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A few opinions about studs and collecting semen: 
(scroll down past my editorializing for the "action") 

Okay, it's time for a new “rant page” here - (another one?!) I have reached critical mass in response to a variety of things being said about both studs and shipped semen.

I’ll start with an anecdote – a vet once told me about handling a shipment of semen that had been placed directly into a small soup-thermos and sent to his client. (Some casual provision had been made for chilling the thermos externally.) Especially considering that it was an elderly mare in poor condition in every respect, he supposed that it was a contemptibly foolish waste of time. He inseminated the mare anyway, and informed his client that “a little more technology” would be required for conception. A few weeks later he found the mare in foal.

Some studs’ semen is ill-suited to shipping, some produce semen that you can't kill with a stick, and most are somewhere in between. (I strongly suspect that some of those accused of having bad semen only need to have more thorough experiments done with processing.)

There are a few elements of processing that need to be carefully observed, but this is definitely not an "exclusive" high-tech endeavor. Reality check: There were a few vets and some "civilians" working with semen and shipping it long before the AQHA even considered the question.


Here are a couple of excerpts from an article presented in the Western Horseman, May/June issue, 1945. Nothing has changed greatly since. Understanding has improved, average success increased (a little), more information is available, but mainly, helpful products are now available to ease many of the difficulties they faced back then.

(The complete article is available in .jpeg format, although you will want your reading glasses - the font is small.
Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 3 )

(I, by the way, do not have remarkable background in this – but I have spoken at length with a few of people who do, and encouraged them to talk about their observations. This offers some perspective. )

Others choose to imagine, or at least, to present it as a "sophisticated technology". As to the exclusivity implied by that sort of characterization - if you can read this you can acquaint yourself with the related research, some of which is legitimate and useful. Likewise, you can find plenty of info about the techniques of collecting and processing the semen, which is hardly rocket science. In other words, you can know just as much as anyone else if you want to - easily. (Well, it’s not real hard, anyway.) Colorado State has a series of really good books related to reproduction - these are better than others I have run across - the information is thorough and good. The campus bookstore has a .pdf order form that includes numbers for phone and FAX orders. (That page was down recently - if a problem try http://www.cvmbs.colostate.edu/bms/arbl.html ) However a person might be involved with breeding, one or another of those books would prove very useful.

 

Equipment can be quite affordable –  try Ebay and Labx.com. The sort of things on our “lab page” are easily within the reach of a modest income, yet represent a moderately good standard of capability. 

I was not interested in building a monument to ego or image, but in getting the job done with reasonable proficiency, and in setting up on the cheap - I flatter myself that those goals were met.. 

A nice microscope and some Equitainers are 70% of the total cost, including a dummy, provided you build that yourself.

Incidentally, most horses ship quite well in containers similar to the Bioflight - we know this about Twice Royal, Pablo, and Lucky C from past experience, but prefer the Equitainers for several reasons - in part because these make it harder for people to lay blame at our door in case an insemination is not successful. Many other advantages are discussed at the manufacturer's website. (Some exploration there is rewarding - interesting info.)

I have heard that one Equitainer per four bookings will suffice, and I strongly disagree - one Equitainer per three mares is probably safe enough coverage - but even then it can get uncomfortably close. Without enough of these you have to be really pushy about getting them back "right now" with extra-fast shipping, which costs the client more, and adds an element of unpleasantness to the interaction. Anyway, the main point is that practically any person who really wants to can set up as well or better, and do good work. Actually, there are people who do a top-quality job and get excellent results with much less. 

That business of Equitainers is another rant item - treating the client like a criminal, demanding exorbitant deposits, (I have even heard of some who charge a fee for its use) and then riding them hard to return it ASAP - along with chute fees, handling fees, had to halter the horse fees, and needed to scratch my butt fees. After all, in a worst case scenario there is that little matter of a breeder's certificate - the client wants you to sign one when the foal is born, right? Especially with that "bargaining chip" in reserve, there really is no justification for the lack of civility concerning the container. On the whole this used to be a friendly business, and I really dislike things that go against that. 

