Every great once in a while folks we consider just regular horse owners decide to take that big step to becoming breeders. I don’t mean in the traditional sense, as in, “I own a mare so I think I’ll breed her,” (which to many registries constitutes being a “breeder”), I mean purchasing a stallion to breed, not only to their own mares but to outside mares as well -- those owned by somebody other than themselves, their family or their friends.
Today we're discuss proper stallion management and some helpful handling techniques for making breeding season a lot more tolerable for both you and your stallion.
First, as any stallion owner or stud manager knows (or immediately realizes upon starting to handle their stallion on a daily basis), stallions’ behavior is in many ways different from mares or geldings. The most important thing to remember, however, is that first and foremost he is a horse, and should behave like a well mannered horse no matter how many mares he thinks are in love with him. In other words, treat him no differently than your old trail gelding. Horses tend to sense when they’re being treated differently, and they usually act accordingly. Stallions, especially, get that “Wow, I must really be something!” attitude in a big hurry whenever they start getting special treatment. Sure, you don’t want to ground tie him in front of a mare who’s really in season and expect him to completely ignore her -- in that case you probably have a stallion who’s too intimidated by mares to perform sexually, and that will do you no good in the breeding shed -- but be reasonable. Particularly if you plan on showing your stallion, he MUST mind his manners at all times and yes, even around mares who may be heavily in season outside of where he teases and breeds mares.
Once you begin advertising his services to the general public, you will probably start getting inquiries about him. One important fact to remember is this: When you advertise him once, you have to follow up with more ads and more ads. If you don’t, people will think “Mr Stud Muffin” is just a fluke and you’re not really serious about promoting him, and thus, his offspring. It is critically important for your success with your stallion that you continue to promote him plus help to market and promote his babies, since that’s a part of what those mare owners are paying for when they hand you a check for that stud fee.
Another important factor is exactly what your stallion can produce. Unless he’s a seasoned breeder who’s already got babies on the ground and perhaps in the show ring too, you should “test breed” him to a number of mares, in order to have a few offspring to show potential customers. The mares you use as testers don’t necessarily need to belong to you, I recommend leasing several mares in addition to giving a few breedings away for free to friends and acquaintances so that most of the babies themselves belong to you or at least you know where they are. That way you have more control over what is done with them and if they are shown (which benefits YOU by promoting YOUR stallion), instead of wondering where they may eventually end up.
Stallions who are offered at stud should be kept presentable to potential clients at all times, and that means you need to keep him as clean as possible, keep him clipped and have his feet done regularly (which, of course, should be done anyhow with all your equine charges!), so that he looks like a horse who is well cared for. You will also need to keep his stall immaculate plus pay close attention to your entire facility and any other horses you own. The better the overall first impression you make, the longer and better a relationship you can expect to have with new clients.
Now, in this day of the electronic age with this wonderful internet, as well as policies of many registries allowing transported semen, stallion handling is no more than training him to a dummy and promotion can be as simple as producing a nice video for your website. That all said, I'm going to focus on live cover which suits the smaller breeder just fine.
Handling stallions during breeding season is fairly easy, but can be rather intimidating to the newcomer, especially if you’re a smaller person and you happen to have a large stallion. I wholeheartedly recommend procuring the services of an experienced stallion manager or someone who at least has had a number of years handling stallions before attempting to do it yourself -- after all, you don’t want either yourself, your stallion or the mare to get hurt. I like to allow stallions to act a little bit “studdy” (letting their natural mating behavior come out) when I’m taking them to the breeding location, but I never let them get out of control.
I always keep the breeding routine different than the working routine, so they’ll know when they need to get ready to breed a mare. When it’s work time, the horse will be lead down to the grooming area where he will be groomed, prepared and tacked up to be worked, but when it’s breeding time he’ll get taken directly to the wash rack so that he can be washed up before covering his mare. It is very important to develop a breeding season routine for both teasing and covering mares. I like to do both in the morning soon after feeding time and try not to vary too much from this schedule unless I absolutely have to. That way, both the stallion and any mares will know at approximately what time breeding will take place and can get mentally ready for it.
