‘I love riding Big Star’: meet Stallion AI founder Tullis Matson

  • From his early days as a jockey to his favourite stallions who have stood at Stallion AI Services, find out more about the charismatic founder of the UK's largest equine semen collection and distribution centre

    1. Despite his horsey family, Tullis didn’t start riding until he was 15

    “My family were all horsey, and my brother Edward was riding as soon as he could walk, but I rebelled at everything — I must have been a horrible child,” says Tullis.

    2. He spent a year as assistant trainer to Phillip Hobbs

    After leaving school at 16, Tullis found his first job with the Somerset trainer, and after a year became his assistant trainer. “That put me on the straight and narrow and taught me some discipline,” says Tullis.

    3. He rode in 77 point-to-points

    “I had one winner, on a horse of my grandmother’s,” he recalls. “I was never the best at pointing though — I was always dieting, and then I was too weak as a result.”

    4. An accident with a mare prompted him to study artificial insemination (AI)

    After his racing career, Tullis came back to Shropshire to work on his father’s stud at Twemlows.
    “One day, one of my father’s Irish draught stallions was covering a mare and he ruptured her inside, and she died. We thought then that there had to be a better way to do it, and so I went to New Zealand aged 21 to learn the basics of AI. Other countries were way ahead of the UK then — we’re traditionally much more dominated by the thoroughbred industry, which still bans the use of AI,” explains Tullis.

    5. There’s one particular horse who holds a special place in his memories

    The first famous stallion to arrive at Stallion AI was Demonstrator, Ferdi Eilberg’s international grand prix dressage horse. He stood at the stud from 2003 until his death in 2013, and is buried at the centre. “I’m an emotional person anyway, but I was a wreck when Demonstrator died,” remembers Tullis. “We had a real connection, I always felt he was part human.”

    6. He always makes time to ride Big Star

    “Some people don’t believe that I ride Big Star but I love riding him out around the farm in summer,” says Tullis. “He’s lovely to ride. It’s important to make sure all the stallions have as normal a life as possible.”

    7. He loves to skydive — and has logged around 1,600 jumps

    Tullis spent many years working as a cameraman for the skydiving company that uses his land. “On Fridays and Saturdays I would collect from a stallion, go up to do a jump, then collect again before going back up. I loved it,” he says.

    8. He was once reprimanded by the Civil Aviation Authority — for reading H&H

    “I always used to read the new Horse & Hound on my way up in the plane to do a jump, and stash the copies in a bag containing safety equipment. But after getting a strip torn off me when the CAA did an inspection I had to stuff them down the front of my jumpsuit before jumping out.”

    9. Animals Tullis has helped collect semen from include camels, antelopes and even lions

    “I really enjoy helping set up laboratories abroad, in countries such as Kuwait and Dubai, and have even collected off camels in the Middle East. It’s exactly the same as with a horse, but whereas a horse takes 30 seconds, a camel takes 15 minutes so you have to be patient,” he says. “Camel semen doesn’t freeze very well; we’re always looking into new freezing techniques.”

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    10. He is a Trustee of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and passionate about saving rare breeds

    “I used to be a bit ignorant about rare breeds until I became more involved with them, and realised that, for example, Suffolk horses could be extinct by 2027 unless we do something to save them,” he said. There are currently three Suffolk horses at Stallion AI, as well as a number of Cleveland Bays — another endangered breed. Tullis also works with Chester Zoo to help preserve endangered species such as rhinos and lions.

    11. He can look at a sample of semen and name the stallion it came from

    “I can match the semen to the stallion, just from its particular traits and the way it moves. I probably get it right about 80 to 90% of the time,” he chuckles.

    Don’t miss the full interview with Tullis Matson in today’s special breeding issue of Horse & Hound magazine (5 April 2018)

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