Does Breeding Impact Stallions' Performance Under Saddle?

Providing exercise as a prebreeding warm-up can help prevent possible injuries during collection, as vigorous movements during collection could cause trauma, such as to the hind legs or musculature of the back.

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From breeding shed to show ring? Why not? Researchers recently confirmed that collecting semen from well-trained stallions does not have a negative effect on performance.

“The majority of stallions cope very well emotionally with parallel use in performance and breeding,” said Christine Aurich, DVM, PhD, head of the Graf Lehndorff Institute for Equine Science in Neustadt, Germany. “There are individual stallions that may be difficult; however, if they’re well-trained, it does not cause problems.”

Aurich; Stephanie Pasing, PhD, also of Graf Lehndorff; and colleagues studied stress parameters in 16 experienced breeding stallions used in an artificial insemination program. They looked at how the breeding process affects heart rate and salivary cortisol (commonly referred to as “the stress hormone”) levels.

Although heart rate tended to increase earlier before ejaculation in more experienced stallions—suggesting they were anticipating it—in general all stallions’ heart rates returned to normal within 15 minutes of ejaculation, Aurich said. And in any case, she noted, the stallions' average heart rate only reached a maximum of 90 beats per minute during semen collection, even at ejaculation (for comparison, at maximum exercise a horse’s heart rate can reach 200 beats per minute). This is about the same heart rate that horses have when they begin transport, she added.

Heart rate variability studies showed no significant changes during the collection process, indicating that collection could not be seen as anything more than a “moderate stressor,” Aurich said. Likewise, she noted, there were no significant differences in salivary cortisol levels during the collection process. Results of previous studies by the same research group have shown that stallion performance under saddle does not affect his semen quality.

So can a breeder collect a stallion for artificial insemination while the horse is in training and competition without impacting his performance? The answer, according to Aurich, is yes—and the two activities can even be carried out back-to-back.

Providing exercise as a prebreeding warm-up can even help prevent possible injuries during collection, Aurich said. Vigorous movements of the stallion during semen collection could cause trauma, such as to the hind legs or musculature of the back, she explained, especially if he's not properly warmed up.

“A stallion should get some time for warming up before semen collection,” said Aurich. “So, for example, training could be done before the collection. Otherwise, the stallion could be walked for some time.

“If you want to reverse the order, however, that’s possible too,” she added. “Stallions are often quite relaxed after semen collection; we’ve noted that the process does not have adverse effects on training. Therefore, it would be possible to do the warm-up by walking the stallion for 10 or 15 minutes, for example, then collect semen, and then saddle him and train him, or even perform him.”

The study, "Influence of semen collection on salivary cortisol release, heart rate, and heart rate variability in stallions," was published in Theriogenology

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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