At SBS, we are often presented with young stallions for semen collection and evaluation. There are a variety of reasons that stallion owners want to have semen collected from their young stallions including; 1) evaluation of sperm production and quality to assess suitability as a breeding stallion, 2) training to collect on a phantom with an artificial vagina in preparation for a breeding career and 3) to collect and preserve semen from a young stallion prior to castration or starting a performance career.
What Age is Appropriate?
We advise clients to wait until early spring of the stallion’s 3 year old year before training to collect semen. Some owners request collecting semen from 2 year old stallions and we have done this successfully, however for many stallions there are a number of reasons why we advise waiting until they are three. Stallions reach puberty (defined as the age when they can produce 50 million sperm with >10% motility) generally between 1.5 and 2 years of age. Testosterone increases after about 20 months of age and spermatogenesis develops to where there is a complete compliment of germ cell types in the testicle at 24 – 36 months. Sexual maturity however, is not reached until 4-5 years of age. Daily sperm production (DSP) is directly related to testicular size and the stallion’s testicles will continue to grow until sexual maturity. The following table provides an estimated range of DSP for light horse stallions at various ages.
It is also common for ejaculates collected from 2 year old stallions to exhibit low motility and a low percentage of structurally normal sperm.
So one can question what is to be gained from collecting semen from a 2 year old stallion? That depends on the objectives. It may be possible to collect enough functionally normal sperm from a 2 year old to inseminate a few mares in order to get an early indication of how well he passes on his genetics. It may also be possible for some 2 year old stallions to produce sufficient sperm of good quality to allow for freezing of an inventory of semen prior to castration.
If the objective is to determine soundness as a breeding stallion or to evaluate semen production and quality then waiting until three is strongly encouraged. Even at age three, semen collected from a young novice stallion may not be representative of his production and quality after he has been successfully trained to reliably ejaculate into an AV and has been collected several times on a regular schedule. This may be the result of increased stimulation from excessive teasing required to get him to mount, multiple mounts before ejaculation and ejaculation of stored sperm from a sexually rested stallion.
One of the most important reasons why we recommend waiting until age three to start a young stallion in the breeding shed is behavior. A 2 year old stallion is not mature, either physically or mentally and introducing him to the breeding shed too early can lead to the development of lifelong bad habits. When working with a 2 year old stallion we always proceed very slowly and make sure that we reward progress and appropriate stallion behavior and do not push the stallion to the point of extreme frustration where he may start to develop bad habits or have negative associations with breeding.
Training the Novice Stallion to Collect on a Phantom
The following is excerpted from “How to Train the Stallion on a Phantom”. Prior to attempting to train a novice stallion to collect off of a phantom it is important to ensure that you have all the required elements to be successful. The required elements are; 1) an experienced team, 2) a safe and appropriate environment, 3) appropriate equipment and 4) the right attitude.
- A stallion handler that has experience handling a variety of stallions for breeding.
- A mare handler that is a good horse person and can control the tease mare.
- A quiet tease mare that does not get nervous or skittish around the excited and aggressive novice stallion.
- A semen collector that has collected numerous stallions and is confident and unafraid when placing the AV on a fractious, unpredictable and disorganized stallion.
Safe and Appropriate Environment
The breeding shed should be large, quiet, enclosed and have adequate room on all sides of the phantom, adequate clearance overhead, a padded rail for close contact teasing of the mare and excellent footing. It is also helpful if there is an escape route for the tease mare, handler and the collector. The shed should be free from loose equipment, clutter and debris.
- A strong and well fitting halter
- A strong and long enough chain stud shank
- Wraps to protect the inside of the stallion’s knees from burns or hot spots
- Adequate tease mare restraint. Depending on the mare this may include a chain lead shank, hobbles, kicking boots and twitch.
- A comfortable, well lubricated, appropriately sized and heated artificial vagina
- A well constructed phantom. A good phantom is critical when training a novice stallion.
The Right Attitude
Patience, persistence and a calm, quiet, confident and reassuring attitude from all members of the team is critical. If you are rushed and impatient and not willing to positively reinforce all progress and allow the stallion to proceed at his own pace you will only become more frustrated and cause the stallion to become frustrated.
The following is the general sequence of events that we use to train a novice stallion.
1). Ground work prior to introducing the stallion to the breeding environment is critical in order for the handler to establish a rapport and some basic ground rules and commands to walk forward, stop, stand and back up.
2). Familiarize the stallion with the breeding shed environment. Before introducing the stallion to the tease mare first bring him into the breeding shed and allow him to familiarize himself with the shed and become comfortable with the surroundings. Allow him to sniff the tease rail and the ground, walk him around the shed a few times. Allow him to approach the phantom and smell it. Then remind him of the ground work you have done and make sure he still responds to your commands in this environment.
3). Introduce the tease mare. Once the stallion is comfortable in the shed and relaxed you can gradually introduce the tease mare in a safe way. We prefer to use a tease rail that is padded to protect the stallion’s legs should he strike or suddenly attempt to mount over the rail. Young stallions may require a fair amount of teasing to obtain an erection and they should be encouraged to do so. Once the stallion has obtained an erection and sustains it then the washing process can begin.
4). Washing the stallion’s penis. Most young stallions will be uncomfortable with someone trying to wash them for the first time. Hopefully, they have had their sheath cleaned as part of their routine grooming as a young colt and they are somewhat used to being handled but this is often not the case. The key for the washer is to proceed slowly, maintaining contact with the stallion’s barrel at all times with your left shoulder and reaching under with the left hand to cradle the penis while gently applying warm water with cotton held in the right hand. If the stallion tolerates that then you can gently use the cotton to rub the shaft and glans to clean it. Patience, persistence and consistency with this process will result in a stallion that quickly obtains an erection and stands quietly without losing the erection for washing.
5). Introducing the stallion to the phantom. After washing, the stallion is again presented to the tease mare in the stocks and allowed to tease to a point where he is extremely stimulated. We then will position the tease mare on the right side of the phantom with her hindquarters alongside but slightly forward of the rear of the phantom. The stallion is then brought to the back of the phantom on a slight angle from the left side. The stallion is then encouraged to tease the mare across the back corner of the phantom. With a novice stallion, getting to the point of mounting the phantom may take 15 minutes or as long as several days. Often novice stallions will try to mount sideways or try to rush past the phantom on the near side or around to the far side to get to the mare. They may also mount the phantom without an erection and if they do we do not reprimand but just let them stay there until they chose to dismount and start again. This is where the patience, skill and experience of the stallion handler are critical. These training sessions will rarely go for more than 30 minutes and we may do up to 3 sessions in a day; however the vast majority of novice stallions can be collected within the first 1 or 2 sessions.
If we are unsuccessful after 2 or 3 days then we may allow the stallion to mount the tease mare once and collect semen while he mounts the tease mare. Then the next day we will go back to the phantom and continue trying to stimulate him to mount the phantom.