At the Keeneland sales pavilion Tuesday, Oct. 20, Twink Allen and associate Sandra Wilsher made a well-researched presentation about the state of understanding and technology related to equine reproduction. In particular, they noted that the improvement in getting mares in foal had increased steadily until the advent of very large books in the past decade or so, when the percentages of mares getting in foal and the number of covers required for some mares by stallions has risen.
To combat this situation, Allen proposed opening the discussion on the use of artificial insemination (AI) for Thoroughbreds. He said that in fairness to mare owners, the stallion’s semen should be available when their mares are in need of it and that the science was easily available to make this happen.
Allen said that same-day use of captured ejaculate would be able to provide more than enough semen to fertilize many more mares than a stallion could cover. Also, he said that stallion semen is quite easily chilled and shipped within a 48-hour window.
For longer term storage and transportation, freezing is possible but is not ideal with horses. He noted that freezing is more complex, more expensive, and not as efficient. Also some stallion semen will not stay viable when frozen, and Allen said that was hereditary with some lines and could not be remedied.
After the 90-minute presentation by Allen and Wilsher to a crowd of approximately 100 made up mostly of veterinarians and farm managers, we had a light lunch and began a question and answer session.
Most of the questions addressed points such as the efficacy of AI, whether it would get as many mares in foal, and whether disease could be spread that way.
The questions, although useful, proved less successful than the presenters could have hoped, and the atmosphere in the pavilion was notable for one sensation: fear.
As one observer noted: “This was a kind of spooky meeting, and the most frightening thing was that everybody wanted to dance around the heart of the matter. The science for all this is rock solid, There’s no question there. The problem is economic. If we go to AI, it would turn the whole business model of the Bluegrass and the international Thoroughbred upside down, and nobody knows what might happen. They’re scared to death, and they should be.”
With that as the crux of the matter, we will try to explore some of the pros and cons of AI in the next couple of days.