In 2012, an 8-year-old bay gelding known as “Latte” hit his stride with Mary Walker and rattled off a legendary year, winning the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Championship, the National Finals Rodeo Ram Top Gun Award and $274,233. Fast forward to 2024, and an eerily similar 8-year-old bay gelding is blazing a smooth, long-strided rodeo trail of his own. “Ditto” is the first clone of Mary’s great horse Latte — registered name Perculatin (Dash For Perks x Curiocity Corners x Silver Lucky Buck).

The Process

Clones are created by taking a tissue sample from the donor horse, and the nucleus of the cell that contains DNA is transferred into a recipient egg that has had its DNA removed. This egg, or oocyte, is then implanted into a recipient mare. The gestational and foaling process is similar to traditional reproductive methods, with the difference being that the resulting foal is genetically identical to the donor horse. Much like twins in humans, they may not look the same, but their genetic makeup will be identical. Latte and Ditto are very similar in appearance, with their biggest differences being in their white markings. Ditto has a more slender white strip on his face, and white on both hind pasterns. Current AQHA regulations prevent clones from being added to their registry, but they are able to receive a certificate of registration with the American DNA Registry.

“They make it so easy for you. You get the tissue samples pulled by your vet, they [Via-Gen] send you the paperwork, and you send it in to them,” Mary said. “Then you just wait for them to call you and tell you that you have a baby! You don’t have to worry about when the mare is coming into season, or stud fees; I just tell them what I want and they do the process. They provide everything, and you just bring your samples.”

The Walkers are hoping to have five clones hitting the ground this spring. And they are available to purchase, per Mary’s husband, Byron.

“When you buy a clone, I’ll deliver a live foal and recip mare to your house,” Byron said. “You get them when they’re a few weeks old, when everything is healthy.”

Ditto is not the first barrel horse to be cloned, but he is arguably one of the most successful in the arena. Unlike many others who are cloned with reproduction purposes in mind, Byron and Mary had no intentions of Ditto ever being a stallion.

“I don’t know if Perculatin would have been a good stallion, but I do know he’s the greatest barrel horse I’ve ever seen,” Byron said. “The world has seen something happen that a lot of people thought never could. A clone is now a world-class barrel horse. I’m as proud as I could be of Ditto. He’s like a dream that we had came true.”

Tessa Arnold running barrels
Tessa Arnold and Latte Ditto turned in a 14.50 during the National Western Stock Show Rodeo to break the arena record. NWSSR Photo by Andersen C Bar C Photography

The Big Idea

The idea to begin cloning was Byron’s, after he had heard of cloned polo horses in Argentina making top-tier performance athletes. Byron contacted Blake Russell, the owner of Via-Gen in Cedar Park, Texas, and the Walkers decided to give it a try. Ditto was foaled out at Timber Creek Veterinary Hospital in Canyon, Texas, under the care of equine reproduction industry pioneer Dr. Greg Veneklasen.

“I flew out to look at him a day or two after he was born,” Mary recalled. “He walked right up to me and looked at me and I thought ‘Oh no, he has the same eyes. Oh, this is strange!’ But it was amazing. I’m older, and I don’t want to futurity. I thought if I could get something similar to Latte I would just love it. As you get older, you find the style you like to ride. I knew what I liked and what I could win on, and this is just what works for me. If I’m going to run barrels until I’m in my 80s, he’s what I want to ride. The big incentives and Buckles [Pink and Ruby] were starting to take off, but I just like to rodeo. I thought I’m either gonna quit, or do this.”

The Walkers raised Ditto at their home in Ennis, Texas.

“We doted over him so much and babied him; everybody kind of put him in bubble wrap. He’s very loveable and very lazy,” Mary shared. “They are very similar personality-wise, but Ditto is more laid back. They all have the same quirks. Ditto will kick the stall and cause a big ruckus at feeding time; Latte did that too. They also all poop in the same corner of their stall. They all look similar except for the white markings, and they all ride the same so far.”

Tessa Arnold and Ditto
Tessa Arnold and Ditto became partners after Mary Walker gave her the opportunity to take over the reins in 2023.

Becoming A Barrel Horse

“When they’re weanlings, we drop them off at Roger Daly Quarter Horses. They halter break them and do everything; he’s the greatest in the world.” Byron continued, “We pick them up after three months, and just let them be horses until about June of their 2-year-old year. Then Roger’s crew in Pilot Point will ride them for four months and break them. We get them back when they’re almost three, and Mary does her magic on them.”

When Ditto returned home from Daly’s, Mary wasted no time.

“I was just riding him; he’s never bucked or acted stupid. Riding around I just thought, ‘Man, I’m gonna take him around the barrels,’’ she said. “It was like he just knew them, so I hollered at Byron to come and watch.”

According to Byron, the pair loped right through the pattern without a single wrong step.

