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Breeding expert Tullis Matson on working with legendary stallions – and collecting semen from elephants

As the man at the helm of Stallion AI Services in Shropshire, the UK’s largest artificial insemination centre, Tullis Matson has been welcoming some of the country’s most famous stallions through his doors since 2000.

“There are some amazing stallions out there. I’m an emotional person and I tend to get very wrapped up in them,” says Tullis, speaking on episode 38 of the Horse & Hound Podcast, currently supported by NAF.

“Demonstrator – Ferdi Eilberg’s grand prix dressage stallion – is one who always sticks out in my mind. He came from the Broadstone Stud and he just oozed charisma. He had a likeability about him; he went about with a permanent smile on his face, and was quite cheeky with it.

“We also had Mill Law, the fantastic advanced eventing stallion and it’s great to see all his youngstock popping up here, there and everywhere. He was pushing over 100 mares a year.

“Then there was Arko III, who was amazing. It was such an honour to stand him at the centre and to have someone put their faith in us with such an amazing horse. I’m so proud that our owners have supported us like this,” says Tullis.

“There is also the great Big Star, who is with us now – he arrived last week. He hasn’t forgotten what to do, that’s for certain – he really knows his job.”

‘We have a duty of care towards rare breeds’

While sport stallions and breeding are at the centre of day-to-day life at Stallion AI Services, the development of new techniques and technologies, such as sexed semen, has meant that Tullis Matson and his team have embarked on a journey into the possibilities of cryo-preservation. This includes a focus on rare breeds and species, something Tullis is especially passionate about.

“I love my rare breeds; my father was president of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and when he passed away they asked me to become a trustree. I became hooked on the passion of it and what we could do using new technology, for breeds such as the Suffolk, the Cleveland Bay, the Clydesdale.

“Every year I think surely there’s no more technology that can come along, we must have hit the top, but every year I’m amazed about what comes bouncing along, such as sexed semen.”

Sexed semen – an innovative process by which semen is sorted prior to insemination in order to determine the sex of the foal – was behind the birth of an important Suffolk filly in 2020.

“It was only one foal, but it’s proof of concept and it shows these technologies can work and help,” explains Tullis. “There are only 72 female Suffolks left in the country and only 300 left in the world. We have to do something about it – they’re part of our heritage and I think we have a duty of care towards them.”

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Not just horses…

Tullis’ pioneering work into genetic preservation has branched out further than the equine world, too.

“We have gone on to use our equine freezing extender to freeze elephant semen. I was bowled over to be asked to go to South Africa in October 2019 and it was one of the most memorable trips of my lifetime,” he says. “We did seven bull elephants over a 10-day period.

“They are just the most amazing animals; there were 10 million elephants at the beginning of this century, and only 400,000 now, with the possibility that there will only be 200,000 by 2025. We have to preserve their genetics, so we used the equine semen extender to freeze their semen down.

“It was an incredible experience to collect off these wild animals, and to be so close to them. I was sitting between their front and back legs for hours and I could literally hear their hearts beating.”

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