Artificial insemination of equines has been around a long time and, through the years, has had a profound impact on the horse industry. Most of the impact has been of the positive variety, but there also have been some negatives. Just when artificial insemination (AI) first made its appearance on the equine scene is open to debate. There is the somewhat romantic, and perhaps apocryphal, story of an Arab chieftain who allegedly stole some semen from a prize stallion owned by an adversary. The chieftain then inseminated his prize mare with this semen to obtain a "super" foal. That incident, the story goes, took place in 1322.
Whether that story is fact or fiction is irrelevant, but it does underline the fact that artificial insemination has been around for a good many years. B.W. Pickett, PhD, of Colorado State University, one of the pioneers in the field of research who helped turn the debatable AI approach for achieving pregnancy into a commonplace procedure, tells us that it was in 1776 that a researcher named Spallanzani used stallion semen to observe the effects of cooling spermatozoa. Spallanzani, says Pickett, is the "recognized father of AI."
With that much of a head start, one would think that AI in the equine industry would be the most sophisticated among the species of animals where it is employed. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. The beef industry, for example, routinely uses frozen semen successfully, while the equine industry still struggles to find a way to achieve a satisfactory pregnancy rate with that approach. (One country that has made heavy use of AI for a number of years, says Pickett, is China. There, in 1959, approximately 600,000 mares were inseminated.)