“They’re like a bird dog, they’re just bred to run barrels,” he said. “It’s unreal how easy they are to train. You don’t have to teach a bird dog to go smell birds, and maybe these horses are just bred to be barrel horses.”

As Ditto progressed on the pattern, Mary knew that she had something special. Her good friend Carley Cervi had a few futurity horses that she was hauling in 2020, and they agreed to add Ditto to her trailer. The team caught a glimpse of just how good he could be at the Old Fort Days Futurity in Fort Smith, Arkansas. After placing fifth in the qualifying round, Cervi and Ditto caught a barrel in the finals to place second — they would have been runner-up to VF Cream Rises, whose dam is also Curiocity Corners.

“After his futurity year we brought him home, and there was not a lot to go to besides jackpots [due to COVID],” Mary shared.  “I decided to change him to the left barrel first, he just seemed more comfortable that way. We had some issues his 6-year-old year, then last year I just decided I really don’t want to go run barrels much anymore. Then I broke my wrist, and I thought I just needed someone to take him. Then Tessa walked into our lives.”

Ditto, Mary Walker, and Latte.
Left to right: Ditto, Mary Walker, and Latte. Photo courtesy Mary Walker

Rodeo Time

20-year-old Weatherford College student Tessa Arnold was raised in a rodeo family. Her father Brent Arnold is friends with 10-time NFR steer wrestler Todd Fox, as well as Byron.

“I was sitting with Todd at Fort Worth, and he asked me what I wanted to do; and if I would be interested in coming over here [to Ennis]. I thought, ‘Of course, what 19-year-old wouldn’t want to go ride for a world champion?’” Arnold recalled.

It wasn’t long before the Coleman, Texas native was moved in with the Walkers, taking business classes online and taking over running Mary’s horses.

“Before I came over here I was on a mare that was really fast, so I didn’t have to kick her all that much, and Ditto is quite the opposite. But once he’s going, he’s going,” Arnold continued. “It took me awhile to get used to that, but Mary trained him so easy. When you’re a teenager you try to do too much, so we kind of calmed down my riding and made everything more simple. Just one hand on the reins and kick. She’s a great trainer and easy to ride behind. It’s a lot of fun when you’re 20 and just like to go fast!”

Arnold and Ditto went plenty fast at the PRCA Permit Finals in Waco October 6-8, 2023. The duo clocked faster each round, and won the 3-run average for $1,535. With her WPRA permit filled, the Walkers knew it was time for Arnold to hit the road and try to qualify for the bigger winter rodeos. A foot abscess prevented them from taking their shot at making Houston, and a down barrel in the short round at Uvalde, Texas, had them narrowly missing San Antonio. With that defeat fresh on her mind, Arnold had to get mentally tough and leave the next day for the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo qualifier.

“I went in there my first run and just rode him stride for stride, the second run was the same thing,” she said. “After the second I was pretty confident because I know he gets faster every run. I was the most nervous for my semi-finals run — you’ve got Brittany (Tonozzi) in there, Lisa Lockhart, just extremely talented horses and girls. I was third out, and I thought, ‘Just don’t beat yourself, because if you make your run and he works like he should, they’re gonna have to come beat me.’ And Mary was there calming me down as per usual. She’s always so helpful and knows what to say. Her and Byron together give me a lot of confidence.”

Ditto and his rookie jockey shut the clock off with a 14.50 and went straight to the top of Semifinals Three and the history books; breaking the NWSSR arena record of 14.63 that had just been reset by Hailey Kinsel and the indomitable DM Sissy Hayday a few days prior. A down barrel in the finals prevented Arnold from finishing the way she would have liked, but it did move her to the top of the WPRA Resistol Rookie of the Year standings.

“It’s every young girl’s goal to make the NFR. But now that I’m getting older I think I’m just grateful for all the runs that I get. You realize that things happen and you can’t control everything, you just have to be happy with the runs that you get. It would be cool to make the NFR and I definitely would thank God for it, but I’d also thank him for all the little runs I get to make on this amazing horse.”

NWSSR Arena Record

The arena record of 14.69 in the Denver Coliseum at the National Western Stock Show Rodeo was set by industry legend Tammy Fischer in 2002 and held strong for 22 years before being broken an incredible three times during the 2024 NWSSR. In the eighth performance, Rose Hill, Kansas’ own Chelsea Moore inched past the record with a 14.68 on The Frost Advisory (Famous Bugs x PC Smoke Sun Holly x Sun Frost). In Performance 13, iconic duo Hailey Kinsel and DM Sissy Hayday reset the books again with a 14.63. The record was then shattered in Semifinals Three when WPRA Rookie Tessa Arnold clocked a 14.50 riding Latte Ditto, a clone of Mary Walker’s world champion gelding Perculatin (“Latte”).

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