Getting back to the dummy, (I will not call it a "phantom") there are some design issues to consider. Some are equipped to hold a Colorado A/V, which offers several advantages that seem very nice until we consider the one real flaw: If the stud dismounts while still fully erect this is likely to suction semen up from the collection bag/bottle, exposing it to the considerably higher temperature inside the A/V. The collection might not be ruined entirely, but quality on the whole would likely suffer significantly.

So, a hand-held setup seems called for, as the handler can follow the horse back off the dummy until he softens enough to break the seal that develops between him and the A/V after ejaculation. (Yes, there are safety issues in that case, and the person doing it had better know horse-handling pretty well, or Darwin's rules could come painfully into play.)

The blue arrow points to something that looks like a handle or lever - the manufacturer, justifiably feeling a little injured by this assumption, assures us that this is not part of the product, but only something in the background. Regrettably too, I had not considered that if I am critical of design elements, I should focus closely on that one component, without seeming to find fault with the entire item.



In any case, the commercial offerings commonly use external bracing, which I view with misgivings. Worst-case scenario - things get out of control and an animal falls, getting a leg through structural bracing. This would probably never happen, but... I suppose a person might weld suitably heavy sheet metal into those gaps, just to be extra careful.


I gradually realized that the market won't support Rolls-Royce products, so I couldn't realistically expect to find one. Machined and massive joints, for instance, drive up cost in materials, labor, machinery, and the power bill. Brace free design requires more steel, more energy to weld, twice the weight will be twice the shipping cost, and twice the difficulty handling it upon arrival. So, between cost and product availability, the preferable solution was to make my own. (I'll eventually add a page for do-it-yourselfers - I could have saved considerable effort with tactics that only occurred to me "midstream".)



A really poor photo, ("work in progress" type of picture) but it shows the design I prefer. This has all the "mechanicals", angle and height mechanisms, under the padded sides where they cannot possibly injure. It relies on beefy structure to avoid any need for a brace below. It has a wide stance at the ground, and the slab it bolts to weighs over 1000 pounds. The joints are very tight and heavy, and will never develop looseness. It is rock solid without rattles, clanks, or squeaks when used. (Yes, there is a bit of ego built into it.)

 

The rear is scalloped not just for convenience, but to avoid bending the... part in question... ("family values" here) at sharp angles when erect. These things get soft when not in use so that we don't break them. I recall an interesting documentary involving a microsurgeon specializing in erectile dysfunction. Injecting a dye of sorts in the bloodstream to allow x-ray viewing of the circulation, and giving a shot to induce erection, we could actually observe the blood escaping through the damaged circulatory "plumbing", and so, preventing full function. He would inquire of the patients how they thought this damage might have occurred, and they invariably came up with incredibly lame and unlikely answers.

Ahem! Shall we try the phrase - "recreational mayhem"?.

Anyway, it became pretty clear that these should not be folded, bent, or mashed around roughly, (dare I say - "manhandled"?) else they may eventually malfunction. So, it seems better to use a design that allows operation at natural angles. Or close to - after all, that part is somewhat flexible, it just shouldn't be mashed violently to the side, as with the old style "hotdog" shaped dummies.

Well, continuing with the undiplomatic. Several people have actually "informed" me that I can't do what I do with ease any time I damn well please, day or night – collect a stud without assistance, and without a cycling mare within miles of him. Well, I'm sorry, but that's just how it is. These are the self-appointed experts who think that “horsemanship” is learned in classes given by dubious "authorities" and in Disney movies, and that “stallions” (they always call them “stallions”) are collected by a squad of grim faced and desperate looking kids wearing crash helmets and hockey pads. (Truly – I have seen photos!) Safety is better achieved by understanding and competency than by swaddling inadequacies in protective gear. 

First you get easy with horses, know how to read them for real, how to interact comfortably and effectively, (and safely) then everything else falls into place without much inconvenience or risk to life or limb. This way, the stud will not be ruined, therefore he will not be a timid breeder or a savage beast, therefore we will not be needing the mare in heat or the crash-padded attack squad to get the job done. 

