With the brilliant showjumping stallion Big Star joining the ranks of elite sires on the books of Stallion AI Services, we decided it was time to go behind-the-scenes at the Shropshire centre.
We discovered a revolutionary company that is breaking new boundaries in breeding techniques — from the way semen is frozen, chilled and collected, to how stallions are managed.
1. Star showjumpers
2. Meet the team
Tullis Matson (centre) is the founder and managing director of this forward-thinking business which attracts 80-90 stallions a year and has more than 800 stallions in stock.
3. Stud manager Kate Ashmore
Kate inspects the latest collection from Big Star (by Quick Star), who is proving to be one of the most fertile stallions they’ve ever had. “From the average stallion we might get 10 doses per collection, but then you have stallions that really break the mould and Big Star is one of those — yesterday he gave us 33 doses,” she says.
4. Big Star in action
Owner Gary Widdowson turned down substantial offers to stand the 12-year-old stallion in Europe: “It gave us great pride in keeping Big Star for Great Britain at the Olympics and now it’s given us great pride to keep him at stud in Great Britain.”
5. Lab technician Nikoletta Gouzopoulou processes frozen semen for export
Last year the company shipped nearly 1,500 doses to 19 different countries, with a total value of just over £1million.
The classy stallion Lefonic, by Zafonic, is an ex-racehorse showing tremendous promise as a sire of competition horses. Other big names on the books include Mill Law, Sir Shutterfly and Serano Gold.
7. Collection time
During their busiest periods, the team are collecting from a stallion every 15min and freezing takes place within a couple of hours of collection. Black Jack, pictured, is a son of Cornet Obolensky, who will be standing in the UK for one year only.
8. Going places
The company has grown from a tiny lab at the bottom of the yard to a multinational company with plans to expand further in 2016 with the building of a new centre that will be run along the lines of European breeding farms. “What we’re doing here is brilliant, but this new place will hopefully make us one of the best in the world,” says Kate Ashmore, who will be overseeing the exciting project.
9. Five-star accommodation
The current stallions in residence.
10. Twemlows Hall
The hall is also home to Edward Matson’s thriving and equally revolutionary embryo transfer business.
11. The Suffolk Punch
Currently on the critical list of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, the Suffolk Punch has been one of Tullis Matson’s “projects” to help improve freezing processes. “Certain breeds are more difficult to freeze than others and when you find the key to unlock the problem, it helps them all. We can now freeze 90%, whereas a few years ago it was 60-70%,” he says.
12. And finally…
Just in case you need a reminder of why Big Star is one of the best showjumping stallions we’ve ever seen, watch his video at the top of this page.
You can read the full feature about Stallion AI Services in Horse & Hound’s breeding special pull-out (12 March 2015).