A leap into the unknown: Cloned eventing horse Tamarillo is groomed for success

The legendary animal is arguably the most storied horse of any kind to be replicated to date - but some equine experts question the practice

To the layperson, Tamarillo probably looks like any other horse; but not to aficionados of eventing, the mixed equestrian discipline that requires competitors to show an extraordinary blend of courage, discipline and grace. To his owners, MW and Finn Guinness, Tamarillo has always been different. “I knew he was going to win everything from the beginning,” said MW. “He was famous for this graceful movement. He had fans all over the world.”

He stands out, the experts say, for his speed, his endurance, and his lightness in the dressage part of the sport. (That’s the bit with the dancing horses, particularly popular during last summer’s Olympics.)

As much as anything else, Tamarillo was popular with fans for his personality and his charm. “He’s exceptionally beautiful, and he has a real intelligence,” says Lucy Higginson, editor of Horse and Hound magazine. “You needed an absolutely world-class rider to bring the best out of him – he was an exciting horse to watch because you never quite knew if he was going to bubble over. He was a complicated hero.”

With just such a rider, William Fox-Pitt, Tamarillo had huge success, winning Badminton and Burghley horse trials, two of the biggest events in the sport. He had been in with a shout of an Olympic medal in Athens in 2004 when disaster struck – a chipped bone in one of his back legs as he completed a flawless cross-country round.

Tamarillo is retired now, but that injury remains a source of regret to those who love him. Little wonder that they would like nothing better than to breed from the horse, and see if an heir could match, or better, his achievements.

There’s just one problem: Tamarillo can’t breed. Like most stallions that take part in eventing, he was gelded – castrated – to avoid the kind of hormonal flightiness that can make for an uncontrollable competitor. When they saw how talented he was, the Guinnesses had hopes of breeding a sibling from his mother, Mellita.

“I adored her,” says MW. “She was the best horse I ever rode.” But then Mellita died. MW says she cried for a year. The hopes of another Tamarillo had gone.

Or so you would think. In fact, there is a foal in New Jersey that proves this is not the case. He is said to move just like Tamarillo. He even shares a distinctive white “sock” on his left hind leg. And, although he is 21 years younger, he is the older horse’s identical twin.

The foal – tentatively named Tomatillo, another variety of tomato – is a clone. Bred in secrecy, his existence was revealed today by Horse and Hound magazine. The similarities are said to be uncanny. “It’s spooky how like Tam he is,” William Fox-Pitt told the magazine.

“You see this little boy darting around while all the other horses are standing still. He’s a clown, just like Tam. He’s still doing that at 21.”

Kathleen McNulty, owner of Replica Farms, the company that produced the animal, called him “amazing”. “He’s so smart,” she says. “In the 30 years I’ve been breeding I’d have to say this is one of the best foals I’ve ever seen,” she said. Although there are hundreds of cloned horses and other animals, Tomatillo is only the second eventing horse to be cloned from a British original; and Tamarillo is arguably the most storied horse of any kind to be replicated to date.

Furthermore, the idea is gaining in currency. The International Federation for Equestrian Sports reversed their position and approved the right of clones to participate last year. In the US, the governing body of quarter horse racing – sprinting contests over very short distances between small animals – lost a legal challenge to their ruling against clones, setting a legal precedent that could conceivably affect thoroughbred racing in the future.

But some in the equestrian community are uneasy, and the RSPCA is against cloning. “There’s huge potential for some of the animals involved to suffer unnecessary pain and distress,” says Dr Nikki Osborne, senior scientific officer at the charity.

The process to produce a viable foetus is known as somatic-cell nuclear transfer. Tissue is taken from the original horse’s neck; the genetic material is injected into a donor mare’s unfertilised egg. When that has developed into an embryo, it is inserted into a surrogate mare, which carries the foal to birth.

Dr Osborne says that the donor and surrogate mares can be caused to suffer by the process, and says that she is “quite categorical that the process cannot be justified”.

Replica Farms dispute that assessment and insist that the technique is not cruel. So do the Guinnesses. Finn, who has a PhD in epigenetics, has long had a personal interest in the field.

The process is also not cheap: a syndicate of investors shared the £104,000 cost of producing Tomatillo. That means that cloning is always likely to be more for the purposes of breeding than competition.

But although Finn Guinness says he doesn’t want to put the horse into competition, MW won’t rule it out.

Of course, it’s not as simple as a scientific story, or even a sporting one: for those who do clone their horses, there’s enormous emotional baggage attached, as well.

“When the people who clone the horse see their baby for the first time. They can’t believe it,” says Ms McNulty. “They say ‘oh my god – it’s the same face staring back at me.’ It’s uncanny, but it’s joyous.”

Horses for courses: Cloning in other equestrian sports

Polo

The technique is highly popular in Argentina, the world capital of polo. Although the authorities have approved the process, the first crop of clones have yet to reach the right age for competition. One has already sold for more than half a million pounds.

Equestrianism

The world governing body approved the practice last year, a decision that reversed its previous position. It said cloning was not unfair because the genetic match is not 100 per cent and much of a horse’s performance is based on training, conditions, and the rider. 2016 will be the first Olympics for which clones are eligible. The practice is more common in showjumping and dressage than eventing.

Thoroughbred racing

In the US, the Jockey Club has ruled that clones cannot even be registered, much less entered into competition. It also prohibits artificial insemination, insisting strictly on naturally born animals. The same rules apply in the UK.

Quarter horses

A Texas court ruled that the American Quarter Horse Association, which governs the short-distance sprint sport, was in breach of anti-monopoly laws by barring clones from its registry after the owners of about 20 such horses brought a case.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick