Tips for Stallion Handlers, From Novice to Advanced

Even though we think a stallion should know his business in the breeding shed, that is not always the case at the beginning. "Starting a novice breeding stallion can range from a quick and easy project accomplished in a few brief sessions to a challenging and time-consuming effort over many sessions and even a few weeks," says Sue McDonnell, PhD, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and head of the Equine Behavior Lab of the Veterinary School of the University of Pennsylvania (New Bolton Center), at the Hagyard Bluegrass Equine Symposium held Oct. 21-23, 2004.

Although it's most efficient to customize the training protocol for each stallion, McDonnell recommends a general 10-step process for a novice breeding stallion session. The first step begins with establishing a general handling rapport with the stallion.

"Before beginning the breeding training session, a few minutes of walking the stallion in a non-sexual situation using the restraint that will be used for breeding can be helpful in establishing good communication with the stallion," says McDonnell. "Specifically, we recommend to establish gesture and verbal commands for the following basics--walk, stop, stand, and back."

The next step is to establish rapport with the stallion in a teasing situation. "The same basic ground commands can be used to convey to the horse that with the direction of the handler, he can approach and interact with the mare in an organized manner," says McDonnell.

Step three is entering the breeding shed. McDonnell notes, "As we gradually approach the stimulus mare, the handler's goal is to convey to the stallion that he can approach the mare at the pace of the handler."

Next, the stallion can be allowed close teasing as needed. "Many novice breeders will not respond sufficiently until allowed closer contact with the stimulus mare, at least at first," says McDonnell. "Approaching head-to-head, and then teasing from the shoulder toward the tail is the natural sequence for horses breeding at liberty. For most novices, this is more stimulating than going directly to the tail."

Next is penis preparation. "Important aspects of washing include a confident, reassuring approach and gentle handling of the delicate tissues," McDonnell explains. "If the horse is shy or resentful of penis manipulation, we are happy to delay the procedure until subsequent sessions."

Step six is accomplished by finishing last-minute preparations, and if needed, re-stimulating the stallion through close-contact teasing. "Once the stallion is fully erect and ready to mount, he is encouraged to pause momentarily and then mount when signaled by the handler," says McDonnell.

For those stallions that hesitate to mount, bumping the mare or dummy with the stallion's chest can elicit mounting.
Step seven is insertion and thrusting, followed by dismounting (step eight). "Whenever possible, the stallion should be left undisturbed for several seconds after ejaculation to dismount when ready," says McDonnell. "A mare handler can facilitate dismounting by stepping the mare forward as the stallion stirs to dismount."

Step nine is rest and reinforcement. "We try to reinforce improvement, whether or not ejaculation occurred, with a pat on the shoulder or some words of praise," notes McDonnell.

Finally, the stallion leaves the breeding area in the 10th step. If the stallion is reluctant to leave, give him a minute to orient himself. "We just wait a minute or two, remove the mare from the shed, then encourage the stallion to leave without a battle," comments McDonnell.

McDonnell stresses, "Our goal of early training is to see progress in each step with each session."
Planning, preliminary ground handling, positive reinforcement rather than a punitive approach, and patience can result in efficient, safe stallion handling for breeding, even with the most enthusiastic or awkward beginner stallion and beginner handlers.

About the Author

Marcella M. Reca Zipp, MS

Marcella Reca Zipp, M.S., is a former staff writer for The Horse. She is completing her doctorate in Environmental Education and researching adolescent relationships with horses and nature. She lives with her family, senior horse, and flock of chickens on an island in the Chain O'Lakes.

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