By Don “Doc” Sanders
Early in my veterinary career I became board-certified in the specialty of theriogenology. The study of reproduction in domestic animals, theriogenology is roughly the veterinary medicine equivalent of obstetrics and gynecology in human medicine.
One example of my expanded practice is the breeding soundness exam for male animals. This test determines whether a male — in the case of this story, a stallion — has what it takes to stand at stud. Customers of stud farms pay significant fees to have their mares serviced, so they’d like to know that there’s a decent chance they will earn a spindly-legged foal as a return on their investment.
One of my clients, J.D., whom I had known since Judy and I set up practice, was fascinated with horses. He kept four Quarter horse mares at his small farm. J.D. was married to Josie, a city gal who taught kindergarten and knew nothing about livestock. But she was fully supportive of her husband’s hobby.
J.D. discovered a pedigreed stallion for sale in Montana and knew that this was just the horse to improve their breeding program. The stud, Robby, was going to cost substantially more than they had ever paid for a horse, but J.D. convinced Josie that there would be enough demand for the stallion’s bloodline to offset some of the purchase cost.
I had suggested they make the sale contingent upon the stud’s passing a fertility examination. Since a repro-qualified vet wasn’t available in that part of Montana, J.D. asked me to conduct the exam in Ohio.
Robby arrived at the beginning of the spring breeding season — the perfect time, as one of the requirements for a breeding soundness examination on a stallion is to have a mare in heat. When a mare isn’t available, a phantom mare — a padded mounting apparatus that vaguely resembles a pommel horse — fills in.
J.D. called my secretary to schedule the examination. The day before the appointment he reported that a mare was ready and added that he had lined up help to assist with both horses. Josie planned to be on hand, too arranging to come home early from teaching. As the student, she asked me to explain the procedure.
No self-respecting stallion volunteers a specimen for a veterinarian or horse breeder, so, as I explained to Josie, “I’m going to help set the stage for a mating ritual between the stallion and mare.” With the aim being to trick him out of a sample.
That’s when I showed her the cylindrical latex receptacle — 10 inches in diameter and some 36 inches long — that when warmed up, I would use to collect the semen for testing. I got Robby out of the stall to “tease” the mare. Teasing involves bringing the mare in casual contact preferably across the fence with a stud. The stud will nicker and “talk” to the mare as he nuzzles her and maybe even chews her mane.
If receptive, the mare will prick up her ears and send other less than subtle signs such as raising her tail. If she isn’t interested, the mare will lay her ears back, bare her teeth to the stud and try to kick him. No mixed signals in equine romance!
Teasing must be done with care as studs tend to be rambunctious, vicious with their teeth, and unwilling to be deterred. But Robby was a gentle stallion, so J.D. didn’t hesitate to put them in casual contact with each other. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that Josie was at the fence watching intently.
After J.D. determined that the mare was receptive, we positioned her so she was easily accessible to Robby, who was excited and ready. It was all J.D. could do to hold Robby with a stud chain lead across his nose. One of J.D.’s neighbors held the mare as she anxiously waited. And Josie continued to watch intently.
Robby’s aggressive nickering and continuous screams were deafening. I had to nearly shout my instructions to J.D. Rearing, Robbie pawed the air. As he made his move by running to the mare on his hind legs and mounted, I deftly intervened to catch his emissions. Robby soon flagged his tail, signaling the act was complete.
Exhausted, Robby slid quietly off the mare. And the mare looked at him as if to say, “Is that it?”
Even for those accustomed, raw displays of animal magnetism like this can be hair-raising. So, perhaps I should have better prepared Josie. When the horses ended their ritual, Josie hurried through the gate, making a beeline for the house. As she passed, she said breathlessly, “Dr. Don, I have never in my life seen anything like that. I’m having heart palpitations! I have to go lie down.”
Josie never again watched us “collect” a stud. And never since have I collected a stallion without recalling Josie’s shell-shocked reaction to the steamier side of veterinary medicine.