Artificial insemination is a tricky, fun thing and can get quite interesting — even more interesting when you end up getting shot in the eye with horse semen.
When contemplating what I want to do with my life, it's often met with a lot of anxiety and typical college-kid, "Oh, my God. I have to figure out what I'm doing with my life."
Here recently, I believe I've found my passion for horse breeding and artificial insemination (AI). Now, it's probably not very common that every 20-year-old woman wakes up and decides that she wants to assist in the private business of stallions and mares - but I suppose I'm an outlier in a lot of ways.
The ranch that I work for is a breeding ranch for high-end world champion appaloosas, and part of my job description includes assisting the vet that comes out with the breeding process. It's quite exciting and I look forward to the days we get to collect the stallions and breed the mares - it's quite adventurous. It also requires a lot of skill that I wasn't 100% aware of, including understanding that as soon as the stallion is ready - you get out of his way.
Artificial insemination is much safer than a live-cover (when a stallion is allowed to mount the actual mare) and much more regulated. It limits the spread of disease, risk of injury, and is, in general, safer for everyone involved. In order to collect the stallions, there is a breeding room that contains a dummy (pictured) for the stallion to mount, and an AV, or artificial vagina, for the vet to collect the sperm, and a window for the stallion to get a look at and smell a mare that is in estrus, or in "heat".
After the stallion is aroused by both the mare and stimulated by the vet, he is allowed to mount the dummy, the AV is placed, and the sperm is collected. It sounds simple enough, but it can get quite tricky. Trying to tell a huge, strong animal that he isn't allowed to mount yet takes a firm hand and quite a bit of strength to hold him back.
Most of the mares who are on the property get bred to the stallions, and that requires the vet coming to palpate and make sure the mare's uterus is in good condition and that her ovaries and follicles are ready to accept the sperm and in turn, she is ready to become pregnant again.
This is also a tricky process, as it's a short window of time for the ovaries to be big enough for breeding, and it takes a skilled eye to know it's time and that the breeding process and sperm is most likely to take. Before collecting the stallions, the vet takes measurements of the ovaries and determines if they are big enough, in good enough shape, and that there are no irregularities.
A few days before the breeding all of the mares we had checked were not ready, but the vet determined that two days later they would most likely be ready, and he was correct. Two of the mares were deemed ready to go, and off to the stallions we went to begin the collection process.
Yesterday, I got to experience handling one of the stallions during breeding for the first time. Now, I have experience dealing with the oversized studs - though never while breeding. Let me just say, an excited stallion is a lot more difficult than a grumpy one who just wants to eat. Jack, the stallion we bred, is a multiple world and national champion and is also 27 years old.
That's pretty old for a horse - but I assure you that the 20-year-olds are just as strong as the 4-year-olds, and I learned that the hard way. While the vet was cleaning the stallion as well as getting him ready, I was in charge of holding him while making sure he had eyes on the mare, as well as stayed still enough for the vet to do his thing. The first time Jack decided he was ready, the vet was not and told me to hold him back from mounting the dummy. Now, this all happens very quickly and for someone who was doing this for the first time, I obviously was not thinking when I placed myself in front of this ginormous animal to hold him back like I was some NFL linebacker.
Luckily, my stupidity didn't cause me to get hurt this time, but I certainly learned my lesson when I realized most humans can't hold back a full grown stallion who was more than ready to go. The vet explained this to me, and back to the beginning, we went.
Now that I had a better understanding of what I needed to do, and how I needed to handle him, the next few times went much smoother, without me almost getting crushed. Anytime Jack tried to take over too early, I was able to remain in control and able to focus him again. I, along with everyone else, was quite impressed with how I handled him, and I found it exciting, and not at all as intimidating as I thought it was going to be.
AI can take a couple of mounts to ensure a good sample is collected from the stallion, and the first time didn't produce the results the vet had wanted.
When *It* Happened:
Now, quite funnily actually, on the last and final try - we were successful in the collection, but not without another mishap. At the end of the AV is a bottle in order to collect the sperm, and usually, it's on pretty tight, though it does fall off sometimes. Well, it just so happened that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the bottle had fallen off the end of the AV and Jack was in the middle of his business.
And that, my friends, is how I ended up with a face full of horse sperm, and I can't say I really knew how to react at all. Having never been presented with such a situation, my brain froze and for a solid two seconds, I couldn't believe it had just happened. I quickly collected myself, however, and wiped it off of my face - still dumbfounded by the fact that it had happened.
Always one to laugh at myself, I died laughing and so did everyone else - not sure it's ever happened to anyone else before, but hey, there's a first for everything. Thankfully, even with the bottle falling off, the collection was successful and I was surely traumatized for the next 30 minutes.
After the vet had determined the sperm was viable, off to the mares we went. The vet used a long rod to inject the semen into the uterus, a pretty quick and painless process surprisingly.
While I didn't cover every detail, and surely missed some steps due to inexperience with AI— that's basically the gist of what I experienced as a ranch hand participating in daily breeding activities. And even though I ended up with some rather unfortunate substances on my face, the experience in itself was a blast and only further cemented that horse breeding is what I want to do with my life.
If anything can be learned from this article, I'd say it's to never pretend you're a defensive lineman in front of a stud and to always watch for the bottle — it can and will fall off.