The Young Stallion
Envision this: In his first season, the young stallion fulfills his purpose as a breeding animal. He matures from a rambunctious colt into a skillful stud. So how do you make this dream a reality? As the handler, you want the horse to behave naturally in a controlled setting. You should envision how you expect your youngster to behave, then train him with mutual respect.
The handler sets the horse's conduct. Steve Alred, breeding manager at Plum Creek Hollow in Larkspur, Colo., advised, "The most important thing is to have your training thoroughly in place before breeding season begins."
He noted that many people mistakenly breed a horse that isn't completely broken.
"The stallion has to get it well in his mind that when he's out, away from home, that there's absolutely no possibility to even get familiar with a mare. When a stallion is started that way, there's no question in his mind."
Many youngsters need retraining. For example, a stallion off the track has had different
handlers, who might have allowed the horse to muscle them around.
Stallion handlers instill and reinforce ground manners in their horses. Alred grew up with Quarter Horses, and he learned handling from his father and grandfather.
"You watch a stallion every single minute," he reminded. "My folks said, 'Stallions are so awful, because you can't be good to them.' "
Alred said, "I just growl under my breath, and they respond to it. They threaten, but they wouldn't dare. I've instilled in them that they'd better not."
Even when sexually aroused, the stallion must yield to pressure applied through the lead shank. Dean Scoggins, DVM, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, explained: "Teach the horse to respond to the command whoa. Stop the horse and back him up. Don't expect him to stand quietly still at this stage--just teach him that the handler can stop him and control his direction." Many handlers use a chain shank to "manner" the horse, threading the chain under the lip.
Stallion and handler must respect each other. Scoggins said, "Stallions tend to act somewhat territorial in their stall and/or paddock as they become sexually mature. Aggressive stallions are most apt to become threatening when approached, if they have not learned respect for the handler."
He added that such a horse might try to force a person to move out of the horse's personal space. The handler corrects the horse's dominance display without escalating the discipline unnecessarily.
If the horse invades the handler's space, he can shove the person off balance, or jerk ahead, kick, and run off. Alred defined a boundary: "If he gets into me with his shoulder, I move him back over where he belongs. When he's in that position with his shoulder, his head is past what I call the magic line. If he's behind me a little bit, I watch his shadow. In an instant, he can move, and you're on the ground!"
A Gentleman in the Breeding Shed
Repeated training establishes a routine that makes the horse feel comfortable. The horse becomes accustomed to a pattern, and he develops habits when he learns what to do.
"Teaching a stallion to breed is like training any other animal to perform," said Paul Mennick, DVM. At Pacific International Genetics in Rancho Murieta, Calif., Mennick handles stallions and jacks. "We're asking him to do something which to him is relatively pleasurable. He has to learn what to do to reach that pleasurable end point."
The handler teaches the horse the limits. As part of the breeding routine, the stallion must learn to wait in the breeding shed. Prior to mating, he stands quietly for cleansing. Mennick noted, "It's all in the handling. We don't tolerate striking or rearing or kicking while being washed. The horse is reprimanded quickly and appropriately, and then we carry on as if nothing ever happened."
John Hayes, farm manager at Cechele Farms in Cave Creek, Ariz., handles stallions of many breeds. He described the stallion that's a gentleman: "If you start immediately, it's easy to school young colts properly--and they never forget it. They feel good about breeding, and they don't step out of line."
The stallion learns to rely on the handler whether breeding live or collected off a phantom (dummy mare). Alred said, "My goal is to have the horse stand relatively calm, until I give him the signal that it's a breedable mare. The older stallions depend on me to keep them safe."
A wise handler waits until the stallion is at least three years old before breeding. The horse needs to be mature enough to comprehend this behavior, and not to attack the mare or lunge toward the mount.
"My criteria is that the stallion can be trained and still forget 50% of what he learned--and I still have control of the horse," said Alred. "If he gets too chargy, I step around in front of the horse. He looks at me, and that's the point of demarcation. We can stop and back up. It has to be a reflex, like all training." (He cautioned that the out-of-control stallion will run over a person to get to a mare.)
Alred controls the stallion's progress during live cover.
