Happy and Healthy Stallions: Part 1

Considering your stallion’s social needs when you handle and house him pays you back with a happier horse.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

The Article is the type of stallion everyone wants to own. He’s handsome, talented and behaves like a gentleman in the training barn and show ring. He and owner Karen Evans Mundy of Cedar Hill, Tennessee, have developed a great partnership, winning many honors. Karen knew he was a great horse when she bought him as a colt but says if he hadn’t behaved, she would have gelded him.

“I believe if a good colt is quiet and acts like a gelding, he deserves the chance to be a stallion. If he acts like a rowdy stallion as a colt, he needs to be a gelding,” Karen says.

Raising a Stallion Prospect

Creating a quiet stallion starts when he’s a colt, long before he’s ready to go in the show ring or old enough to breed mares. Since stallions are surrounded by people when showing and breeding, teaching them to respect humans when they’re young is important. Otherwise the extra precautions necessary with unruly stallions can increase your farm’s liability, cost you additional manpower and necessitate changes to your facility.

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When asked about her method for handling stallion prospects, Karen says, “Never give him the opportunity to learn he can hurt you. That has worked for The Article, and now you can discipline him with just a raised voice.” Establish ground rules for behavior when colts are young. When a very young colt tries to bite, kick or strike, discipline him by walking away and ignoring him. This behavior mimics a mare’s treatment of her foal. If poor behavior persists, push him away from you or thump him on the rump, again mimicking mare behavior. Treating him like this isn’t cruel; it’s crueler to allow colts to behave poorly when they’re young as you may need stiffer punishments to eliminate bad habits later.

Roll It!

The Haythorn Ranch Company wins the 2009 AQHA Best Remuda award.

Sue McDonnell has spent much of her career as an equine behaviorist working with stallions, and she says colts need additional handling as they mature. In her experience, yearling colts often become touchy about having their mouths, legs and genitals handled, so plan on spending time desensitizing a colt to this again as a yearling. When he’s 1½ to 2 years old, he’ll be able to breed. At that time, as his hormone levels increase, so does his energy. Increasing his training schedule and housing him with other colts he can play with helps him burn off excess energy, making him happier and easier to handle. Although teaching a colt to respect humans is important, it is also important to give him plenty of social interaction with other horses to teach him how to behave with other horses and make him easier to handle. One of the best ways to do this is to house stallion prospects with other colts, which is what Craig Haythorn does at Haythorn Land and Cattle Co. in Arthur, Nebraska, winner of the 1992 AQHA Best Remuda Award.

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“We keep our colts on alfalfa pastures after weaning. Then when they’re yearlings, we separate out the colts we want to keep and let them continue living together on pasture,” Craig says. “It is more natural than keeping them in a stall, and in my experience, they grow up to be easier to handle.” Letting your colts live together on pasture works because it mimics feral horse behavior. Before feral colts reach sexual maturity, they leave their dams and join bachelor bands that consist of other colts and mature stallions. Bachelor bands provide protection and social contact for their members. The colts stage mock battles during which they not only learn to defend themselves, but also how to moderate their aggression so they do not seriously injure others. This early interaction can lead to adult stallions that get along better with other horses. Stay tuned for the second part of this series.

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