I have now entered a world where you can buy sperm for large sums (in my view) of money on Venmo and PayPal.
A world where people post on Facebook about semen motility and concentration with cute pictures of their stallions.
When I saw the sperm post in an Irish Draught stallion group, my first thought was to wonder what planet I was on. My second thought was to hope the owner of the Queen Of Cairo’s baby daddy also would humble-brag about the status of his swimmers. (Spoiler alert: She had already assured me of his prowess in a private message when I was making Cairo’s virtual courtship arrangements, but recently posted that he’s got 92 percent motility and 21 billion cells in one catch).
I always said I would likely breed Cairo someday. “Someday” came sooner than I thought thanks to a chronic hind suspensory issue. So I attacked the notion of breeding the Queen with the same intensity I tend to throw at anything that matters to me—let’s call it obsession tempered by the need to function at both the day jobs I hold to pay for Cairo and her future spawn.
You can skip over this if you are old hat to this whole process of buying sperm online to make a foal thing, but I’ve been wallowing in pedigrees and linear profiles and feel a need to share. (It’s not the kind of conversation that folks at the newspaper where I work tend to follow. They just send me horse sperm memes and make weird jokes.) Also, Cairo and I are in the throes and woes of winter rehab, so hunting for baby daddies and writing about it cheers me up. Who knew? I hate online dating, but online horse dating is another matter.
(As an aside here, anyone who tells you that you’re lucky you are rehabbing wintertime is great because you will be ready for show season has never flown a horse-kite on an icy day.)
So, as I studied stallions, I thought about what I was looking for, what I dreamed of, and what made sense.
First, I ruled out frozen semen for a maiden mare with an owner on a budget. This ruled out a lot of fabulous warmbloods who can jump the moon. But I have a mare who can jump the moon. I wanted to add brain and bone to my rocket launcher. The last thing I needed was to breed something with an incredible jump that no one could ride.
I thought about my favorite rides over the years: Merlin the chonky Shire/Connemara/Thoroughbred imported from Ireland that I jumped over a 5-foot triple bar. Flash, my gelding who was injured young but had an effortless huge jump. My friend’s marvelous gelding Dawney Grey who can jump 1.30 meters with her and would happily pack a clueless amateur around 1.0 meters like a walk in the park that same day.
I thought about Cairo’s lighter bone and hotter temperament. And I thought about what the sale value to a good home would be if the baby didn’t work out for me. Sale is not my goal; I’m breeding for me, but I also need to be practical.
I looked at Cairo’s bloodlines—she’s an Irish Sport Horse, an O’Leary’s Irish Diamond granddaughter, so she has King of Diamonds twice already in her pedigree. And as I have learned doing my breeding deep-dive, starting in the 1980s, the Irish Horse Registry began allowing warmbloods—or as they call them, “foreign” horses—in the studbook. As a result Irish Sport Horse, which used to mean a specific cross between Irish Draughts and thoroughbreds, doesn’t mean that anymore. So the registry created a subset of Irish Sport Horses called Traditional Irish Horses, which have Irish Draught, Thoroughbred and Connemara breeding but nothing else. Cairo, as an Irish Draught/Thoroughbred cross, is part of this subset.
The popularity of crossing Irish horses to warmbloods also means that horses like Cairo are becoming more rare. If people want to cross to Irish bloodlines, those bloodlines need to exist. So I decided Cairo and I would take one for the genetic team. I reached out to the folks at the TIH website for advice and a lovely man named Jim promptly gave me some advice—namely, breed her to an Irish Draught.
It turns out that King of Diamonds is a very popular Irish Draught sire in the U.S. Finding non-King of Diamonds semen, fresh cooled and approved in a pandemic, is hard.
The approval part is because there hasn’t been a U.S. inspection for two years due to COVID-19. So there are some lovely animals coming into their prime that I decided to put aside for the lack of a linear profile and the fact they can only offer a Certificate Of Pedigree. Other folks breed as-of-yet uninspected stallions to great success, it just wasn’t for me and possibly the only foal I will ever breed. (OK I really want to breed twice, but that’s another story and budget.)