"If a stallion wants to rush in, I stop the whole thing. I'll bring him down and have him back up. We might go back to the barn, or start over."
Collection requires the handler to teach the horse to ejaculate into an artificial vagina (AV). The AV can be hand-held, or built into a dummy.
Handlers generally avoid having the stallion mount a mare for collection. Depending on the stallion, a mare might be present for teasing. Some breeders enhance the allure of the dummy by adding the scent of mare's urine to the upholstery.
David Wilson, dressage trainer and sport horse breeder at Cinema Farms, Riverside, Calif., stations a mare by a tease window. "Some stallions will turn from the window and jump on the mount. With others, I put the stallion on one side of the mount and the mare on the other side. I keep the mare just out of reach, so he learns that he needs to rear up a little bit onto the mount."
He also advised to let the young stallion tease slightly longer. "Make sure he's absolutely ready to get on the mount. You don't want him to get up and think he's not quite ready."
Hayes said, "We see what kind of attitude he has, because the attitude is very important. If he's a young stallion that's never been collected before, we may collect off a mare if we feel that will help him. Or we move the mare very close and let him think about mounting the mare, and just push him over to the phantom."
Alred usually breeds by himself, using a phantom with a built-in AV. "We never vary the routine. They know how long we're going to tease that mare, and both stallion and mare know when it's done. I can lead the mare and stallion back from breeding, with one in each hand."
Mennick said, "We can get quite a few stallions on the phantom without having a mare. We start with a set routine to introduce them to the phantom." In his experience, young horses tend to be quicker to train to the phantom than older horses.
Breeding can endanger handlers. Wilson cautioned, "When you're underneath that stallion with a hand-held AV, you want to make sure you have a very good handler with the stallion. And the person with the AV has to be very good at handling it, and very quick." He advised to pay close attention when washing the stallion before breeding and when turning from the teaser to the mount.
Analyzing Stallion Personality
The stallion handler controls the horse without inhibiting its natural expression. Mennick said, "You look at the animal's frame of mind. You assess what he does, and why he does it, and you change your behavior."
"The horse has to feel good about what he's doing," said Hayes. He recommended patience to teach the horse to respond. "It's important that he pays attention to what he's doing, and to the handler. He knows he'll be handled with finesse, and he knows when he'll be disciplined."
When teasing a mare, the horse can be overly energetic in courtship. Typically, the stallion will smell, snort, and nibble. About setting a limit, Hayes noted, "You want the stallion to be aggressive, to chew on the mane and maybe be a little lippy, but not to chew the mare apart. Then you reprimand him immediately and let him cool off."
The first-time stallion might be hesitant about this new behavior. Wilson lets the young horse watch an older stallion breed, to learn what he's supposed to do. He doesn't discourage the stallion from getting aroused.
Alred trained the farm's home-raised stallion, Wendesohn. The horse had been in training and on the show circuit for four years before Alred introduced him to his first mare. "He had no idea he could breed a mare. He couldn't believe he was allowed to get close to one, or that he was allowed to mount. He kept looking at me."
He took care to choose an older mare for the stallion's first experience. "We were extra careful that the mare wouldn't kick or wiggle around. Once you have a horse at that point, where he'll breed the mare, then the libido kicks in."
The handler should allow time for the novice stallion's training. Mennick noted that it might take two hours, perhaps in three or four sessions.
In the breeding shed, handlers should remain quiet. "I try to give the horse time to do whatever it is he wants to do," said Wilson. "You can't say every stallion is generic, and you tease him for 15 minutes only on the neck of the mare. Some like the neck; some like the withers. Once you breed him four or five times, you learn what to expect."
He suggested to allow the stallion some leeway and not direct the horse's every move. "Patience is of the essence. If you get mad at the horse, he can lose his erection. You have to think, 'Do what you have to do,' as long as it's not dangerous."
Thoughtful handling teaches the young stallion what's expected of him. He can experience the excitement of breeding while remaining under control.
About the Author
Award-winning writer Charlene Strickland lives in Bosque Farms, N.M. She has published 8 books and over 600 magazine articles, and is a member of the International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists.
POLL: Groundwork Practice