Handling and Keeping Stallions
By Ana Gilmour, Hampton Green Farm
The temperament of a stallion will vary depending on genetics and training, but he should always be handled by a person with stallion experience. The wonderful thing about PRE stallions is that they are usually very obedient and well-behaved by nature. They are extremely intelligent and a very personable breed with an innate desire for interaction with people. Because of these wonderful natural qualities, many PRE horses are successfully and safely kept as stallions. This should be considered when researching the aspects of keeping a stallion, particularly a PRE. It is nevertheless important to always remember that a stallion is a herd animal who relies heavily on instinct and can become unpredictable or aggressive at any time. It can be unsafe for an inexperienced person to handle a stallion, but with the proper surroundings, training, and management, a stallion can be a wonderful equine companion and athlete at the highest level of competition!
To Geld or Not To Geld ?
The question of whether or not to geld a stallion is a common one, but the decision is usually easier with a Pure Spanish Horse. Because of their natural obedient qualities, the PRE stallion is very often the epitome of the ideal stallion. The most important factors which influence a decision of whether or not to geld are disposition, conformation and movement. We want a horse to be happy and mentally well-balanced. We also want his conformation to be the kind that we would want to reproduce, should we choose to do so. Finally, his movement should be suitable and well-qualified for the sport for which he is bred. If these three points are confirmed, he should be a candidate to remain a stallion. On the other hand, disposition usually outweighs the other factors when a decision is made to castrate. If he is constantly stressed out, unhappy, or dangerous, and does not improve with good training or handling, gelding may be the solution. Even a horse with fine bloodlines, if he is unmanageable or detrimental to himself, in all likelihood would have a more successful life as a gelding. This should be a joint decision between owner, veterinarian, and a trust-worthy trainer.
Once you have made the decision to own a stallion, following some basic and logical rules will contribute to a safe and happy arrangement for both horse and owner:
Issues such as cross-tying, hand-walking and turn-out can be more complicated with stallions and must be done with care. Always be aware of your surroundings. Keep track of other horses in relation to yourself and your stallion. Cross-tying mares and stallions together is not a good idea, except in the occasion of an ultra docile stallion who just does not seem to care. A better idea would be to prepare your stallion in his stall, or wait to cross-tie him until there are no mares around. Many stallions are able to be ridden along side other horses comfortably, and this should be required of them at some point. Nevertheless, some stallions can become excited and aroused just from the smell of another animal, so always proceed with caution when approaching other horses. Turn-out should be done carefully and in a low-traffic area. If he remains relatively calm as you walk horses by his paddock, it is acceptable to do so. Mares should not be walked by a stallion who is turned out, unless he is completely relaxed about it. If he becomes overly excited, try to find a quieter area in which to turn him out.
Do not overreact or punish your stallion for “masculine” behavior if he is not disobedient–he must be allowed to be himself. For example, calling out should not be corrected unless the stallion’s body energy is becoming inappropriately strong or unnecessarily tense. If a horse calls out under saddle, but continues his work and stays on the bit, no correction should be made. If he calls out while being led but remains respectful of your space, he should not be reprimanded. He must remain attentive and respectful of your space at all times, even if he is calling. Rather than trying to “train” instincts out of him, keep him within a reasonable environment and patiently help him to learn that obedience to his handler must always supersede any instinctual urges.
Always handle your stallion with a professional nearby. Consistent and clear commands will teach your stallion to respect you and be obedient. In the inevitable event that you must make a correction, it is not appropriate to hit or smack any horse, including a stallion. This will only result in sour behavior. Instead, a stallion should to be corrected with the same tools that you will use to lead and handle him in all situations: a long chain lead shank over the nose and under the chin. Attach the chain clip back to the near-side ring (the left side ring) at the upper jaw so as not to allow the halter to pull into the horse’s far eye (right eye). You should always handle your stallion with the lead attached, even within his stall. He will learn that he is expected to behave a certain way once he is haltered with the lead. If necessary, it is acceptable to carry a whip with you to convince your stallion that you are “bigger” then he. Although some stallions are pushier than others, the goal should be only having to show him the whip to get the “yes ma’am” reaction. It is also very important to use your body language to control a stallion. In hand, he should learn to stop and back up on command completely from your body language. Clearly and patiently use the chain lead shank and perhaps the whip to teach him how to do this.
When corrections are made, they should be made quickly and precisely in such a way that discourages the excitement level to escalate. If done in proper timing, a very quick pull and release of the chain or a lift of the whip should be all you need. This includes when he is on the cross-ties. If he is acting up, rather than hitting him, you can keep your chain lead attached over his nose while in the cross-ties. However, be careful that he does not over-react and pull back on the cross-ties from a correction that you make. The safest scenario is one of two choices: 1. Attach both cross-ties, and hold a normal lead rope attached for corrections. 2. Attach only one cross-tie, and hold a chain lead shank attached over the nose for corrections. Most horses who are used to the chain will stand with both cross-ties attached, plus a chain lead shank in hand, but proceed with caution. If he is acting silly, unhook one cross-tie, make your correction, and quietly re-attach the cross-tie again.
Always keep in mind that you must match the strength of your correction with his level of excitement. Timing is the key. The best thing to do is keep his mind on you before he starts to focus on something else, because by the time he finds something else to focus on, chances are his excitement has already escalated to an undesirable level. Give the chain a little shake-shake if his eye or ear begins to focus elsewhere. When he relaxes and focuses back on you, praise him! This way he will associate listening and focusing with positive affirmation.
Remember that stallions breed and protect the herd in the wild, but the leadership role is held by the lead or “boss” mare. It is she who says where to go, when to go, and how to get there. It is she who determines the route the herd takes when fleeing from danger. You must be that lead mare! It is not a stallion’s place to lead, and when he is allowed that role, he will become tense and insecure.
Having said all this, let’s go back to the very first point made about the proper surroundings and handling. Stallions are blessed with a special individuality, an exceptional shine to their coat, and a spark of animation to their character which, when gelded, could become softened or subdued. Provide your stallion with the appropriate environment and a capable experienced handler, and he will probably flourish and enjoy a wonderful life of work and breeding!