not a horse lover so I also didn't know there was such a big difference in the athletic skills bred into Arabs vs. Quarters until I read that and asked some family about it. My brother in law told me, "Oh yeah, Arabians are Carl Lewis and Quarterhorses are Barry Sanders."

Interesting that somebody noticed. My husband and I founded the American Donkey and Mule Society 40 years ago. Our group holds the registry for race mules. If you are interested in longeared stuff go to lovelongears.com.
Mule racing has been around for about 25 years but became big time with parimutual betting about 10 years ago. Mules are used for anything a horse is used for (including dressage) except breeding of course. And for those of you who don't know. Male Donkey (jack) x female horse (mare)= mule. Male horse (stallion) x female donkey (jennet or jenny) = hinny. Hinnys are sometimes smaller than mules of the same breeding because the jenny is smaller. They are just as useful as mules however and most of them can't be told apart from mules by anything but genetic testing.
Long Live the Mule!

By Betsy Hutchins (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

My brother in law told me, "Oh yeah, Arabians are Carl Lewis and Quarterhorses are Barry Sanders."

I didn't understand any of that sentence.

That makes two of us, ignoring the b-in-law part.

By JohnnieCanuck, FCD (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

Well, I understand the comment, I just don't agree with it. Quarter horses are more Dan O'Brien than Barry Sanders.

By carlsonjok (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

#10-

At the moment, the U.S. Jockey Club doesn't even allow artificial insemination, let alone cloning.

I can't see the Jockey Club giving in on this one anytime soon, but perhaps it's a good thing. Lots of Thoroughbred racehorses end up at the killers every year, if they don't run well, and aren't suitable for use in other sports or as pleasure horses. My Thoroughbreds all came off the track, and fortunately have the temperament and ability to work for polo and polocrosse. Thoroughbreds are the best choice for polo, as they have both speed and stamina (Arabians have stamina, but are slow, while Quarter horses have speed, but tire quickly), and there isn't a requirement to breed polo horses by live cover. I'd be surprised if someone doesn't clone a top polo horse gelding in the near future. Cloning a race-winning Thoroughbred gelding (such as Funny Cide, the 2003 Kentucky Derby champ, or Desert Orchid(ectomy), a top UK racehorse) would be a waste though, since the clone could not legally race, and the clone's natural offspring might be banned as well.

I love the longears at the Livestock exposition every year; they have the best personalities. The miniature donkeys are my favorites. When I'm too old and crunchy to ride horses, I think I'll show mini donkeys.

I can see why you love your Rebel, Katie-he's beautiful, and has a sweet face.

I didn't understand any of that sentence.

Sorry, bit of parochialism on my part. Forgot PZ has so many readers that aren't American sports fans. He just meant that Quarterhorses are bred to excel at all-around athletics rather than pure speed. Carlsonjok is right that Dan O'Brien's probably a much better example.

This was sad on two points. That inbred, and the use of clones instead of sex to stave off inbreeding for a few generations more.

I have seen (but never ridden) Arabians, and they are impressive. But do try out an Icelandic horse if you get the chance - they are usually self-confident but will ride spirited. And if they can tölt you are in for a smooth ride.

By Torbjörn Larsson, OM (not verified) on 27 Nov 2007 #permalink

I would just like to comment on this blog about the inbreeding of arabian horses. The above photo of the "supposed" inbred arabian is the great stallion Kazmierek, who isn't inbred at all. He has a tiny bit of line breeding and that's all. Anyone interested in his breeding can visit the following site to see his pedigree: http://www.allbreedpedigree.com/kazmierek

I'm sorry, but a beautiful head doesn't make for an opportunity to call the horse inbred. Inbred is father/daughter, brother/sister etc. crossing, not linebreeding several generations back. Because you own your dear arabian, I think it may be a smart idea for you to promote the breed and not give it a bad reputation.

Yes, horses are inbred, but this is BULL!!! I own 60 of the finest arabs in the world and they are linebred! Linebreeding is ok. Breeding mother to son is not ok!

By Arab_horse_owner (not verified) on 05 Jun 2008 #permalink

At the moment, the U.S. Jockey Club doesn't even allow artificial insemination, let alone cloning.

Does that regulation concern the production of horses, or of jockeys?

By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 05 Jun 2008 #permalink

I'm sorry, but a beautiful head doesn't make for an opportunity to call the horse inbred.

I think that photo is making people imagine that his nose is much more concave than it really is. Here are other photos to compare.

When you talk about imbreeding and then say exhibit A - why have you then got a phtograph of OUR stallion KAZMIEREK?
Please do explain yourself and where did you get this photograph from?
WE HAVE NOT GIVEN YOU THE RIGHT TO USE HIS PHOTOGRAPH AND WE DO NOT IMBREED HORSES.
PLEASE DO REPLY!!!!!!!!

By jo clarke (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

The one who made the original post was a student at the time, more than half a year ago. She probably isn't reading this anymore.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

PZ, maybe you should add a correction (or take down the pic if there are copyright issues): this post is the top hit in Google images for the stallion's name right now.

As suggested by Windy - if this is a top hit I AM FUMING.
KAZMIEREK - I MAY ADD, WHO HAS SADLY PASSED AWAY WAS OUR FOUNDATION STALLION FOR 18 YEARS. WE ARE STILL A HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL AND PROFESSIONAL STUD FARM, COMPETING WITH OUR YOUNGSTOCK AROUND EUROPE.
TO HAVE THIS RUBBISH ON THE INTERNET IS FIRSTLY COMPLETE LIARS AND IT IS ALSO SLANDEROUS.

By jo clarke (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

Jo, I'm sure no slander was intended here, but I agree that a correction is in order. Why don't you send an email to PZ (link under the picture on the left) since he might not be reading these comments.

Why don't you send an email to PZ (link under the picture on the left) since he might not be reading these comments.

It's not a bad additional suggestion, but I imagine he's got the blog set up to notify him whenever he gets any comments on any post. Probably he's not reading either comments or email at the moment en route to Denver, but I'm sure he'll correct the situation once he's back online.