War Emblem, the 2002 Kentucky Derby winner, is one finicky horse:
By all accounts, he [War Emblem] is a happy horse — gamboling through fields most of the day, showing the turn of foot that propelled him to lead every step of the way in America’s greatest horse race.
In reality, however, War Emblem is in therapy.
He is isolated from the other studs at Shadai Stallion Station in the hope that he will feel safe and more confident in his sexuality. Mares surround him in an effort to revive a long-dormant libido.
“We know he is fertile, but he has no interest in mares,” said Dr. Nobuo Tsunoda, the director of the farm.
In an industry that requires horses to breed the old-fashioned way, War Emblem’s lack of interest has been costly, as well as another reminder that for the winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby, which takes place Saturday, there are no guarantees. Shadai bought War Emblem for $17 million to replace another Derby champion, Sunday Silence, who had been Japan’s lead sire. By conservative estimates, it has lost as much as $55 million in stud fees.
You’ll be happy to know that War Emblem is now getting daily injections of testosterone, in order to help his libido. But what if War Emblem just isn’t that into mares? As I noted in an earlier article on Joan Roughgarden, the Stanford biologist, homosexual behavior is common throughout the animal kindgom:
Male big horn sheep live in what are often called “homosexual societies.” They bond through genital licking and anal intercourse, which often ends in ejaculation. If a male sheep chooses to not have gay sex, it becomes a social outcast. Ironically, scientists call such straight-laced males “effeminate.”
Giraffes have all-male orgies. So do bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, gray whales, and West Indian manatees. Japanese macaques, on the other hand, are ardent lesbians; the females enthusiastically mount each other. Bonobos, one of our closest primate relatives, are similar, except that their lesbian sexual encounters occur every two hours. Male bonobos engage in “penis fencing,” which leads, surprisingly enough, to ejaculation. They also give each other genital massages.
As this list of activities suggests, having homosexual sex is the biological equivalent of apple pie: Everybody likes it. At last count, over 450 different vertebrate species could be beheaded in Saudi Arabia. You name it, there’s a vertebrate out there that does it.
I have no idea if similar behavior has been observed in horses, or if War Emblem really is just a picky male, but it seems like an idea worth exploring.