Breeding mounts, also known as phantoms or dummies, are an integral part of a modern breeding operation. They serve as a substitute for a live mare, when collecting semen in an artificial insemination program. This includes inseminating on farm, and shipping cooled or frozen semen. Additionally, stallions may need to be collected for semen evaluation and analysis, for pre season check ups, sales or insurance purposes. Most importantly, breeding phantoms greatly reduce the chance of injury to the stallion during semen collection. Another plus is that phantoms can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between mounts, minimizing transmission of disease and potential pathogens.
A properly designed phantom is of utmost importance in relation to the quality of the ejaculate. A stallion must be comfortable, pain free, and a full partner in the collection process. Stallions have the unique ability to ejaculate and withhold sperm. Causes may include poor collection procedures such as, artificial vaginas too hot or cold, wrong pressure, poor technician technique, or uncomfortable height, angle or width of the phantom. I have witnessed stallions so apparently angry with the collector, mount, or situation, that they ejaculate volumes of seminal fluids, with little to no sperm cells. When the situation changed, their ejaculates returned to normal. Stallions with uncomfortable collection memory, often do this, and can also become accumulators. This is a situation that causes a backup of sperm cells, possible blockage and occasionally hemospermia, which is blood in the semen.
Phantoms may be either home made or commercial, and are constructed in different styles. Most home made models are two legged, and are not adjustable by height or angle. This can create several problems, while being perfectly suitable for some stallions. The two legged design has been known to cause injury to the front legs of some stallions. Also, the collector must be able to position him/herself in such a fashion, so as to get the most satisfactory response from the stallion. You want your left foot, assuming you are collecting from the near side of the horse, behind the right, and close to the phantom. I have seen mounts built with the back post at the very end of the body of the mount. One stallion while thrusting, repeatedly hit the post with his back hooves, rendering him sore. Remember, not all stallions collect quietly. Some move around and will attempt to move up or cross to the side. His legs should not be subject to possible injury. Therefore a single post, set sufficiently back, is highly recommended. I have witnessed stallions with the configuration of double post, learn to mount and thrust from a far back position. This does not give him the acupressure support he needs, with his chest against the mount, for a strong ejaculation. Thereby, giving a lesser quality collection than he was capable of. Most stallions prefer only a slight degree of angle. The height recommended is slightly shorter at mid body then the height of the stallion. Again, adjustment may be necessary, taking into consideration the preference, age and/or physical limitations of the stallion.
Width of the mount is also be vital, but shape is seldom considered by builders. When building a home made phantom, it is often suggested to use an old water heater or log. Cover it with foam and vinyl, and “voila,” a breeding mount. Here is where this story goes wrong. These objects being round, are widest at the farthest point, east and west. Watch a stallion breed naturally. Upon mounting, he grips the mare in front of her hips and pelvic area. Notice this area on your mare. Nature has indented her here, and it is her least round, and most narrow area. Because … when a stallion ejaculates, he concurrently straightens and tenses his forelegs. He needs to do this to totally ejaculate. A breeding mount of round proportions, does not allow his forelegs to fall straight, thus straining his shoulders, forearms, and neck, as he tenses to ejaculate. A stallion who does not have a heavy or regular breeding schedule may not show signs of distress. On the other hand, we often hear of stallions with heavy collection schedules, needing a chiropractor. Not realizing the source of the problem, the stallion manager may believe the stallion unable to breed and still compete. He may just be sore from the unnatural position. If the condition causing the discomfort persists and is not recognized, the stallion may begin to dismount prematurely, or during ejaculation. This is a frustrating experience for both collector and stallion.
Remember too, that breeds of different stature and weight, are not dissimilar, as to the space between their forelegs. Just because your stallion is 17 hands, does not make him wider between the legs then a 14.2 Arabian. He may even be narrower. He does not need a wide mount. Many commercial mounts are also too wide for many breeds. Pay attention to this if constructing your own. I recommend 22 inches for standard horse breeds, and 24 for drafts. Too narrow can also cause discomfort.
This differs from weight bearing, and structural integrity. The stallion must never feel insecure of his weight on the mount. Again, a 15.2 Shire will weigh more then a 16.2 thoroughbred. The phantom must be built to be secure of his weight. Have you noticed a stallion pasture breeding, testing the weight bearing and intention of the mare? They will partially mount a number of times, and use their neck as a weight, to test the waters. This posturing will be imitated upon covering the phantom. Make certain phantom is secured firmly, and the body of the mount does not give, and can totally support the stallion’s weight while thrusting. Foam padding and a non abrasive cover should be of sufficient depth and density, to further add to his comfort.