As a general rule, I begin teasing mares who are brought in for breeding on the second day after they arrive, giving them one day of rest, and tease every day at the same time of the morning until they come into season (show signs of interest in the stallion rather than screaming and kicking out at him). Once I can see visible signs of estrus, commonly called the mare being “in heat”, I will cover that mare every other day until she cycles out of season. The best chance for getting a mare in foal will be as she ovulates, or releases an egg from her ovaries, after which she will ordinarily be going out of season fairly quickly.
For the best results, I will request that mare owners keep records for at least two months prior to when they wish to breed their mare so they have a pretty good idea of when she’ll be coming in season, which helps me to determine when I will be breeding her -- they can wait to ship her to me until just prior to her coming in. This saves an immense amount of time and also saves the mare owner money by not having their mare standing in my barn for a number of days (or weeks in some cases) when she isn’t ready to come in season yet.
The routine at my place is as follows: On the morning any given mare is going to be bred, she is taken to the wash rack area, her tail is taped up with vet-wrap and she is washed thoroughly. I then will have a helper take her in the barn and cross tie her while I wash the stallion. Making sure that both the mare and stallion are washed with a mild antiseptic soap, which won’t irritate them, is critical to prevent the spreading of any disease or infection. Sometimes I will have my helper bring the mare into view of the stallion to get him to drop his “equipment” so that I can get him clean. While I’m rinsing him off, my helper will walk the mare to the breeding location and I will soon follow with the stallion.
Okay, I can hear it now, all the gasps of shock -- yes, I fully advocate having a culture done on your mares as well as a full palpation exam to know where she stands. Washing both is simply good hygiene and a good barn management practice, no matter how clean the mare and stallion may be.
I ALWAYS want the mare in position and ready before I get there with the stallion so there are no delays in getting her covered. Being able to have them go in, do their job and be able to have him go back to his stall with the least amount of mental stress possible is my goal. A stressed stallion is both dangerous and can be less capable of getting mares in foal. Every aspect of the breeding process should go along in a timely and efficient manner.
Most mature stallions, even if they have never been bred to a mare, will quickly get the idea of what they are expected to do, but sometimes the stallion handler will have to either help him get himself in position or help him actually stay in position while breeding takes place. Once the act is over with and the stallion is ready to dismount the mare, I insist that the person holding the mare immediately pull her away to the left, swinging her hindquarters out of kicking range -- many mares will will try to kick the stallion after being bred and this can cause severe damage to his reproductive organs (as I’m sure you can well imagine!).
I also prefer to refrain from using the same halter for breeding as I do for work, and I’ll ordinarily use a stud chain on stallions when they’re being bred even though I usually don’t like to use them all the time unless I absolutely have to. Some stallions tend to get a bit more aggressive when breeding than they normally are, and it is important to keep him in check so he doesn’t inadvertently hurt the mare. As the mare’s behavior (or a report from her owner as to her prior behavior while being bred) indicates, I may have my helper hold a humane twitch on the mare’s nose, but I really do not like using breeding hobbles or any other device that attempts to restrain the mare, which can frighten her. A frightened mare is one that's likely to cause harm and in my opinion should probably not be bred until something changes in her demeanor. I try to make the entire experience as pleasant as possible for the mares, too.
Perhaps the most crucial task for a stallion owner/breeder is record keeping. While keeping accurate records and being on top of paperwork is an important factor for any horse industry professional, when you take on the huge responsibility of equine reproduction you simply must be completely faithful about noting mare’s behavior, breeding dates and health records, which can save you a lot of money and grief.
In all, you want breeding season something you (and your stallion) look forward to as much as foaling season. Your reward will be seeing those beautiful babies you have chosen to produce and who will carry on the tradition of YOUR breeding program! Be careful, and have fun! Breeding can be one of the most enjoyable ways to be active in the equine industry and if you use this to your advantage you can gain a lot of new friends and business associates who will help you to prosper in this wonderful endeavor!