Equitainer etiquette
The politically correct way to handle transported semen breeding.

By: Kathy St.Martin of Avalon Equine

The Hamilton-Thorne Equitainer

With the advent of the New Year, the search begins for that perfect stallion to cross with your mare. We are inundated with magazine articles on how to choose the ideal mate, the "right" questions to ask the stallion owner, the latest in breeding technology, etc., etc. Unfortunately, little mention is made of the relationship which must exist between the stallion owner and the mare owner. In order for the breeding to succeed, there needs to be an understanding of the respective responsibilities of everyone involved.

When contracting with a breeding farm, one enters into an agreement in which you and the breeding farm become partners. To make the partnership successful, each party must fulfill their respective responsibilities. The following suggestions will hopefully help you understand the stallion owner's perspective as well as make your next "breeding" relationship as uncomplicated and successful as possible.

1. Don't "kick" tires.

If you are not seriously interested or actively looking for a stallion to breed to your mare, don't call and request information. The package sent by most stallion owners is costly to create and mail. They are sending it to you in good faith, believing you are truly interested.

2. Return the video, if requested!

If the stallion owner sends you a video and you choose not to breed your
mare to their stallion, return the video!! While some stallion owners
consider the video a cost of doing business and don't request it back, many farms are small operations and the cost of producing those videos adds up!
You may figure your video is only one and it only cost the stallion owner a few bucks - they won't care, right?! Wrong! As so few videos are returned, many stallion owners have begun charging a deposit for their videos.
Additionally, be courteous and include a note thanking the stallion owner for taking the time to send you their stallion package. If you have chosen another stallion, let them know that you have done so. Most stallion owners, if you have chosen to breed to their stallion will allow you to keep the video, but as a courtesy, be sure to ask.

3. Plan early.

Many stallion owners limit the number of mares they will book each season and some will fill their book early in the breeding year. Plan early to reserve a place in a particular stallion's book. You may also benefit by your foresight and realize a little savings as many stallion owners have an early booking discount.

4. Read your contract!!

I can't emphasize this enough! The well-crafted contract is designed to protect both the mare owner as well as the stallion owner. It details the rights and responsibilities of both parties. Read it! It can save you a lot of future headaches. The contract should address every problem that could arise in the course of breeding relationship. So, ask yourself "what if...?" and you should be able to answer any question by reviewing the contract.

A good example of the problems which can arise is the following experience a friend of mine had after contracting with a breeding farm in Arizona. The stallion's breeding season was from May 1st to July 1st. As the mare owner had booked in late June, she was concerned they might not be able to settle her mare in time. The stallion owner assured her he would be flexible and he would work with her - and he did! Unfortunately, the stallion's semen did not ship well - marginal sperm count and only 10%-15% motility. The mare didn't settle the first time, nor the second time. When the mare owner called to complain about the semen quality and a third shipment that was lost due to an incorrect address, the stallion owner stated he did not guarantee the quality of the semen, nor that it would even get there at all.
He was right! His contract did not guarantee the quality or arrival of the semen. It did, however, guarantee a live foal and in order to accomplish that, the stallion owner had to assure that viable semen arrived at some point. The mare owner had become verbally abusive, to the stallion owner. At that point, he decided to abide to the letter of the contract and refused to send any more shipments saying the breeding season closed as of July 1. At the mare owners request, I spoke with the stallion owner, he agreed to be more considerate to the mare owners needs or refund her money. The mare owner, on the other hand, agreed that perhaps a little tact and courtesy might help her cause considerably.

Don't feel you have to accept what is in a particular contract, either. If you are not comfortable with or don't understand some of the items in the contract, discuss it with the stallion owner. A contract is meant to address and hopefully resolve problems before they arise. If a contract is heavily slanted toward the stallion owner, i.e., no live foal guarantee, no refunds if the stallion becomes unavailable due to a heavy show season or death, unreasonable expenses, etc., don't book!!! A bad contract can be a nightmare!

5. Comply with the terms of the contract.

There are reasons why certain items are in the contract. Most transported semen breeding contracts request 48 hours prior notification of the anticipated need for semen shipment. This allows the stallion owner time to make shipping and collection arrangements. If you call the first day your mare comes in season, they then know to anticipate your need for semen and can then schedule collections accordingly. This is especially important if the stallion is on a show circuit or is having a heavy breeding season.

