Training the Stallion for Collection

As with training any animal for a specific task or purpose, the key words are patience, consistent discipline and praise, and safety for both handlers and stock. The same applies to the training of a novice stallion. The act of mounting a mare is a natural instinct, so some stallions adapt very readily to the use of a jump mare, dummy and AV. However, it is most important that the stallion perceives the process as a pleasurable event and is happy to continue. Unpleasant psychological or painful physical associations with the use of the AV may permanently reduce his libido, not only for AV collection but also in natural covering.

With the more novice stallions, it is particularly important that the collecting area is roomy, safe and free from obstacles and has a good nonslip floor. The stallion's shoes should have been removed to minimize the risk of damage to himself, the mare or dummy, or possible entanglement in the mare's halter. Ideally, the stallion will have been allocated a handler who will know him well and in whom he has trust. Confidence in and respect for the handler help significantly in all training.

Initially the presence of a teaser mare, well into oestrus, is required regardless of whether the stallion is to be trained to use a dummy or a jump mare or both. The teaser should be of a quiet disposition, well into oestrus, of an equivalent size to the stallion, accustomed to the process of semen collection and familiar with the collecting area. An older mare dark in colour often proves the most successful. Stallions, especially novices, find lighter coloured or bicolour horses (piebald, skewbald, etc.) a distraction from the job in hand. The novice stallion, suitably bridled with a long, but strong, lead rein, should be led towards the teaser mare. They should be introduced to each other either side of a teasing board. The stallion should then be allowed to tease the mare in the normal fashion for natural service, moving from her head towards her vulva, gauging her response. Conboy (1992) suggested that at this initial stage the ease with which a stallion can be trained for semen collection is apparent from his reaction to the teaser mare. He classified stallions as follows:

- keen, alert and often noisy;

- may rear and lunge in an attempt to get to the mare;

- achieves erection in 1-5 min.

• Type 2 - definite interest shown but cautious and appears to lack confidence;

- smells and nuzzles the mare;

- generally quiet and reserved;

- achieves erection in 5-15 min.

- refuses to smell or touch the mare;

- fails to develop an erection.

Conboy's work indicated that type 1 and 2 stallions are relatively easy to train to use an AV. Type 3 stallions may never show any real interest in covering naturally, let alone in using an AV, and are not a realistic consideration for AI.

Once a stallion has shown interest in the mare he should be allowed to tease her at will until he achieves an erection. The balance between confidence and discipline at this stage is very important. As with the introduction of stallions to natural service, the main aim of the first few attempts is to build up the stallion's confidence - discipline should be kept to a minimum at this stage. Nevertheless, he should not be allowed to get away with downright dangerous behaviour. The use of the voice in such circumstances can prove very effective, rather than having to resort to physical reprimand.

When the stallion indicates that he is ready to mount the teaser mare, she should be twitched if required and placed in position to allow him to do so safely, or, if a dummy is to be used, the teaser mare should be placed in front of or alongside the dummy mare. In the case of a jump mare, once he has mounted her and provided he has an erection, his penis should be diverted into the AV and the procedures given previously for collection from experienced stallions followed. If he is to be trained to use a dummy, he should be persuaded by gentle encouragement and guidance, not force, to mount the dummy rather than the teaser mare. When this has been achieved, and provided he has an erection, the same procedure as given above can be followed.

It may take a little longer and more patience to train a novice stallion to mount a dummy, compared with a jump mare, though success rates of 99% are reported for 3-year-old stallions from a variety of breeds from which semen is collected for breeding soundness tests in The Netherlands (J.M. Parlevliet, The Netherlands, 1998, personal communication). However, once he has been successful and associates the process with a pleasurable experience he will become increasingly willing to use the dummy.

As with all training, events do not always proceed according to plan. The more common problems encountered include failure to achieve an erection, or loss of erection during mounting or during diversion of the penis into the AV. However, provided the procedures are kept consistent, and the environment is one of calm, the majority of stallions will eventually be successful. For the first few occasions the prime objective is to get him to use the AV. When this has been achieved successfully on a number of occasions, the finer points of collection may be introduced - for example, washing the penis, and mounting the mare or dummy directly rather than at an angle.

If a stallion fails to ejaculate, then the following should be considered. The temperature of the lumen of the AV should be checked: it may require a slight increase. The pressure within the lumen of the AV should also be checked and may need adjusting down for larger stallions and vice versa for smaller ones. Extra manual stimulation may be required at the base of the penis or at the glans penis. Finally, if disposable liners are used these may become excessively wrinkled with successive attempts. The stallion's penis is very sensitive and any slight changes in the temperature, pressure or internal surface of the AV may have a significant effect on his performance. If, even after these adjustments have been made, mounting or ejaculation does not occur, then a change of mare after a short rest period may encourage ejaculation (J.M. Parlevliet, The Netherlands, 1998, personal communication). If the stallion is being trained to use a dummy, he may benefit from being allowed to mount the teaser mare a couple of times in order to build up his confidence. If the stallion fails to mount or ejaculate with the teaser mare after several attempts, he should be removed and taken back to his box and a further attempt made the following day - ideally with another mare, as some stallions develop preferences or aversions to different mares. It is most important that the stallion continues to find the procedure a pleasurable one. Conboy (1992) further suggested that type 1 and 2 stallions will usually mount a dummy mare within 15 min in the first training session and that 90% of these stallions will ejaculate into the AV by the second day.

Alternative methods of training stallions to use dummy mares have been reported - for example, the use of a blindfold. The stallion is initially trained to mount a teaser mare and ejaculate into an AV. Once he is accustomed to this procedure he is blindfolded and the procedure is repeated; the mare is then replaced by a dummy and the stallion is allowed to mount the dummy blindfolded. The blindfold is removed after ejaculation but before he has dismounted the dummy. Eventually the procedure is repeated with the blindfold entirely removed and the stallion willingly mounting the dummy for collection (Richardson and Wenkoff, 1976).

The type 3 stallion as classified by Conboy (1992) presents a much greater challenge and may in the end prove to be a lost cause. Such stallions may react favourably to the use of 10-20 mg of diazepan, 5-7 min prior to exposure to the teaser mare, or may need to be turned away for a month or so and then reintroduced to the training programme from the beginning at a later date.

Once the novice stallion has been collected from on a number of occasions and has developed his confidence, discipline may be introduced. This will instil manners and reduce the risk of injury to horses and handlers. Some stallions become increasingly keen with time, and need to be encouraged to mount the jump mare or dummy steadily and not be too zealous. They should also learn to accept the washing procedure without fuss and be prepared to enter and leave the collecting area willingly but steadily.

With time and patience a happy medium between libido, self-confidence, discipline, respect and safety can be achieved to the benefit of all.

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