- Doing The Deed -

 

With that in mind, here's a demo. A somewhat close hold on him because he's excited, knowing that he will get lucky. He does not yet know whether he gets the dummy or a real mare, but he knows there will be sexual activity account of I have used a leather halter noticeably unlike the halter used on ordinary occasions. (This halter is used only when he will breed something.)
A horse with any brains at all will detect this difference before you even enter his corral, and have a good idea what comes next. This is just one of those little things that keep studs behaving decently. There is no need for a stud chain, or other B.S. like that, because in recent years he has been handled reasonably well. (I have no pretension of being a great handler by any means, but have noticed that basic awareness and simple common sense can take a person 'most anywhere they want to go.) 

With this animal, as is usually true, handling him like a dangerous beast only makes for needless unpleasantness. Whack them when they are bad, praise them when they are good, but for God's sake, don't be constantly picking at them and posing little threats all the time. (As a stud chain does.) If those methods seem needed, it's the handler that needs training more than the horse does. 

 

Here he is smelling a rag that was anointed with mare pee. In response to the "mare in heat" garbage mentioned above, I collected it from a 27 year old mare who has not ovulated even once for past three years. Even though the rag was last dipped in urine two days before, so the scent is weak, it provides enough stimulant effect for a horse that "knows the drill". 

 
The crux of my objection to the mare in heat thing is that these people are talking about studs that were trained really badly. Then by assuring others (rather forcefully) that this is universally true, they try to validate the fact that the only horses they ever knew are ruined ones. To them I say, forget the sophomoric self justifications and move on to something productive.

Anyway, after sniffing the rag for a minute or so, he sprouts a new appendage, and I wash it off with sterile cotton soaked in water.

As to that, Pavlov's dogs tell people to always use warm water for washing - uh - "that part".  Thing is, that will cause some studs to ejaculate on the spot. Cooler water for them - that stuff is worth money, we don't want it going on the ground. Each piece of cotton should be thrown down, not dipped back in the wash-water. (Clean him more thoroughly with the lotions, potions, or other agents of choice some other time, when there is no risk of this having toxic effect on the semen.)

 

 
Pay special attention to the end of it; luckily this fellow is not inclined to build up crud in the recesses found there, but it is good policy to inspect and clean that with care. (Also to be quick - they become restless and impatient. It won't help if this part routinely turns into an unpleasant ordeal for him.)

(Hmm... On the one hand, these images don't show much, on the other hand, maybe it's better that they don't.)


 
The last detail - pat it (reasonably) dry using an absorbent and relatively lint-free cloth. Don't rub it, since this would tend to chafe a little, just pat it fairly dry, gently. The reason is that a lot of water on it will increase the risk of water and the K-Y jelly getting into the collection. I hear that there is still debate over whether K-Y contains a spermicidal chemical or not - the manufacturer says not, they fixed that, others say they tested it recently, and it was still there. Whatever the case may be, we probably don't want it (or the water) in the shipment.

 
He has a close look at the A/V - in a moment I'll unsnap him and he will have a go at the dummy. 

 
He has just jumped on, and is trying to find a good place to put it. The A-V is still under my left arm. I have ahold of him with my right hand, and will rotate to my right, to pop the A-V onto him, guiding it in with my right hand.

 
Skipping ahead a bit, he is done now, and will stay on the dummy for maybe a minute. This is fairly typical, they act a bit stunned for a little while. It is also convenient, as the flaring that occurs after ejaculation makes the fit so tight that it would tend to suction semen back up into the A-V if he pulled out just then - if he dismounted now it would be necessary to follow him back off the dummy until he had softened a little. (The hot water reservoir in the A-V does not extend to the end of it - if semen is suctioned up, it is exposed to high temperature.)

 
He softens and slides off, (and out) the A-V goes back under the left arm, I catch him and we go back to his corral. That's about all there is to this part of it. Back inside the next part begins

 

As to learning to do it yourself, it is helpful to see it done, as there will always be questions that are not answered exactly by the books and papers on the subject. Opinions and approaches differ slightly, so encouraging various different people to talk about it can be useful too. If you are in California, Christy Gieseke trains both horses and their owners to do this, and I recommend her without reservation.

There are also people sharing good observations online, such as "Shipped semen: Insights from the professionals" provided by the people at The Pleasure Horse Journal - that is a super page - they compress a lot of valid info into a very small space. Equine-Reproduction.com is the site I like best overall - they have lots of good info about all sorts of related things.
 

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