Typically, animal research, especially in the area of IVF, has helped advance human medicine, but here the tail is wagging the horse.
"A lot of things were done in rabbits and mice as well as monkeys and that has transitioned over to what we do on the human side of things," VerMilyea said. "But the horse is a different beast. Assisted reproduction is a bit more delicate and the massive size of the animal makes things all the more challenging."
ICSC can be used for race horses to continue the legacy of winning stallions or for mares that might have a blockage in the oviducts or a severe infection of the uterus or a tear in the cervix from a previous foal.
The sperm from a valuable stallion can be frozen and kept in storage tanks and, even years after its death, vets can retrieve a small amount to use for fertilization.
"There is a limited amount, and when you breed a mare the standard way you can use quite a bit each time," VerMilyea said. "With ICSI, you can shave off a tiny bit in a frozen dose, almost like a drop, and use a single sperm to inject into the egg. It extends the sperm."
My Special Girl was donated when she was 3 or 4 to the New Bolton Center, "probably because she was not very fast," and is part of its "teaching herd," said Turner.
She and 14 other mares are used for student vets who are learning to do physical exams.
"The mares are selected for their sweet temperaments and patience," she said. "You need a calm horse to put on the halter and handle them and walk them."
As the ICSI technology takes off, breeders could pay $6,000 to $8,000 for the procedure, according to Turner.
"Breeding is a big deal in horses," she said. "It's one of the few domestic species where babies are worth enough to justify a technique like this."