FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Sometimes the patient is just too tired. That's pretty easy to fix. But when a stallion is just not in the mood, it may take the talents of a Colorado team known as the "Masters and Johnson of the horse world."
Over the last 18 years, the group--affiliated with the Animal Reproduction Laboratory at Colorado State University--has gained a wide reputation for stimulating the sex life of stallions.
For thoroughbred owners the program is a godsend because their European racing association colleagues forbid such modern breeding practices as artificial insemination.
Close to the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, in the heart of a region better known for pack horses and rodeo mounts than for Triple Crown contestants, it seems an unlikely spot for such a specialty.
"It would be much more logical to have a place like we have here in, say, Kentucky, New York, Texas or California," says Ed Squires, associate professor and director of the Stallion Laboratory. "But the programs are built by people; we happen to have the people here."
Each year, about 120 horses are brought to the reproduction lab, a collection of barns, stalls, paddocks and pastures rimmed by wooden fences and well within the Fort Collins city limits. Three of the nine horse specialists travel extensively to look at still more.
All come here, Squires says, "because they have sexual problems that somebody else can't figure out.
"Our opinion is that, in most of the horses, it's psychological, not physical. It's in the head, not the body."
Squires came to the horse reproduction program in 1976. Dr. B. W. Pickett, director of the Animal Reproduction Laboratory, and Dr. James Voss, head of the Department of Clinical Sciences at the university's veterinary teaching hospital, have been developing the program since 1967.
By the time Squires got here, the laughter had stopped. Not that it was very loud, but still, when Pickett and Voss first started, the psychology of horse sex was not what horse owners wanted to hear about.
A physical problem is easily pinpointed, easier to fix and easier for an owner to deal with, says Squires. But psychological problems "probably are a little more confusing."
Pickett got into his specialty by accident.
"We had a series of experiments that required us to collect semen from stallions over a period of a year," he recalls. "These stallions became sexually satiated. . . . They just weren't interested in mares for any reason."
Pickett had to find out how to re-interest the stallions in breeding.
One of his findings was that a mare's color could make a difference in a stallion's interest.
Then came Deep Sun, the horse that established the program's reputation. A thoroughbred with a Denver owner, Deep Sun had the world record for 3 1/2 furlongs. He also showed no libido during his second breeding season.
"Although a huge, powerful horse, he had no interest in mares in the second breeding season," Pickett recalls. "He acted like a gelding right straight through."
It took the experts just 14 days to figure out the problem. Loose in a pasture with four mares the year before, Deep Sun had been kicked so hard he was lame for several weeks.
"A few successes, you have a happy client and it snowballs," Squires says. "By the time I got here, everyone knew about the lab already."
Pickett and Squires are reproductive physiologists. Three of the nine who work with horse reproduction are veterinarians.
In diagnosing a horse's problems, the team talks with the humans who know the animal best. Sometimes rough handling by the people who are directing breeding operations can turn off a stallion.
"They associate breeding with that kind of handling," Squires says. "The key to turning that around is to find the right kind of stimulus. If the first doesn't work, you change the stimulus."
Pickett, Squires and Voss have written the standard reference on their subject, "Normal and Abnormal Sexual Behavior of the Equine Male." Six times a year, four-day courses attract breeders to locations throughout the nation.
University rules permit staff members to devote two days a month to consulting work. For Squires and the others, it's worth $500 a day. Considering that the patients often are valued in seven figures, it's not so much.
Not every horse comes here for sex therapy. Tests to determine sperm levels--and thus decide how many mares a stallion will be allowed to breed that season--are routine, Squires says. So are sperm tests whenever a horse is sold.
"You would be absolutely insane not to have a horse checked for reproductive potential before you paid for him," Squires says. "We happen to have a reputation for knowing something about stallions."