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Stallion among other horses

From: Beeya

Dear Jessica, I have been running a riding school for over 15 years for children and adults and have been participating at national level tournaments, having done my stable management and other training from Shropshire, England. Recently, I was gifted a thoroughbred Stallion - the owner wanted a good home - and I was only too glad to have this beautiful animal. But it was like setting a cat among pigeons. Flirtatious mares started coming around him and he (who was in solitude previously) had his instincts re-kindled. He is supposed to be infertile and the mares barren. Any how, I have segregated the Stallion from the rest to avoid all this extra activity and so that the Stallion does not lose condition. But my husband thinks otherwise- he says it's a male view point. He says if we just let them be they'd have stabilised after a while. And that if I 'behave like a warden in a hostel, both the stallion and the mares will remain too "pent up" (I would, if I were the poor stallion, says the husband) and this will always remain an administrative problem. Besides, I want to train the Stallion for competition dressage. Will I be required to train him differently? Also, will I have to take any precautions/special training, particularly at training camps etc. at different venues amidst alien horses? Please advise, as I have to settle them fast.

Beeya


Hi Beeya! You do have a problem, and you're right, it's a management problem. Keeping a stallion is not for everyone; it requires proper facilities so that you can create an acceptable and safe environment for the stallion. Let's look at several issues that you've mentioned.

First, infertility (and are you and your veterinarian QUITE sure that he is infertile? sometimes an "infertile" stallion turned out with compliant mares manages to put them all in foal!) doesn't mean that the stallion lacks libido, just that he can't sire foals. Many infertile stallions are quite happy to mount mares in season, whenever the opportunity arises. Come to that, many geldings - especially those that were active breeding stallions prior to being gelded - are equally happy to mount mares in season. And at the other end of the scale, there's (occasionally) a fertile stallion with zero interest in covering mares. There is not necessarily any connection between fertility and libido.

What does this mean for your stallion? It means that IF you have mares that are barren (that is, actually barren - meaning that they cannot be put in foal and are effectively sterile), and IF you don't mind the stallion sharing a field with one or more of those mares, and IF your fields are fenced sufficiently strongly to keep a stallion on the correct side of the fence, then the best and most "normal" life for your stallion would be to spend his time in a field with a companion mare or two. Be prepared: he will almost certainly mount the mares if they are cycling, and many mares with long histories of "invisible cycles" have become very obviously- and regularly-cycling mares as soon as they were moved into a field with a resident stallion.

Even if you know your mares well, you may have to re-evaluate their behaviour after a few months with a stallion. Mares can be barren and still cycle. Mares can be barren, cycle, and be happy to accept the stallion. Mares can be barren or NOT barren, and reject a stallion because of their own preferences or because of his timing or his approach. The result of a mare accepting the stallion can be an injured or infected mare; the result of a mare refusing athe stallion can be a kicked and damaged stallion. Once again, fertility and libido aren't synonymous.

Are your barren mares retired, or are they used as riding animals? Even cooperative mares who accept the stallion can suffer back and neck injuries - if your mares are still in work, you may not want them turned out with an aggressive stallion (or even an aggressive gelding with memories of being a stallion). If, on the other hand, you have a group of barren, RETIRED mares who might enjoy being part of a herd, then you may want to turn them out with the stallion and see what happens - bearing in mind that the "natural" life may result in injuries to the mares, to the stallion, or to both.

If it isn't feasible to turn the stallion out with mares, the next best solution would be to give him a field or at least a large paddock with proper fencing, in a place where he can see and speak with other horses. If he can see mares, foals, horses being longed and long-lined and ridden, so much the better. Stallions should never be isolated and locked away from all the other horses and all of the activities on the property. It's very common for a stallion to be called "wild" and "unmanageable" as long as he is in the possession of "Owner A", who keeps him confined in a stall out of sight and sound of the other horses, effectively isolating the stallion in a sensory-deprivation chamber! Then, once the stallion is acquired by "Owner B", who understands more about horses in general and stallions in particular, the horse becomes gentle and easy to handle as a result of being put in a high-traffic area where he can see everything that goes on and can also move about freely.

