Everyone knows that breeding stallions can be hard to handle. Those raging hormones often translate into misbehavior once stallions are placed at the end of a lead line.
But it isn’t always that way. Plenty of breeding stallions are easy to manage. So what’s the difference between those good-tempered boys and the ones that put your safety in jeopardy every time you go near them? Is it breed? Inherited disposition? Or is it the way the stallions are handled in the first place?
According to those who own and manage easygoing breeding stallions, both handling and housing make the difference between a difficult stallion and one that is a joy to be around.
Vicki Gaudreau, owner of Enchanted Acres Arabians & Appaloosas in Howell, New Jersey, finds that her breeding stallions are easy to manage in large part because of the way she treats them.
“When handling or training a stallion, it is important to be firm without being harsh, and to also be consistent,” she says. “My boys learn immediately that what I say goes and that they must respect my space. Even when I feed, they learn to wait until I say it’s okay before they stick their heads in their grain tub. They are not allowed to shove past me to get to their feed.”
Sue Schembri, co-owner of Char-O-Lot Ranch in Myakka, Florida, stands a number of Appaloosa stallions and has had success handling each stallion according to his personality. “First and foremost, you need to realize that all stallions are different,” she says. “Some require more constraint and control, while others perform better in a more natural situation where they think they are more in charge. We try to adapt our breeding shed handling to meet each individual’s likes and dislikes. These individual preferences may also change over the course of a breeding season, and you must continuously be on the lookout for subtle behavior changes to ward off problems before they occur.”
When it comes to dealing with stallions on a daily basis, Schembri emphasizes continuity, noting that it’s important to always be open to changes. “The horse is basically a creature of habit and likes knowing what is going to happen in his routine from day to day,” she says. “We generally use the same stallion handler, the same AV handler and the same basic personnel day in and day out. This way, the stallion knows what is expected of him. We are fortunate that we do now have enough people to do this. However, in a small operation, like we used to have, the same basics can be used. Either the husband or wife should always be the one to get the horse ready to breed or collect, while the other person does most of the other handling—the exercising, showing, etc.”
When problems do come up with stallions, they can often be handled in a way that will not turn into a battle of wills. To deal with the biggest complaint of stallion owners, biting, Gaudreau uses a horseman’s trick to keep her stallions in line. “One of the easiest and quickest ways I’ve found to stop nipping or biting is to have Binaca, Sweet Breath or any other brand of breath spray handy and ready,” she says. “At the first indication of nipping or mouthing, give a quick blast right to the horse’s mouth. Horses seem to not like the taste or sensation, and the spray will not harm them. It usually only takes a couple of lessons before the stallion decides it’s best to keep his lips closed.”
While most stallions have issues with being preoccupied with breeding, stallions that have been shown extensively have often been taught to suppress their breeding instincts. In the shed, this can be a problem.
“We typically have horses that are currently being shown or have been shown,” says Schembri. “These stallions are usually slower in the libido department and need more encouragement to act in the natural breeding manner. However, these stallions, once trained, usually are the quickest ones to learn since they have been handled extensively. Just getting past that initial reserve and letting them know that it is okay to act like a stallion in this environment takes a good amount of time and patience. Just allowing them to mount, even if they are not quite ready or not quite exactly sure where they should be, without reprimanding them, will encourage their participation.”
One of the most important aspects of good stallion management is housing. The way a stallion is housed has a tremendous affect on his behavior.
“Horses are herd animals and need to be with other horses,” says Gaudreau. “None of my stallions are isolated. Each is with at least one other horse, usually more, sometimes rubbing noses with each other, or even in paddocks together off season. Even if, for some reason, one is in a pen by himself, he can still have nose contact with other horses. My stallions have wonderful temperaments. Granted, one must always remember a stallion is a stallion. But, they still love people and attention.”
John Bacot, of Mariah Arabians in Mohave Valley, Ariz., also gives his stallions plenty of contact with other horses to help keep them well behaved. “We have eight stallions, all in a row, one on each side of the other,” he says. “They are nose to nose, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. They can touch and ‘talk’ but with our set up, they are not able to bite each other. We rotate them so they each have two new neighbors every eight days. Each stallion also gets 24 hours out in the exercise arena every eight days. When one of them has been out all night, he will always run up to me in the morning so he can get back into his stall.
“Stallions are such nice guys when they are treated like they have feelings,” Bacot adds. “We just have to try to be as smart as they are. And believe me, it takes a lot of observation and effort to understand these awesome animals.”