If You Can, Will You?

In the magazine business, time can be your worst enemy when it comes to distributing the news. Daily newspapers always have a jump on even twice-monthly periodicals like Quarter Horse News. We make up for the delay in printed material by offering immediate and up-to-date news via our website (quarterhorsenews.com) and our Facebook page (facebook.com/quarterhorsenews), or by sharing in-depth articles from our sister publication, the Amarillo Globe-News. Sometimes, however, the news just has bad timing. Like today.

What I would like to be able to write about right now is clones, and whether or not they can be registered with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). Earlier today, a jury in an Amarillo court decided that the AQHA had, indeed, violated antitrust laws in restricting the registration of cloned horses and their offspring. On all five counts related to antitrust law, the jury said, “Yes,” the AQHA was in the wrong.

What they did not say, however, was whether or not clones should be, and could now be, registered. That will be decided at a future date. And decide she will … quite likely after this issue has gone to the printer, but possibly even before it reaches your mailbox. And so I sit in limbo, wondering and speculating whether clones will, in fact, be granted status as registered American Quarter Horses.

I am reminded of another period in time when we sat and wondered the same thing about another “hot topic” – multiple embryos. It’s been several years since that lawsuit – more years than I care to admit – but still, it seems like just yesterday that I was writing about the potential implications on the AQHA and the breed if multiple embryos were allowed to be registered.

Back then, I was working in the Quarter Horse racing industry. So while the lawsuit was filed by a cutter, I was interested in what those involved in Quarter Horse racing had to say about multiple embryos. In the interest of fair journalism, I called several people I thought would be for the registration of multiple embryos and several people I thought would be against it.

What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming opinion of people in the racing industry that multiple embryos should not be registered. Period. Even those people I thought would support the registration of multiple embryos were against it. I remember the interviews, the conversations and the resulting article vividly, because it is probably the most one-sided article I have ever written, simply because I could not find one person to voice a differing opinion. It seemed that no one in Quarter Horse racing wanted to see multiple embryos registered. Of course, there were supporters of multiple embryos out there, they just weren’t voicing their opinion to me to put in print.

That lawsuit was settled and that’s when the “rest of the story” came out. Because almost everyone I interviewed also agreed that, while they were against multiple embryos, if the AQHA was forced to allow their registration, they would take advantage of the technology and breed mares for more than one foal per year.

Let me tell you, I was shocked. Here were horsemen – industry leaders – telling me they were morally against breeding a mare for more than one foal per year. And yet, if the rules changed, they would do it. Why? To compete. It was as simple as that. They knew if they did not take advantage of multiple embryos, their competition would, and they would suffer the consequences. These horsemen, whom I consider some of the best horsemen in the history of the American Quarter Horse, were also businessmen.

Tempers and emotions ran high over the multiple embryo issue, and the feelings evoked over the subject of clones are even stronger. It seems people are either for it or against it; there is no middle ground.

From a purely journalistic standpoint, I find the clone issue fascinating. In disciplines where horses don’t have to be registered, clones have been making headlines since the mid-2000s, and I’ve read about all of them. I have seen several clones in person, and also have had the opportunity to see some of the first clone offspring.

I’ve interviewed people who have clones, people who want clones and people who abhor them. From that same journalistic point of view, I find it fascinating to see what other people are thinking about the clones and their offspring. The newest development is on Facebook, where pages have been started to allow people to voice their opinions on cloning.

Perhaps because of my journalistic background, I take it all with a grain of salt. Like the introduction of multiple embryos, cloning is a new technology that has been met with fierce opposition from some, and welcomed with open arms by others. The longterm effects of clones on the industry and the breed have yet to be determined.

And so, as we sit on the cusp of a judge’s ruling about the registration of clones, I wonder, will the results be the same? While cloning remains economiclly out of reach of many horsemen, breeding to a clone could soon be within everyone’s reach. You might morally disagree with cloning a horse yourself, but would you breed to a clone if he were at the top of the sire charts? If the benefits of registration are there, will you support it?

Like the final rulings in the lawsuit, the results remain to be seen.