When an Irish Draught is inspected (and I am sure this goes for other breeds, but I didn’t discover this trove of information until I had decided I was going the Irish route) they put them through vetting, X-rays, confirmation, movement, jumping etc., and then map it all out on a chart. Breed standard is in the middle, and either extreme is noted, weak or strong, careless or careful, long or short. Stallions are rated, and Class 1 is the top result at an inspection, though there are some popular Class 2 stallions out there.
Cairo is little, 15.1, but big barreled. And I know from pestering several vets—and way too much time on Horse Vet Corner—that first foals are often small and that mares determine the size of the foal in utero. So, I was OK with going with something a little bigger. I could use the linear profile, as well as pictures and video to find the best match for my mare.
I made a Google doc with stallions, pedigrees, linear profiles, videos and my own commentary. I shared it with my patient friends, while cheerfully intending to ignore their advice and go my own way—after all it worked out fine when I bought Cairo. Basically, I told them I was heartbroken I was no longer competing Cairo and not getting her back to prelim, and their job was to say nice things about all the stallions I looked at—until and unless it appeared I was about to do something truly stupid.
A couple of them didn’t believe me and tried to offer advice. Some of it was good, some of it was wildly entertaining. Agreed, I shouldn’t breed to an unproven stallion just because he was super cute (oh, but he was really cute).
And then there was the entertaining advice: No, I was not flying to another state to meet the potential baby daddy. No, I doubt the stallion owner was going to let me take him for a spin to see if I liked him. No, despite my friend John the handyman’s comment that “Cairo should choose her own boyfriends, not her pimp,” I was not going to lay the studs’ photos on the ground and let Cairo choose.
As John stuffed carrots into her, I pointed out to him that she would sell her soul for a root vegetable so she might not be the best manifester of her own and my destiny. Also, when she’s in heat she will cozy up to any gelding or mare but historically has blown off stallions like pesky little brothers. I might check in with the communicator though, just to let Cairo know the plan.
I know the mare is a huge part of the equation, and if this breeding produced another Cairo, I’d be thrilled. If I bred a bigger-boned, quieter version Cairo, I’d be thrilled. If I bred something just like the super nice stallion I picked out after weeks of neurotic research, I’d be thrilled.
And the plan is launching. There is a very sweet Paint gelding at my barn named Chip. Cairo used to loathe Chip with the hatred of a thousand suns. If we rode in the arena at the same time, and Chip dared to quietly lope by, Cairo would snake her neck at him with her mouth agape, threatening to eat him. Chip never seemed to mind, but I was a little horrified.
Then one day last summer when she was in raging heat, we went on a trail ride together. I don’t know what those kids were doing alone in the back of the trailer, but Cairo now thinks Chip is one very hot pinto gelding. His owner does not object to my using him as her teaser. (TikTok did, however, object to a video I posted of Cairo demonstrating her love for Chip, set to the tune of “Mnaha Mnaha,” and put a content warning on it.)
In mid-March I sent my vet the sort of video TikTok finds objectionable, and he deemed her ready to palpate and scan a couple days later. Because Cairo is always extra, of course she had double ovulated in her last heat cycle. Aside from muttering dire things about pinching a twin and “soaking up a lot of sperm” my vet seemed undeterred. We started her on Regumate, got the prostaglandin ready to go and set the date. This basically means we will hormonally control the day she cycles to best match up with Colorado State University doing semen collection on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
So if all goes well—and please send jingles that it will—this time next year, my sassy little mare will be the mother of a foal by the lovely Irish Draught stallion Gemstone Clover (Donovan—Clovers Amy).
Yup, not only did I buy horse sperm on the internet, but I am also having it FedExed. It’s a whole new world.
Camilla Mortensen is an amateur eventer from Eugene, Oregon, who started blogging for the Chronicle when she made the trek to compete in the novice three-day at Rebecca Farm in Montana. Camilla works as a newspaper reporter by day and fits training and competing Cairo around her job.