The Frontal Cortex

The Dud Stud

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.


  1. #1 Monkey
    April 29, 2008

    The way these horses are treated is actually pretty awful. After being spoiled as prize horses all their lives, they are sort of punished for their talents. They are deprived of all comfort. No company with other horses, no treats or good food, everything possible is done in order to make them angry and aggressive enough to amp up their testosterone so that they’ll ejaculate 3 times a day on cue. (The drugs, of course, are also used) I visited one of the stables. All the handler had to do was stomp his foot on the ground and the horse ejaculated.

    I went to visit a horse I fell in love with. They were making the same comments about him as with War Emblem. He had a girlfriend pony who had been shown on TV cuddling with and of course she was left behind. I asked where she was and the tour guide just said, “oh that old donkey? she’s not worth anything.”

  2. #2 Dale Campbell
    April 29, 2008

    I’m genuinely interested here…

    I would (from my un-expert perspective) observe that the descriptions of animal homo-sexual encounters contains quite a few anthropomorphisms in it, no? I’m quite aware of (and happy with) similarities and links of whatever kinds that humans have with animals, though this kind of description (‘orgies’, ‘ardent’ lesbians, ‘enthusiastically mount each other’, ‘massages’, everyone ‘likes it’) seems to be (dare I say intentionally?) loaded at best and other-than-scientific at worst…

    It seems perfectly ‘natural’ to me, to observe sexual animals engaged in all kinds of actions – quite likely for all kinds of reasons other than that they are ‘enthusiastic’ about it…

  3. #3 Layla
    April 30, 2008

    I don’t know if horses have homosexual tendencies, but I do know that they are herd animals. When we take away their potential to be part of a herd,isolating them for all but brief encounters, we mess with some deep-rooted drives to form bonds, especially in a stallion expecting to breed with his harem. Maybe he’s more normal (whatever that is) than one would think.

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