March 21, 2018
The ABCs of Stallion Management
So you've decided you want to stand a stallion. Nowadays, mare owners don’t just have the choice of breeding to a local stallion. They can breed to one on the other side of the country, or even the other side of the world, via frozen semen, so the competition has become greater for all stallion owners. But you also have a larger field of mare owners to market to.
Owning and promoting a stallion can be a major undertaking both financially and emotionally and is not to be taken lightly. I have stood stallions for over a decade and it has been a very rewarding experience.
When considering to stand a stallion, first ask yourself if you can safely house a stallion. It is very important that your stallion have his own space where he can have safe turnout with sturdy fencing and a nice large stall if you are going to stall him, where he can feel as if he is a part of the goings on at the farm. Too many times stallions are treated as if they are “Hannibal Lecter,” and this can create anxiety and behavioral issues.
I have had good luck with board fencing with electric rope fencing along the top and a 6-foot alleyway between my stallion paddock and the other paddocks. Winston, my stallion, can see all of the other horses and thinks of them as his herd, although he is turned out separately. Some stallions do very well turned out with other horses, and this also promotes a normal herd environment for a stallion. If you do not have the set up for a stallion, there are some facilities geared towards standing stallions – stallion stations – where you can board and stand your stallion.
It is important to ask yourself if you feel comfortable handling a breeding stallion, since how a stallion is handled can determine how successful he is at breeding. Stallions should be allowed to be a stallion in their stalls – unless a person is in with them, in their paddocks, and on their way to the breeding shed. But when being groomed, handled for turnout, ridden, driven, or other activity with people, they should not be allowed to act studdish. It is very important that a person not be wishy-washy about this because this can confuse a stallion and either make them fairly aggressive and hard to handle, or so anxious that they are unable to perform in the breeding shed. This becomes even more important for stallions who are not only breeding stallions, but also performance stallions.
There are many ways to accomplish this, such as having a different person handle them when it’s time to go to the breeding shed; by wearing a different halter for breeding; by going out a different door in the barn for breeding or collecting a stallion (and freezing semen so they do not have to be collected regularly).
If you've decided that getting a stallion is the way to go, then it’s time to decide what your goals are with standing your stallion. Is it for herd preservation of a rare breed; promoting a very successful blood line; or promoting a stallion because of his success in sport, such as reining or grand prix show jumping?
It is also important to know who your market is. Are you targeting the amateur owner market, making temperament and trainability even more important? Or a particular breed where breed inspections, scoring and the ability to register the offspring are very important to your market?
There are many good reasons to stand a stallion, but there are also many homeless horses in the world. I would argue that with the large number of stallions available to mare owners now, that it is important to really find a niche that your stallion can fill, rather than just having the goal of producing more horses.
It is also important to be brutally honest with yourself about whether the colt or stallion you're looking at is "stallion quality." I like to look at a variety of factors, and all of the boxes on my list must be checked off when I am evaluating a colt or stallion for standing at stud. I like a stallion with a good temperament, good conformation, three excellent gaits, and skill in the sport he’s geared for, whether it
be jumping, reining or endurance racing. If he is too young to be competing in a chosen sport, then bloodlines are even more important.
So, first, does the horse have a good temperament and is he happy being a stallion? Some stallions can be difficult and sensitive and that is one thing, but a truly dangerous stallion or colt should not be kept a stud. While most of a horse’s temperament is based on the dam’s temperament, there are stallion lines known to produce some very difficult horses. Certainly the reverse is true as some stallions stamp their sweet temperament on every foal they produce. If a stallion is always antsy and agitated due to being a stallion, he might be much happier as a gelding. I like it when you don’t even know there’s a stallion in the barn until it’s time for that stallion to act like a stallion. Otherwise, they should be a pleasure to work with.
There are no horses with perfect conformation, but you want to see a stallion as close to his breed standard of conformation as possible, and free of genetic defects such as parrot mouth, upright and straight hind limbs or crooked legs, or very small poor hooves. I like it to be hard to find a fault in a stallion’s conformation. All three gaits should be pure without interference (winging or paddling) and powerful, showing a good hindquarters and good strength up front.
If I am buying an adult stallion to stand, I want to see if he has been successful in the career I am marketing him in and, even better, that he has some babies on the ground who look really good. The hallmark of a great stallion is that he can reproduce himself or even outproduce himself – producing offspring even better than himself. It is important to become familiar with bloodlines to make sure these are hearty lines that reproduce themselves.
As a veterinarian, a horse owner, rider, and breeder, I will readily admit that breeding can be a crapshoot in terms of what a particular stallion and mare will produce. But stacking the deck in your favor by breeding a stellar stallion to a great mare will really help increase your chances of producing high quality foals.
Care and upkeep of your stallion are very important. He needs to be kept in very good condition, but not obese, and on a high quality feed. Before adding any supplements or medications to your stallion’s regimen, you should first check with your veterinarian to make sure fertility will not be affected.
A breeding soundness exam is important to make sure your stallion is, in fact, fertile. If you are planning to ship cooled semen, or have a frozen semen bank because your stallion has a busy performance career, or you want to export semen because the loss of his bloodlines would be detrimental to a breed, then an evaluation will need to be done to see which extenders work best with your stallion’s semen and how well your stallion’s semen freezes. This report can be sent to interested mare owners because not all mares can conceive with frozen semen due to the inflammation that inseminating with frozen semen can sometimes cause.
Finally, it is important to consider the other half of the equation – the mare. The mare is just as critical and sometimes even more important when it comes to a foal’s temperament. As a stallion owner, you will need to decide if you will breed your stallion to anyone with stud fee in hand, to only certain breeds, to only performance mares, or any other restrictions you might place on your stallion's breeding contract.
A breeding contract is very important to protect you and the mare owner. You will need to consider: (1) whether you want to offer a live foal guarantee (LFG), as nearly all stallion owners do; (2) a repeat breeding if a mare loses her foal; (3) if a mare owner can substitute another mare if the mare on the breeding contract cannot conceive for one reason or another; (4) if your stud fee covers collection fees or shipping container fees; (5) how many straws of frozen semen are covered or if you want to sell frozen semen by the straw.
As you can see, owning a stallion is a major undertaking but with the right stallion it is an exciting and rewarding endeavor.
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