Breeders, Part 1: Semen Collection Deep in the Heart of Dubya
The mounting dummy’s name is Monica. "It used to be Veronica, but with the dress and the stains we changed it to Monica," says Stephane Robillard, the breeding manager of Waco, Texas based farm, Arabians Ltd.. Robillard is a stocky, friendly guy who shaves his pate and wears what look to be Vuarnet sunglasses. He’s French-Canadian and discourses with a lilting Quebecois accent that I find to be a soothing contrast to all the Texas twang I’ve heard these last few days.
I’m attending Arabians Ltd.’s annual breeding seminar, which is held at the height of each breeding and foaling season. Attendance is limited to Arabians Ltd. clients––people who have either bought horses from the farm or have booked their mares to one of the farm’s nine Straight Egyptian (or in the lingo of the business, SE) Arabian stallions.
I’ll address the economics, the issues of genotype and phenotype, my involvement in this business, which will include such anecdotes as meeting the stallion nicknamed "The Flapper" and the woman who compared horses to aliens, along with semen specifics, in future write-ups. For now, let’s start with semen collection, something I’m guessing many of you have done neither on your own or on behalf of someone else. If you take away the kids playing in the nearby grass (please say you will), watching Robillard collect a stallion’s semen is akin to attending a masturbation seminar hosted by Good Vibrations or another collectively run sexual appliance store.
1) you keep the contents of the condom;
2) no male hominid truly is hung like a horse (let alone a Shetland Pony); and…
3) most of the clients here are Texans, and many of those Texans are, I’m deducing, Republicans, and the Texas Republican Party platform takes a stand that the only sex education students may be exposed to is abstinence, which means many of these people are about to watch something that they adamantly do not want discussed in the public sphere when it has to do with their own species.
Although some breed associations, most notably The Jockey Club will only register horses bred through live cover, most American breed registries today, including the Arabian Horse Association (AHA), accept purebred horses bred via artificial insemination (AI). Because AI is a safer process for both horse and handler and because it provides breeders with the ability to send a stallion’s semen anywhere in the country and in some cases, the world, it has become the de facto breeding method for many, if not most, of the larger SE horse farms. According to Robillard, Arabians Ltd.’s breeding program is 100 percent AI.
The AI process begins with semen, and the breeder collects it by getting the stallion to ejaculate into an artificial vagina. An AV is a cylindrical leather or rubber jacket that has a large opening on one end for the stallion’s penis and a smaller opening on the other end that is attached to a bottle that catches the semen. The breeder holds the AV for the stallion to penetrate when straddling a phantom mare like Monica. Nearby a "tease mare," which is a mare in heat, stands, either in a palpation chute or kept in check by a human handler. The mare serves as live horse porn for the stallion, who by seeing and smelling her, gets excited enough to climax inside the AV.
“Every stallion likes different amounts of pressure, so if [the AV] is too tight or not tight enough, he will not ejaculate. If it’s too tight or not tight enough, he will not ejaculate. If it’s too hot or not hot enough, he won’t ejaculate. If there’s too much lubrication or not enough lubrication, he will not ejaculate because [he] is a specific individual,” Robillard explains.
“How do you figure that out?” asks a man my father’s age.
“Practice, practice, practice,” Robillard replies graciously, and I sense Robillard has answered this question many times over during his seven years breeding high-dollar horses at Arabians Ltd.
What blows my mind is that a man (let alone anyone) is asking this question. I mean Robillard described every possible way in which the AV might or might not please a stallion in language a beginning ESOL student can understand. If this Medicare recipient needs more of an explanation, perhaps Texas’ theocratic majority might want to rethink its proscription of real-world sex education. I mean if you are a man, and you don’t know the answer to this question by the time you’ve graduated high school (and I’m being charitable with that cut-off point), I––I just don’t know what to say.
I mean it’s masturbation, for crying out loud!
Speaking of Texas Republicans…
Uncoupling Arabians Ltd. from its proximity with Texas Republicans and a certain Vietnam draft dodger is problematic for me, even though Shawn Crews, the head trainer and senior vice president of the farm, grew up in Laguna Beach, Calif., and marketing director John Neyer had a cell phone with a 415 area code up until last month.
About six months earlier I attended Arabians Ltd.’s "Introductory Farm Conference," a daylong get-together that ostensibly instructs people how they may turn their love for horses into a successful business––or at least into a potential tax break––and ends with the farm showing weanlings for sale. I found it informative, although it felt akin to getting an impromptu makeover at the Clinique counter.
