Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Q. I have a breeding problem with my 13-year-old Quarter Horse stallion. He has tremendous bloodlines. He has four or five foals on the ground, so I know that he is not infertile. But recently I leased him to a friend out of state to use. He covered five mares while he was there, but was not an eager breeder. I have him home now, and he is showing little or no signs of libido with my mare, which is in full-blown heat. She is giving all indications that the time is right, but he has no interest. He won't even "talk" to her. What can I do or try? I had tried to breed a friend's mare in July when I got him home, but the mare was already out of heat. But he showed no interest in her as well. So while I don't want my mare bred now, I would like to see the proper stallion response to estrus so I will be prepared for next season.

Eileen


A. It sounds like your stallion might be what is known as a shy breeder. You know he breeds, but not as enthusiastically and as indiscriminately as many stallions will. I would not worry at all that he showed no interest in the July mare--the one that was already out of heat. Though it is unusual, you could argue that stallions that ignore such mares are just "smarter" than most stallions. I have known many highly efficient and fertile stallions which seemed to waste no time on a mare which wasn't just about to ovulate. So even when we think the mare is ready to breed, maybe the stallion is better able to tell the best time to breed.

At this point, there are a few things you can do before the breeding season. First, it would be wise to rule out any major physical or medical problems that might be a cause of low libido. The best way to do that is to have a breeding soundness examination done by a veterinarian who specializes in equine reproduction. To find a specialist, you can ask your veterinarian. (For more information on the breeding soundness exam, see "Shed Ready?".)

This exam involves a review of the stallion's general health and breeding history, if available. Try to find out as much as you can about the temperament and training of the horse. It is not uncommon for Quarter Horses to be given specific training to be quiet around mares and be punished for normal spontaneous erections. This can make them reluctant to show normal stallion response when you ask them to breed. You also might want to find out as much as you can about his sire's breeding behavior. There are some lines of quiet, cautious breeders. Your veterinarian will factor all that information into the evaluation.

The breeding soundness examination also includes a physical examination, both of the stallion in general and particularly of the reproductive organs. Examples of things that can subdue libido are poor musculoskeletal fitness, obesity, or anything that can be painful during breeding. The genital organs are examined very carefully for any signs of injury or disease. The testicles produce hormones that drive libido, so the veterinarian will be evaluating their size and texture as a clue to whether the stallion is producing normal hormones.

The breeding soundness examination also involves evaluation of breeding behavior during a semen collection session, as well as a detailed evaluation of semen (if a sample can be obtained). Depending on behavior and semen quality, blood might be drawn for evaluation of hormones, or further tests might be done. The veterinarian will put the findings all together and advise you on any issues to consider or address. If behavior is a serious problem during the examination, there are further, more detailed evaluations that can be done.

Another thing you can do is to give your stallion plenty of exposure to mares. Exposure to mares promotes reproductive function, while isolation from mares and exposure to other stallions generally suppresses sexual behavior and other aspects of reproductive function. If you can safely put your stallion in a stall or paddock next to one or more cycling mares, it likely will benefit him a great deal. Most quiet stallions will gain confidence and begin to express normal sexual behavior.

A new environment can intimidate some stallions, so letting him tease freely will help him overcome that, if it is a factor. Also, you can pay close attention to his response to mares, to see if anything in particular "turns him on or off." Keep a diary of what he does--it might become useful in figuring him out.

Sometimes you'll find that the stallion is interested in the mare next door until he sees people coming. This is a clue that he might have been discouraged in the past for showing interest. If that seems to be the case, you can just stand quietly at a distance and gradually get closer and reassure him that he is doing nothing wrong.

Handling of the stallion in the breeding shed and in general around the farm is very important to libido, particularly for stallions which tend to be shy. As a beginning breeder, it might be useful for you to visit a few breeding farms to get some ideas on variation in stallion behavior and tips on handling quiet stallions. There are some excellent farms that allow observation of their breeding sessions. You can also get some guidance through your local extension horse specialist, or nearest veterinary school.

You also can look for breeders' courses. Some universities and larger veterinary clinics, and even some larger farms around the country, hold clinics and short courses for breeders and managers of stallions.