Science in the Show Ring: The Future of Horse Shows

Julia A. Childrey, Esq.

Spring is upon us and show season has begun.  The majority, if not all, riders know that being competitive requires the sacrifice of time, energy, and a good deal of money.  They also know the value of hard work.  Time spent training is time well spent. For competitors with the recently purchased prospective show horse there is the apprehension yet excitement of finding out just what their investment is capable of in the show ring.  The evaluation of a buyer for a horse’s potential to win is one of the more exciting prospects of purchasing a horse.

Trainers and amateur riders buying the show prospect hinge a lot of expectation on the unknown. Making a purchase for the upcoming show season can be pure excitement.  The grade gelding that shows such great potential to be a fine hunter show horse- the little mare that turns so easily in the field could one day be a reining championship, these are the buys that hold so much anticipation for the new owner.  It is the possibility that their horse can do so much more than anyone else ever expected.  The unknown promise of a future winner.   But what if it all wasn’t unknown, what if the buyer already knew that the horse would win?

It may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but two veterinarians in Texas created a joint venture to offer exact clones of past champions to potential Quarter horse buyers.[1]  Jason Abraham and Gregg Veneklasen used the ‘assisted reproductive technique’ of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, essentially cloning, to create horses of their own, which they termed “elite” Quarter horses.  The pair then tried to register the cloned horse with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and were denied.

The AQHA had previously made its position known in regards to cloning by the passage of Rule 227 which states in part “horses produced by any cloning process are not eligible for registration.”  Abraham and Veneklasen sued in federal district court.  They alleged that the AQHA created a monopoly by refusing to allow them registration of their cloned horses, thereby essentially controlling the market, and that the AQHA’s actions violated both state and federal anti-trust conspiracy laws.  They further conceded that without registration their horses were virtually worthless.

The AQHA filed a motion for summary judgment, a defensive response which basically states that there is no theory of law under which the plaintiff’s lawsuit can proceed.  The response consisted of a denial that the facts support a conclusion that AQHA holds a monopoly over the horse industry, and a denial that there was any conspiracy by AQHA to decrease and limit the number of registered horses.  Among its arguments, AQHA cited that nearly 86% of its member base oppose cloning and as an organization must remain relevant and popular with its members.  While the district judge granted one part of the AQHA’s motion, she denied the AQHA’s motion that the facts did not support conspiracy and monopoly of the market.  These issues, she declared, were better addressed by going to trial and allowing the parties to put on evidence.  Until trial, the AQHA and other breed associations, who want to prevent clones horses from participating in their organizations, are still able to do so.  However, if the AQHA is ultimately forced to register cloned horses, the dominoes may fall for other breeds who likewise prevent the registration of cloned horses.  Similar lawsuits may crop of from other plaintiffs, and the backlash from non-cloning breeders and horse owners will be expected.

The next ten years may see past champions competing in the show ring, clones of their former selves.  The impact on the horse industry is hard to forecast.  While it certainly stands to reason that the affluent will be able to ‘purchase’ their wins, a variety of non-biological factors will also come into play.  Whether or not a cloned horse will prove to be a champion does depend on the nature versus nurture argument.  Genetically pre-disposed to having a better stride, near perfect conformation, or just the right “look,” these horses will still need to be trained appropriately and treated right.

Those of us who appreciate the ‘diamond in the rough’ and the ‘rags to riches’ stories of discounted horses that go on to have successful, often times unbelievable, show careers, will be all the more treasured in comparison to their petrie dish counterparts.

[1] Abraham  & Veneklasen Joint Venture v. American Quarter Horse Assn., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73754 (2013).



Julia A. Childrey, Esq.

Julia A. Childrey, Esq.

Julia A. Childrey is an associate at CowanGates.  Her practice is concentrated in litigation.  Julia obtained her bachelor of arts from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. She remained in the area for law school and attended the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond.  Outside of court, Julia enjoys riding her off the track thoroughbred.