Another area of wide debate, are mounts with internal orifices. In these models the stallion actually enters the mount, which is equipped with an internal artificial vagina. As the stallion ejaculates, the handler must use a lever to lower the artificial vagina’s angle. This allows the semen to descend into the filter and bottle. Timing here is imperative. There have been validated accounts of stallions being injured, and some seriously impaired by this method of non manual collection. While some stallions adjust well to this form of collection mount, without ever a hint of a problem, it is not recommended by many Universities and Reproduction vets. If purchasing such a unit used, and in doubt, simply cover the orifice so the stallion cannot enter, and proceed to collect with a hand held artificial vagina. As to any argument that this form of mount is a one man method, I have personally come to this conclusion. A bad stallion always needs more then one person present. A well mannered, stallion, can be handled and collected by the same person, using any mount, without any difference. Libido, temperament and training of the stallion, along with your own experience and ability, are serious considerations before attempting any collection procedures by oneself.
The actual training of the stallion to mount a phantom is not difficult. Patience, as in any form of training and conditioning, is paramount. One needs first to evaluate the stallion’s past breeding experience, libido, and physical ability to mount. I have not seen much difference training sexually unused stallions to aged veterans, as to their willingness to mount a phantom. Libido seems to equal out experience. One area where I have had to test my patience is professionally trained and shown Halter horses. They are firmly conditioned to exhibit no libido or sexual interest while in a halter with a chain. Many will turn away from a mare in estrus beckoning to him. Past experiences with dropping or vocalizing, have earned him a sharp reckoning. One way to get past this is a soft, heavy cotton lead, with a strong bull snap. It signals a non work climate. A pleasant alternative. I have also had great luck with, and recommend ,the use of a bright colored halter, different from their usual. All stallions soon come to recognize this as a signal of what is to come. This is similar to the Pavlov dog theory.
I prefer to initially use a mare in full heat, for phantom training. Some stallions can tease to a mare in stocks, a close visual stimulant, and be aroused enough to mount the phantom. This works particularly well with stallions experienced in live cover. If no stocks are available, or the stallion needs the mare to be in closer proximity, be certain you have an experienced mare handler/horse person. I like to scent the phantom with mare urine. Preferably the liquid expelled as the mare breaks down for the stallion. I have also used soiled shavings from an estral mare, rubbed onto the mount. This can be a powerful aphrodisiac. Next place the mare beside the phantom, her posterior at the business end of the mount. A sturdy phantom should allow the stallion to approach from the near side, and tease the mare. When dropped, guide the stallion to the back of the mount, placing his chest at a slight angle, into the near corner. In a state of excitement, when feeling the pressure of the phantom at his chest, his impulse will be to mount. The first sign I have that the stallion is progressing, is the rubbing of his head and neck on the phantom. Often they will look and sniff underneath as they would a mare to check any indication of a kick. I always allow the stallion to mount if he wishes, but has not dropped. Research has shown, stallions in the wild will mount numerous times before becoming erect and actually breeding. This is a natural ritual, and should not be punished. Some stallions excite themselves in this manner. When the stallion does mount, with an erection, allow him to bump the mount with his penis once or twice. This is also done in natural copulation with the mare. Then, gently deflect his penis into the AV. Never attempt to collect a stallion unless both legs are on either side of the mount. As the stallion mounts, the mare handler should walk her up a few steps. This will prevent the mare from harm by the stallion’s legs and/or teeth.
When training the stallion to the mount, I work in 15 to 20 minute intervals. He is then put back into his stall for 5 to 15 minutes. This is regardless of what point he is at. When he returns to the phantom, he is like a youth who has studied his homework. He wants to breed, and progresses much more rapidly. I seldom have a stallion who needs to return to the stall more then once. This too goes for any stallion who becomes aggressive. When displaying ungentlemanly behavior, they are returned to their stall, for 2 to 3 minutes, repeatedly if necessary. They quickly learn to behave in a way that earns him his reward.
Providing all the ingredients are present for a successful mount, ejaculation and collection, most stallions become conditioned to the memory, sight and scent stimulus, of the phantom. Many will find the stimulation of a mare unnecessary after a few collections. More important, stallion and handler are in a safe and efficient position. With the comfort of a correct phantom coupled with excellent collection technique, we have a win / win situation. A mannered stallion at ease with his job, providing you with an ejaculate of his highest quality.
I would like to thank EquiMount Phantoms, EquiMount@aol.com, Rancho la Rosa, and Grand World Champion Fino Stallion, Vitral, and Sabrina Gartner and her Hanoverian stallion, Royaal Z, for their help illustrating this article. Both stallions shown pictured are during their first phantom training experience.