Basic Techniques of Handling Stallions

Rearing stallion with a mind of his own.
Rearing stallion with a mind of his own.

General nature of the stallion

Most stallions have an inborn tendency to attempt to dominate their handlers, other horses, and especially mares in heat.

Artificial insemination reduces the chance of spreading sexually transmitted diseases and infections between stallion and mare.

Stallions that have been trained to respect their human handlers at all times are easier to work with than those that have been allowed to exert their natural aggressiveness, and also tend to mind their manners with other horses.

Stallion handling requires some special skills that include self-confidence, an understanding of stallion psychology, and the ability to anticipate the stallions behavior and make quick decisions.

Stallions are individuals and should be handled only by people that are experienced with horses and readily recognize inappropriate behavior which must be corrected before the stallion becomes dangerous. When working with stallions, always be aware that the most gentle stallion has natural instincts that can go against human training.

In most cases, children should not be allowed to handle stallions, especially in breeding circumstances because of the dangers involved.

For adults working with a stallion, it is important to have the right equipment along with a plan in mind for each step or maneuver that will be required of the stallion. Invariably, if a handler is not mentally and physically prepared and tries to make up for a lack of confidence by becoming overbearing or unnecessarily assertive, the stallion will become distrustful and more difficult to manage.

If you are going to be working directly with a stallion, avoid any direct confrontation unless you have the physical restraints in place to guarantee a win on your part. Nothing is more detrimental to the handler/stallion relationship than for the horse to realize that it is physically stronger and has the upper hand, and, therefore, dares to become willful, unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

Two styles of breeding stallion management

Management of breeding stallions usually breaks down into two basic styles: natural or confinement/isolation management. Sometimes both styles are used depending on the time of year. Natural management essentially allows a stallion to run in a pasture with a herd of mares. Proponents of natural management say that mares are more likely to become pregnant in a natural herd setting.

Drawbacks to natural stallion management include the risk of injury to the stallion or mare in the process of breeding, and problems related to the determination of the breeding date, and hence, the foaling date of a given mare.

Other risks in natural management include the fact that stallions may break down fences to fight another stallion, or possibly mate with the wrong mare, thereby putting the pedigree of a foal in question. Also, when a stallion has the run of a pasture, there is a risk that the stallion may be stolen or may escape and wander the near-by roads.

When stallions are confined or isolated, it is often in a small pen or corral with a tall fence and in a stable or small paddock with a strong fence. The advantages of confinement include less risk of injury to the stallion and to other horses, a controlled breeding of mares and greater certainty of which mares are bred.

The magnificent stallion

The magnificent stallion

Handling a breeding stallion can be a dangerous job. Only a trained and skilled handler should attempt to handle a stallion in a breeding situation.

Lack of sufficient exercise when confined is a drawback to this type of management, as well as the potential for development of aggressive behavior or stable stereotypies because of pent-up energy. Stallions that are confined require carefully balanced nutrition and exercise for optimal health and fertility.

Some managers make a compromise between the natural and confined types of management by providing stallions with daily turn-out time in a field where they can see, smell and hear other horses. When they are stabled, bars or grills between stalls allow them to look out and see other animals.

When properly trained, stallions can live and work close to mares and other horses, including other stallions. Many race horses are stallions and many stallions are shown together or with mares at most horse shows. When stallions are trained to focus on their work, they can do very well if properly handled.

Ways and logistics of breeding

The three basic methods for breeding horses are: pasture breeding, hand breeding, and artificial insemination.

Pasture breeding

Pasture breeding, where the stallion is put out with mares in a large natural setting with nature taking its course is excellent training for young stallions who learn the code of mating through contact with experienced mares. In many cases, the conception rates for marginally fertile stallions is improved in the pasture breeding setting. The space required for pasture breeding for one mare and a stallion requires no more space than a large paddock.

The main disadvantage of pasture breeding is the risk that a stallion will be injured by a kicking mare, although the chances of this happening are small.

Hand breeding

Hand breeding a stallion to a mare

Hand breeding a stallion to a mare

Hand breeding reduces the chances of injury and is generally less stressful to the mare. The pictured mare is scotch hobbled to reduce the danger of kicking.

Hand breeding allows direct management of the breeding process and provides the opportunity to select breeding individuals for complementary characteristics.

It is safer and injuries to the mare or stallion are less likely to occur. The risk of sexually transmitted disease is lessened and fertility problems can be readily identified early enough to allow time to achieve pregnancy during the season.

Hand breeding is also known as "live-cover breeding." When live cover breeding is decided upon, the mare is usually boarded at the stud farm. The mare is usually "teased" several times with a stallion that will not be bred to her, usually with the stallion separated from the mare over a barrier or fence.

A mare that is in heat will generally tolerate the teaser and may present herself to him. Usually a veterinarian will determine if the mare is ready to be bred by use of ultrasound or palpating daily to determine if ovulation has occurred.

When it is determined that the mare is ready, both the mare and intended stud are cleaned and prepared for mating. The mare is then presented to the stallion with a sufficient number of handlers to manage the behavior of both the mare and the stallion. Depending on the individual horses, the number of handlers will usually range from three to six, so the mare and stallion can be easily separated if there should be any trouble.

Artificial insemination

Artificial insemination is the procedure during which semen is collected from a stallion and introduced into the reproductive tract of the mare. When properly done, it increases the number of mares that become pregnant during the first cycle. It also decreases the risk of spreading reproductive infections and eliminates the chance of breeding injuries.

Artificial insemination has several advantages over live cover and has a very similar conception rate. Breeding accidents and injuries are reduced since the mare and stallion don't have contact with each other. Also, the mare does not have to travel to the stallion so the process is less stressful for her.

Artificial insemination opens up access to semen provided by a stallion that is out of the area, across country, or on another continent without either horse having to travel.

Artificial insemination reduces the chance of spreading sexually transmitted diseases and infections between mare and stallion, and allows mares or stallions with health issues, such as sore hocks to continue to breed.

In addition, semen may be frozen in some cases for later use after a stallion is dead or no longer in service, although some breed registries may not permit the registration of a foal resulting from the use of frozen semen after the stallion's death.

Consider this

If you decide to breed your horse, you will have many decisions to make. It is to your advantage to consult with your veterinarian both in determining whether or not to breed your horse and also as to the best procedures to use if you decide to move ahead with your plans to have a foal.

About the Author

EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.