Most stallion owners understand that mares can come in season unexpectedly and/or will occasionally have a very short cycle. Here at Equine-Reproduction.com, we have indeed shipped on less than four hours notice. It is, however, certainly not optimal and can be stressful for all involved. You must also realize that by calling with little notice, the stallion may have already been collected that day and a second collection could compromise the semen quality. Most breeding contracts require your mare to be vaccinated, de-wormed and have a reproductive exam done. Failure to do this can void your contract. The stallion owner has an interest in having your mare settle promptly. Repeatedly shipping semen can get expensive for both parties and if your mare is reproductively unsound, the checkup can save everyone a lot of grief, not to mention your money and everyone's time, as well.

6. Clean out the Equitainer!!

I can't tell you how many Equitainers we have gotten back with the bag or tubes which originally contained the semen still in it. Figure 5-6 days from the time the semen was shipped to you and its return to the stallion facility, the fact that the extender is a milk product, and the coolant cans have long since thawed. I can't tell you what's growing in there and probably wouldn't want to know, anyway. Have your vet (or you) simply throw out the bag or the tubes after the final insemination and rinse out the cup, before returning it in the Equitainer to the stallion owner. The stallion owner will thank you!

7. Return the Equitainer promptly.

Most stallion owners have a limited supply of Equitainers, and during the height of breeding season it can be difficult to guarantee scheduled shipments if the containers are not returned promptly. By not promptly returning the Equitainer, you may jeopardize another mare owner's semen shipment. Don't expect your vet to do it, either. It is your responsibility and many vet clinics simply do not have the time to make sure the container is returned quickly. By NOT returning the container promptly, you may incur additional charges. We expect the containers to be returned within four days of the mare owner's initial receipt (thereby allowing the mare owner to use second day air for the return) and charge $25.00/day for any time the container is kept after that time period.

8. Don't expect perfection.

Don't expect a stallion to correct all of your mare's faults. It is estimated that the mare contributes anywhere from 60% to 80% of the final results. Try to breed the best to the best. Look for a stallion that will compliment your mare's good points and strengthen her weak points. A stallion can't correct all of a mare's faults and there are some crosses which just don't work. Neither the stallion nor the mare can be faulted - it just happens. If your mare has some horrible genetic or conformational fault that is not injury or growth related, don't breed her! And, if your resulting foal isn't perfect, recognize that it just might be your mare to blame.

9. Don't perpetuate rumors.

If you know something about a particular stallion's conformation, offspring, temperament, performance, etc., by all means, discuss it! Or if a breeding farm is difficult to work with, let people know. However, don't perpetuate a rumor unless you know it is based in fact.

10. Ask questions!

The stallion owner should be easy to reach and receptive to your needs. If you have a question, feel free to ask. If the stallion owner doesn't have the answer, he/she should be willing to help you find it. If the stallion owner is not willing to answer a few questions, is unreceptive to your calling, or is just simply unhelpful, consider another stallion. A stallion owner who is uncooperative even before you have booked can only get worse after you have paid your breeding fee.

11. Be considerate!

If you have a problem, don't become accusatory. It tends to make people defensive. Instead, address the problem. Also, as most breeding farms are home based businesses, consider what time it is when you call. 8:00 a.m. in New York is only 5:00 a.m. in California. I don't know about you, but I'm less than thrilled to discuss ANYTHING at that hour.

12. If you've had a good or bad experience with a breeder, tell your friends.

Also, let the breeder know. If they are doing something wrong and you don't tell them, they have no way of knowing there is a problem which needs to be addressed. It's also nice to hear good things about a breeder, so if you've had a good experience, let your friends (and the breeder) know that, as well.

Utilizing transported semen requires a commitment from the mare owner which can be extremely satisfying and rewarding. Just remember, the stallion owner wants everything to run smoothly, as well. A happy customer is always the best source of advertising. If you have had a positive experience and your mare produces a nice quality foal, chances are, you will tell others how easy it was. I know I'm always happy to hear that a mare owner has had a good experience. I know they are going to be much more confident utilizing transported semen again.

Following the suggestions detailed above won't necessarily guarantee success, but hopefully it will help avert or solve a few problems before they arise. Good luck!

© 1998, 2006 Kathy St. Martin and Equine-Reproduction.com
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