For most facilities, using a phantom is the preferred method of collecting semen from a stallion, as it is an efficient, organized and generally a safe process that mimics the natural position during live breeding. Ground semen collection (see video below) is an alternative option to the typical collection of a stallion on a phantom or mount mare. This article describes ground semen collection, primarily summarizing previously published clinical and research reports of Sue McDonnell and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and Jim Crump of Roanoke AI.
During “ground collection” all four feet remain on the ground while the stallion is ejaculating. There are two techniques often described for ground collection: collection using an artificial vagina (AV) and manual stimulation. The reasons for ground collection vary widely, ranging from disabled or injured stallions to situations where a phantom or mount mare is not available. Some owners elect to cross train their stallions to collect on the phantom and on the ground. This can be particularly useful if a stallion is traveling or showing, or a reliable stimulus/mount mare or phantom is not available. The technique also allows collection of various size stallions, from minis to drafts, without requiring multiple phantom heights or mount mare sizes. Also, there is the perception that because all four feet remain on the ground, ground collection may result in less stress on a stallion’s hindquarters.
There are some disadvantages associated with ground collection as well. During the ground collection process the stallion thrusts with his back muscles more than his hips, which would normally be used for thrusting during collection off of a phantom or mare. This can result in back pain for the stallion. Also, it can be a dangerous situation for the handler and collector if the stallion’s front feet leave the ground and he attempts to mount the collector. It can also be physically difficult on the collectors back because they are in an unnatural position during the collection process. Many stallions do not like ground collection which could result in a lower sperm count compared to if the stallion was collected off of a phantom or mare.
For the most part, stallions with normal interest and arousal can be taught the technique. Well-trained stallions also have the ability to switch easily between typical phantom collections, live cover, and ground collection. This allows a large amount of flexibility for some stallion owners. However, as with the phantom, some stallions will not be successful or efficient with the ground collection technique. Others can be quite rowdy, hard to control and downright dangerous which can pose an issue for the safety of the handler and collector. Just like collection on a phantom, this technique requires some training for both the stallion and the handler/technician to master.
Sue McDonnell recorded results of using this technique in more than 500 stallions with 100 different technicians and found that of the stallions with moderate to high levels of arousal, over 80% ejaculated with less than 30 minutes total training time and approximately 30% of stallions ejaculated in less than 10 minutes into the first training session. Generally working in 15-minute training sessions, experienced technicians achieved reliable success within three sessions and novice technicians within five sessions. However, it is important to note, stallions with disabilities may require more training time.
Simply explained, ground collection begins with exposure to a stimulus, often an estrous mare that allows the stallion to become adequately aroused, but not so close that the stallion could be distracted by the mare or attempt to mount her. It is very important that the stallion is allowed to lower his head to balance during thrusting; you will see the stallion do just this in the above video. In the beginning of the training process, stallions may move forward or lift their front feet during thrusting. Most folks practiced in the technique, feel that an open area to work in to accommodate the movement is best, rather than trying to restrain the stallion in one place. However, having a wall directly in front, or a few strides ahead of the stallion, can prevent those that are inclined to move too far forward. It is well advised to be quick on your feet and wear adequate foot protection when handling or collecting the stallion. Initially, during the first few collection attempts, the stallion may “squat” with their hindquarters and bring their abdomen and penis very close to the ground. This may be alarming at first, but often this behavior lessens as the stallion becomes more accomplished at the technique.
Using an Artificial Vagina for Collection
With ground collection using the AV, the technique was described in detail by Forney and McDonnell (1). They explain that a Missouri style is often preferred as it is light and easily balanced, however any model can be used (1). Some prefer the Colorado model AV because it is rigid and can be positioned on the collection knee to give the stallion something solid to thrust against. The AV should be warmed to 48-51 degrees C, full and snug, and well lubricated. The primary stimuli for ejaculation in the stallion are temperature and pressure, keeping these in mind the AV can be adjusted during the training process to accommodate the stallion’s particular preferences. The stallion should be cleaned and teased to full-erection and ready to ‘mount’.
