Good Manners: Part 2

More horse-training techniques to produce a well-behaved stallion.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Did you miss Part 1 of this story? Click here to read what AQHA Professional Horseman Gene Parker and AQHA Professional Horsewoman Gretchen Mathes say about training your stallion in early handling and socialization.

In the Ring

“The best thing with a stallion is you have to start with good disposition,” Gene says. “If you’ve got a horse that’s rank or aggressive, it’s hard to get him into show mode. But if a horse is good-minded to begin with, he’ll tend to be that way in the show ring.”

When a horse gets aroused in the ring, “you try to correct him enough without making an issue of it,” Gene says. “If you get after him too much, he’ll want to get away from you. If you get too aggressive and scare him, he won’t stand up and show for you.”

Exhibitors use tricks like Vicks Vaporub in a horse’s nose to help prevent that. But the real fix is to have a horse accustomed to being around other horses.

“Hopefully it won’t happen because you’ve properly disciplined and worked with the horse at home,” Gretchen adds, “setting up showing situations at home and teaching him to pay attention and the meaning of ‘Whoa.’ "

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“A lot of people will take a young stallion to a horse show, and he has never been in a head-to-tail lineup, and that can set a horse off. Setting up a mock lineup at home is a really great idea.”

If he does get aroused, “you can back him up curtly several times or apply a little pressure with the shank, but there’s not much else you can do,” Gretchen adds. “You have to have taken care of that at home.”

Lip chains are another tool for keeping a stallion quiet in the pen.

“I have had some yearlings I haven’t shown with a lip chain, and occasionally you’ll find a 2-year-old that’s really quiet,” Gene says. “But for the majority of stallions, a lip chain calms them down. It’s not to hurt them; it has a calming effect on that pressure point on the upper gums.”

“I get them broke without it at home, but I teach them to wear one if I plan on showing with it,” Gretchen says. “Don’t ever just go to a horse show and put a lip chain on one for the first time. It should never be a replacement for having your horse broke.”

Around the Show

“I always try to have a plan and know what my moves are going to be when I work with a stud,” Gretchen says. “I know where I’m going to tie him in the stall, where I’m going to tie him to get ready, and how I’m going to take him to the arena. I make sure the path is clear when I go from Point A to Point B.

“I prefer not to stand around and wait to show. I like to be ready, get to the warm-up pen, get his attention and go show.”

She points out that most problems happen when people aren’t paying attention and almost forget they’re leading a stallion: “It’s always wise to have someone with you carrying your cleaning supplies, etc., so you can pay attention to handling your horse.”

Gene agrees: “They demand more attention, the stallions do. You learn quick if you’ve got one stalled in a bad spot, next to something on the other side that bothers him, you need to move him or it will come back to haunt you.”

The seasons make a difference, too, Gene points out. “In the spring, their testosterone is higher, and they’re going to be different. In late fall and winter, the stallions are most like geldings; they’re calmed down.

“Get your horse in a consistent program every day at home or on the road,” he adds. “When you have an erratic schedule it’s bad for any horse. Having a consistent schedule - feeding, grooming, exercising - helps a stallion.”

In the Breeding Shed

When the horse heads to the breeding shed, it depends on the individual as to whether or not he can handle breeding and showing.

“We’ve had horses in the past that were pretty nice show horses until we started the breeding program,” Gene says. “They got to where you couldn’t get them dialed back in so you could go back to the show pen. We’ve had others that handled breeding and showing just fine.”

To breed, Gene adds, a stallion has to be able to be a stallion.

“You can’t intimidate a horse to where you can’t collect him. You can’t demand that he be quiet like a docile show horse in the breeding shed. You can’t go in there and scold him for doing what’s natural and normal for a breeding stallion, squealing or striking.

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In the breeding shed, Gene runs the shank chain over the horse’s nose rather than under the chin for better control. But he never uses a lip chain.

“A horse can’t be aggressive toward you as the handler; you can’t get you or your help hurt,” he adds. “You have to be horseman enough to know what to put up with and what not to.”

He stresses again that early handling and good socialization around other horses will pay off in the long tern in a stallion’s breeding behavior.

“Some stallions have been put on Regumate and different drugs to keep the testosterone down (during their show career),” Gene says. “I think you have to be careful with that. Often those substances can affect them down the road in the breeding shed, affecting semen quality and libido. You’ve got to talk to your veterinarian and weigh the pros and cons before you start using them.”

And stallions need down time.

“We put our stallions under lights for breeding season, but after breeding season, we let them down, get them out of the stud barn, and let them grow hair,” Gene says. “They’ll come back better for the next breeding season. If you keep one under lights seven days a week 12 months out of the year, his semen quality won’t be as good and he won’t work as good.”