Mind you, a stallion is still a stallion, and must be treated with respect. But I have always found that it's best to offer every horse the respect that you would offer a stallion. Try it. The practice keeps you observant and safe, puts you in the habit of treating horses with care, and keeps you from developing any bad, careless, or unsafe habits. This would be especially important for YOU in any case, as you run a riding school for children and adults, and are therefore even more of a role model than the average owner of horses.

Now, for some other things you will need to think about before you decide to (or how to) keep this (or any) stallion.

You will have to consider the implications for your riding school, and for the stallion. I have seen many cases in which bad accidents have occurred as a result of a stallion being kept or handled inappropriately. Sometimes humans are hurt, sometimes other horses are hurt; quite often, the stallion is hurt.

If keeping a stallion means putting riders and their horses at risk, then don't keep a stallion. It won't be fair to your clients or your school - which, after all, is a great part of your professional reputation, not to mention your livelihood. It also won't be fair to the stallion. If keeping a stallion means isolating him so that he effectively remains locked in a tiny cage except during work sessions, don't keep a stallion - it's an unacceptable way to manage any horse, and it will inevitably lead to precisely the sort of behaviour problems that are so often associated with stallions.

From a legal standpoint, you must also consider this: If an accident should happen, no matter what the cause, the very fact that a stallion was involved (or was even on the premises) can affect the outcome of any litigation. Again, you do have your reputation and your livelihood to consider. The very least you should do is talk with your insurance representative and ascertain whether the company has requirements and minimum standards for fencing, enclosures, signage, etc. when a stallion is on the premises. You will also need to find out whether there will be an increase in the cost of your insurance coverage - this is quite possible.

You don't mention the stallion's age or your own area of riding and training expertise, but if you've brought other horses to high levels of dressage competition, you already know how much time and effort is usually involved in the process. This is quite enough work in itself! If you have to do all of this, you may not have the time or the wherewithal to make necessary changes to your facilities and horse management practices in order to accomodate the needs of a stallion (and your own needs, including insurance coverage, as a professional). If you have children and novice riders at your school - both groups tend to be fascinated by the idea of "A Stallion", and do silly things as a result of their fascination, the risk may simply be too great.

These risks exist even if the stallion is a quiet citizen when he arrives - he may not remain quiet forever, or even for long. One of the risks of keeping ANY stallion at a school or other public facility is that pupils and other individuals will want to use the stallion to find out, for no good reason, whether their mares (the ones they own or the ones they ride) are in season. It sounds very silly, I know, but it happens all too often. I have seen more than one "perfect gentleman" stallion turn into a raving maniac in just a few months, due to a procession of inconsiderate mare-owners who paraded their mares in front of his stall "just to find out if she's in heat". By the time the barn owners (who would never have allowed this to happen) found out what was going on, the stallion had developed serious behaviour problems. The problems weren't his fault - but he was the one to suffer. In one case, the stallion in question had to be gelded, because his level of frustration had reached a point at which he was miserable, angry, and a danger to others. His owners were furious, as they had intended to use him for breeding after what they hoped would be a successful show career.... And that brings me to the main point:

The one option you don't appear to have considered is, in fact, the very first option that would have come to my mind: have this stallion gelded! I can think of dozens of sound reasons to do it, and not one reason to leave him an entire.

If you don't intend to use him for breeding purposes, which one assumes you do NOT intend, as he is supposed to be infertile, then why would you NOT have him gelded? Yes, it's a more serious operation for a mature horse, and would require to be performed at a veterinary clinic, but if what you want is a competition animal, this would be a very good decision to take. If he is a good stallion, attractive and athletic and with great potential for upper-level dressage, then he will doubtless make an even better gelding, and the change would make your job and his life much easier and more pleasant at home, at competitions, and elsewhere. An infertile stallion is still a stallion, and is likely to live a deprived and isolated life; a gelding, on the other hand, has many more options in the areas of stabling, turnout, companionship, freedom, etc. Gelding this stallion would allow both of you to focus on his training, and would allow him, now and later, the chance of some freedom that he will probably never get otherwise. Please talk to your veterinarian about this.

Jessica

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