Stallion Shuttling: Questions Answered

With the recent news of stallions California Chrome and American Pharoah shuttling to Chile and Australia respectively, there is once again renewed interest – and push back – from fans on social media concerned about the Champion horses' well-being.

As writer Carleigh Fedorka wrote in her popular “A Yankee in Paris” blog this week, the discussion of these and other horses shuttling for Southern Hemisphere duty soon turned to accusations of neglect, abuse and questions about why artificial insemination is not considered as a viable alternative to sending champion Thoroughbreds across the globe.

The science behind stallion shuttling is simple. Horses' reproductive systems are controlled by the amount of daylight, and it is the daylight that triggers a mare's brain to produce hormones that will allow her to ovulate and get pregnant. This can also have an effect on a stallion's sperm count. While this happens in the Northern Hemisphere (North America, Europe, etc.) in the early parts of the year, in the Southern Hemisphere (South America, Australia, etc.) this occurs during the opposite portion of the calendar year.

When a stallion is shuttled (traveling via air) from one hemisphere to another, the amount of sunlight he experiences day after day remains constant, as he is staying in the spring and summertime wherever he goes, thus encouraging him to produce testosterone at a steady rate.

While one of the causes for public outcry is that this scenario will decrease a stallion's fertility, science says that is not the case.

“The average stallion produces enough sperm to breed seven mares a day in the wild. So, by that math a stallion produces enough sperm to cover 2,500 mares a year,” said Fedorka. “The limiting factor to book size is not the amount of sperm that can be produced, [but rather] it is the number of mares you can excite the stallion with.”

Farms are very careful to monitor this, as a stallion is only profitable if he is getting mares in-foal and they are producing healthy foals (most breeding contracts today dictate that payment is only due when a foal is born, stands up and nurses off of the mare).

Fedorka goes on to explain that by shuttling our stallions, and accepting stallions shuttling from other countries, we are expanding the gene pool and strengthening the breed.

Read more at A Yankee in Paris.

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