Q: I have worked with many different breeding stallions, including Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods back east, then mostly Arabians and Quarter Horses in Texas. We now have a halter stallion that does something I've never seen before. He seems to have to savage the mare before he can breed. He's got his little ritual going where he savages the breeding mount before he will get ready to breed. When he's brought to the breeding shed, he just tears into the breeding mount. He lowers his head and pins his ears in that very mean looking snakey posture and just charges at the mount like he is trying to kill it. He literally lunges into it with open mouth, goes at it like a woodpecker for a few seconds, spins around and kicks out both hind legs. It's not at all sexual, just like he's fighting with another stallion, or trying to kill it.

He then calms down and you can wash him and collect, usually in one mount. Any ideas why he needs to do this to breed, or do you think this is just some sort of bad habit in the extreme?

Outside of the breeding shed this horse is actually not a bad horse to work with. He's not what you could call a perfect gentleman, but certainly not a mean horse. It just seems so weird that he has this extra step in his routine. It does seem like a habit in a way that is very specific to the breeding routine. He is not exposed to live mares at all where he is right now, but we wonder about what would happen if this horse was ever near a live mare. It could be disastrous!

Any ideas on how to stop this? It tears up the breeding mount and just isn't very pleasant. We've had a variety of suggestions. Of course people who haven't seen it tell us to just get into him and just plain "set him back on his ass" a time or two. I'm not the one to do that. I just don't have it in me to beat horses, and I would probably lose. It's so bad, though, that I don't think you could physically hold him back or beat him off at this point. In fact, it's very scary. We worry whether he might some day go after a person that way.

If we did beat him up, would he go ahead and collect? We tried a shock collar, and it didn't phase him, and if anything it maybe even made him even more mad. It has been suggested to get a nasty mare and turn him out with her, but if he were to do the same the risk that one of them would get seriously hurt is real. Comments? Any ideas on why he does this?

A: I've heard of this a few times, and I have handled a couple of pony stallions that had a mild version of what you describe. Obviously this is not normal or natural, and as you indicate, is dangerous. As to why he does it, did you see the column in the May issue of The Horse on the learning phenomenon called superstitious behavior? This is likely an example of superstitious behavior. At some time the horse did this and semen collection proceeded, and now he continues as if this is a necessary step. Another possible explanation or factor in why he did this initially might be that the dummy has odors of other males that he has to "fight off."

In nature, for the bachelor stallions, sometimes fighting off competing males precedes breeding a young filly wandering from her natal band near the bachelor band.

With this type of potentially very dangerous behavior, it's tough to recommend steps long distance. If I were to evaluate this horse, I would try some old tricks. Before that I would want to actually see it myself and discuss the details of your experience at length before making a plan. Maybe put him out in a pipe panel round pen that he definitely can't escape or hurt himself, then bring a mare gradually closer and see what he does. This way you can assess whether it is a habit specific to the breeding situation.

While the goal would be to eliminate this savaging, like you, I certainly would not be the one to recommend shocking him or trying to "set him back on his ass." With serious problems like this, I prefer to make a plan for a completely new tact. Start in a new breeding area, and in this case a new, clean dummy mount. Before that, I would get this horse plenty of fresh air and exercise every day; longe him daily and before going into the breeding area. The goal of this is to get him to stop, back, and go forward on voice or signal command.

I would have a top stallion handler in the breeding shed at first, one who is confident to handle and stay ahead of the horse without harsh correction. In fact, I would have one who prides himself on never hitting a horse. The head restraint would be solid, but not harsh. The handler would hold the horse at a distance from the mount or a mare that is in a stall so that he cannot savage her. When he is erect, he would then be led one step at a time to the mount for semen collection. I would use estrous mare urine on the dummy to make it smell like a mare. If he continues to charge ahead or get savage, I would try blindfolding him. Again, this needs to be done by someone experienced with the technique and safety precautions necessary when handling a blindfolded horse. Another option would be to eliminate the mount altogether and to collect semen on the ground (see "Ground vs. Breeding Mount Collection" at www.TheHorse.com/emag.aspx?id=3413).

 Q: We are training a new 2-year-old stud colt for breeding and want to get it right. We had an expert come by for a private clinic to help us learn how to handle a stallion for breeding and to get him trained for semen collection. The colt is a very energetic breeder and was just pulling me around and paying no attention when I said "no." We were told we needed to seriously punish him--to literally "set this stallion back on his ass a few times." There has to be a better way. It's not my style. What do you advise for the stallion that gets ahead of you in the breeding situation?

A: My advice would be to find an experienced stallion handler who can help you with this stallion as described in the previous answer--one who can stay ahead of this horse with positive handling. Also, you should use preliminary work on a longe line or in a round pen as described above. Aggressive fighting with a stallion can confuse the stallion and set him back in his progress. The punishment is not as effective as positive guidance because it simply instills a general fear of the handler.

I'll paraphrase Andy Anderson, DVM, a good and kind veterinarian and horseman who speaks each year at the American Association of Equine Practitioners' convention about handling difficult horses: "Setting horses back on their ass and other punitive  techniques surface when good people run out of good ideas and techniques."

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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