During the afternoon portion of the conference, after a Arabians Ltd. client and one-time Enron employee (in his defense, he filed a suit against Enron Corporation Savings Plan Administrative Committee and is/was a member of the Severed Enron Employees Coalition, which also filed suit to recover employee pensions, severance packages, and retirement benefits) discussed the tax advantages of going into the SE Arabian horse business, Shawn went up to the podium to discuss the market advantage of SE horses over other strains of Arabians.
"There is a worldwide demand for SE horses because they make up only one-to-three percent of the entire Arabian population. We’ve had sheiks from Saudi make a day of it, stopping at our place to look at our bloodstock after having lunch with the president…”
Maybe my chocolate-chip cookie and pineapple lunch jumpstarted my insulin production, or maybe I was slow, but my brain skipped a few times, thinking, president, president of what? president of the farm? president of the Saudi Arabia? Saudi Arabia doesn’t have a president…when that cartoon lightbulb burst from my skull, and I registered that Shawn meant the President, the Commander-in-Chief, the Lord’s missionary against the terrorist infidel and defender of democratic values, Dubya Bush!
Crawford’s Just a Gallon or Two Away, Depending on Your Ride…
I could have taken Texas Highway 84 most of the way from my starting point in San Saba, to get to the breeding seminar this April Fool’s Day, but instead I took a back route that would allow me to avoid driving around the whole city of Waco to get to my destination. This shortcut involved driving through Crawford, something I couldn’t resist doing because…well how many people from a blue state can boast of driving through the place that Connecticut-born Dubya calls home?
To heighten the scenario, I’ve been driving (thank you, Avis, for not having my category of car in stock when I touched down in Austin last Tuesday) a 2005 Cadillac Sedan De Ville with an American flag decal on its left passenger window. All I need is one of those ubiquitous “W ’04” decals you see on so many cars here, but if I really were to go in Christian Coalition drag, I would need to bleach and perm my hair, and I have ethics.
Anyway, this Caddie has a gray leather interior, push-button power that propels me at 85 mph on two lane roads if I’m not paying attention (I’ve made liberal use of cruise control) and makes those bumpy Texas roads, even the gravel ones, feel like the Autobahn. In addition, it comes with XM Satellite Radio and an awesome speaker system, and there is nothing quite so exhilarating as listening to Goldfrapp full-blast when closing in on the Crawford city limits sign, wondering whether men in black would detain me for screaming, "Bombs! Can you hear me? Bombs!" and laughing my silly ass off.
To get to Crawford from whence I came, you turn left off 84 at McGregor onto SR 317. Crawford is about seven miles down 317, and it’s not what you would call auspicious. The town welcomes you with a ramshackle red tin barn and a Texas state flag painted on the ribbed siding. In front of the barn next to the posted speed limit is a brick-colored wagon with a "W ’04" sign hanging over it flapping in the wind. Beyond that is a billboard wrapped in a stretched plastic that reads “Welcome to Crawford” underneath a stars-and-stripes rendition of the lower 48 states in the left half and a photo of W and Laura on the right. Creases are visible in the plastic.
About seven miles past Crawford is the town of Valley Springs, which sports a brick and wood sign that reads “Valley Mills, Gateway to Bush Country, A Great Place to Call Home.” It stands beside a dilapidated flat-roofed building. As you can see in the photo, this sign is missing about a third of its top front shingles.
I sat parked in front of this sign trying to get my bearings. I couldn’t find the sign to my next turn, which would take me back to the place where the sheiks like to visit after lunching with the President. Flummoxed, I doubled back to the Valley Stream Shell station and asked a cashier where I needed to turn to get on road 1637. She didn’t know, so she asked the girl working the lottery tickets where the road might be. The other girl made a face that said, I have no fucking idea.
And Now, Back to the AV…
Forgive me my tangents. I could go on about how erstwhile FEMA head Michael Brown’s previous job was to bankrupt the International Arabian Horse Association, forcing it to merge with the Arabian Horse Registry to form today’s AHA, but plenty of articles exist going into this in better detail than I can provide.
Robillard is stalling some. We’re all still waiting for the stallion that will be participating in this demonstration.
"Desperado is probably my best stallion in terms of semen production and motility even though he’s my oldest one," Robillard says. "He comes in here, gets his job done, and gets out. There’s no messing around with him. He’s a pro."
Desperado prances towards the breeding shed, and his penis is extended though flaccid. The other attendees and I back away from the shed to let the stallion pass. The handler leads him up to Monica, and he mounts, neither whinnying nor showing much excitement even with the mare just a few feet beyond him.
Robillard guides the stallion’s penis into the AV.
"He’s gonna be in and out very fast. You’re going to see his tail flag. That’s when he’s ejaculating," Robillard says.
"See?" someone, a woman, whispers. "That’s his tail flagging. He must be done."