Finding a Stallion Handler

We have expanded our semen collection/shipping facility, so we can now keep up to eight stallions in residence and accommodate local stallions trailering in just for semen collection as needed through the season. In the past we have depended upon stallion owners to handle their own stallions for collection. If we had to, one of us would step in to help out. None of us are especially skilled at handling stallions in the breeding shed, and it has been a bit of a worry with some stallions. No one has been hurt, but it certainly hasn't been smooth sometimes.

One of our goals for our new facility is to improve this aspect of our operation. In planning our new breeding barn and collection area, we visited breeding farms around the country, as well as in Europe and Australia. Our final plan included many ideas we picked up for organizing a stallion station to more efficiently handle normal stallion behavior. We have also eliminated some of the tight spots we've had trouble with in the past. We now have a much more organized traffic flow of stallions coming and going. That should help a lot with some of the stallion behavior issues.

In those visits to farms, we also found that some of the breeding farms or stallion stations have designated "professional" stallion handlers. We've decided we'd like to try to go that route and are now organizing to find someone. Ideally, we would love to find a trained and experienced stallion handler, but realistically it will be someone here locally with potential to become trained.

One of our big concerns was that even among the "pros" we've seen, there has been a lot of variation in handling style that affects the stallions' behavior in the breeding area. What we have seen is that some are pretty rough and jerky with even fairly quiet horses. We would like to avoid that if possible. We also saw some handlers that were much more smooth and calm. They could keep things under control, but were much less rough and excited. It seemed like second nature for them to work around stallions. Of course, it's tough to know for sure if they act like that all the time around stallions, as it may have been the particular stallions they were handling at the time, or maybe they only have easy stallions that they have known for years. Especially for the stop-by semen collections, we need to have someone who can be good immediately with all types of stallions, including stallions that have never bred before.

Can you comment on whether this is a realistic goal for us to try to have a designated stallion handler for our facility size, and where should we look for someone with raw talent and the ability to train? To be full-time, the position will have other responsibilities as well as stallion handling. In your experience, do stallion handlers also manage the stallion barn? We've been thinking that would be good for getting to know resident stallions. Any other tips or suggestions for our situation would be appreciated.      via e-mail

Here at a vet school reproduction clinical and teaching facility, we have a similar need for highly skilled stallion handlers who can work with the variety of stallions with a variety of temperaments, levels of fitness, and training, as well as previous breeding experience and handling. We start a fair number of novice stallions, but also work with stallions with a history of difficulty, including some stallions with a history of breeding shed wrecks. Many of our stallions are with us for one occasion or a short time, and so are also handled elsewhere routinely. In addition to those similarities with your needs, we also like to involve veterinary and graduate students in procedures whenever possible. We also teach stallion handling to clients, students, and short course participants, usually with our own stallions, but sometimes with client-owned stallions.

So, our situation as much as demands--and like you we prefer--a calm and organized approach to handling stallions. While we often say that there are many different ways to skin a cat, when it comes down to it, our team would definitely agree with you that a person's style of handling has a big impact on stallion behavior and on the efficiency of a breeding facility. Competent, consistent stallion handling is extremely valuable. And a good stallion handler is a great asset to any size facility.

Designated Stallion Handler

The goal of having a designated stallion handler for your facility sounds realistic. Stallion handlers that work part-time can be found in most areas, and they can work out quite well in some circumstances. The traveling stallion handlers tend to have experience with all types of stallions, facilities, and owners. So if their style matches your preferences, it can be an excellent solution for small farms. But for your growing facility with potential to have eight resident stallions and with stallions trailering in on short notice, it might be a scheduling challenge to depend upon a part-time stallion handler.

For full-time employment, even the busiest stallion stations are probably going to need to include other jobs in between handling stallions. Stallion handlers often speak to the value of understanding each stallion as an individual and of the benefit of interacting with the stallion on a daily basis for feeding, turn-out, and grooming to get to know and feel comfortable with him. For that reason, managing and/or caring for the resident stallions is a logical additional responsibility of any designated stallion handler. Similarly, receiving and discharging the stallions that trailer in for semen collection, including unloading, undoing travel wraps, putting stallions into the holding stall, and communicating with the shippers are also common responsibilities for a designated stallion handler.

Experience vs. Training

There are obvious pros and cons to each scenario. From your description of your staff, it might be ideal to find someone experienced already and whose style you like. If that doesn't work, you might be able to hire someone to help train your local candidate, either at their farm or yours. Depending upon how much time and expense this effort can afford, I think stallion handling apprentices learn a lot in a short time of observing a variety of handlers, just as you did in your short visits. So even a tour of observing in a breeding shed can help your stallion handler see examples of what you would like to see and what you would like to avoid. Attending reproduction short courses with wet labs is another opportunity to see and learn stallion handling techniques. Some animal science and vet school programs can accommodate observers.


Whenever possible, for a facility of your size, it's also practical and wise to have more than one person on the team who is comfortable handling stallions for breeding, who keeps in practice, and who knows your particular stallions. And it's especially good if all those who handle stallions have the opportunity to work together from time to time rather than pass in the night. This will help ensure as much consistency as possible in the handling and routine. Therefore, cross-training within your team or keeping an assistant stallion handler (or stallion-handler-in-training program) is recommended whenever possible.

I really like the cross-training approach, where the team members swap out tasks occasionally. For example, the usual semen collection technician handles the stallion, the usual mare handler collects the semen, and the stallion handler holds the stimulus mare. This is a great team builder, giving everyone insight into the various jobs and how to best help each other. Cross-training works well with the resident stallion situation, since you can do it at the best times and with animals that are suitably challenging.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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