The AV technician approaches at the shoulder of the stallion, runs a hand along the side of the stallion, and then slides the AV onto the stallion’s penis. The stallion typically begins to thrust, and if he does not, manual pressure applied to the base of the penis or a gentle nudge of the AV toward the base of the penis can encourage thrusting but full stroking with the AV should be avoided. Typically, with 6-10 well-organized pelvic thrusts, the stallion ejaculates. If he does not, each additional attempt will bring about a more organized and persistent effort toward ejaculation. Also, you can use a hot towel/compress at the base of the AV for additional stimulation if necessary. It is always important to keep in mind that if you attempt to force the process by stroking the AV back and forth rather than allowing the horse to thrust against a stationary AV, the stallion may back off and not ejaculate (1).
Using Manual Stimulation for Collection
Ground collection using manual stimulation was originally described by Crump in 1989. Crump’s technique involved warming the hands with a hot bottle of water and collecting the semen using a simple plastic bag. Stallions were collected in their stall and trained to respond to estrous mare urine, the sound of the plastic bag crinkling and the approach and voice of the technician (2). An alternate version of the technique of manual stimulation was described by McDonnell and Love in 1990, where hot compresses are used to strategically apply heat to the penis. Either way, a clean disposable plastic bag that is lightweight, non-spermicidal and strong is necessary. Thin film rectal sleeves, or insemination sleeves often fit these criteria. The bag should be attached to the penis above the preputial ring to allow about 6 inches to hang below the end of the penis and most of the air removed so the bag does not “pop”. The bag is secured with a loose band of tape around the bag and not touching the skin. The hot compresses are dipped into 55 degrees C water as the stallion is teased. When the stallion is ready, the compresses are wrung out and placed over each palm. Working from the left side of the horse, the left hand is cupped against the glans (mimicking the cranial wall of the vagina) and thrusting typically occurs. The right hand is applied to the base of the penis providing circumferential pressure (like a handshake, no stroking). With each thrust the right hand is gently squeezed (mimicking the mare’s vulvar muscles). For most stallions, this is sufficient to elicit ejaculation (2,3).
With all the benefits of the technique, why wouldn’t everyone simply switch to ground semen collection?
A recent study, conducted by Burger and colleagues from Switzerland and Germany that was published in the journal Theriogenology in September of 2015, evaluated ground collection versus standard semen collection with an AV on a phantom. Looking at novice stallions trained to both techniques, they aimed to evaluate the stress on the hind limbs, libido and semen characteristics. In their study, stallions took significantly longer to reach ejaculation with ground collection and had a 25% decrease in total sperm per ejaculate, but the motility was not affected. Also, using a unique scale they were able to measure the amount of weight the horse bore on his hind legs with both techniques, and interestingly stallions had the same relative weight bearing on the hindquarters using either method, which was around 50%. In conclusion, the authors of the study recommend that ground semen collection can be considered as a viable option for stallions that cannot mount a phantom or a mare. However, it may require more training of personnel and stallions than is typical for mounted collections, and some stallions may do better and may be safer to handle when mounted than on the ground. Also, owners should be advised that ground semen collection is associated with significantly lower sperm numbers than with phantom mount semen collection (4).
In summary, ground semen collection is a viable alternative to typical collection using a phantom or mount mare. It offers flexibility to accommodate stallions of various sizes and physical conditions. It can also be used in situations where a phantom or reliable mount mare is not available. It is important to remember that the technique requires training to master and most stallions are capable of switching between techniques. However, owners should be aware that the stallion may produce fewer of total sperm per ejaculate, though motility remains comparable. Also, individual stallion behavior may limit the usefulness of ground collection and disabled stallions may require additional training sessions due to their physical limitations.
Video provided by Dr. Kevin Hyde of Pioneer Equine Hospital
See also: Chemical Ejaculation of the Stallion
- Forney, BD and McDonnell, SM. How to collect semen from stallions while they are standing on the ground. In Proceedings. Am Assoc Equine Pract 1999; 45:142-144.
- Crump J, Crump J. Stallion ejaculation by manual stimulation of the penis. Theriogenology 1988;31:341-346.
- McDonnell SM, Love CC. Manual stimulation collection of semen from stallions: training time, semen quality, and sexual behavior. Theriogenology 1990; 33:1201-1205.
- Burger D, Meroni G, Thomas S, Sieme H. Effects of ground collection on weight bearing on hindquarters, libido, and semen parameters in stallion. Theriogenology 2015; 84:687-692.