Horse-training techniques to set your stallion up for behavioral success.
There is an art to handling a stallion properly: it takes real horsemanship to earn the right amount of respect from a horse without intimidating him. It also takes a good strategy to set up a stallion for behavioral success throughout his life.
The Journal asked two nationally respected AQHA Professional Horsemen and judges to share their stallion-handling strategies: Gene Parker of Parker Quarter Horses in Orrum, North Carolina, and Gretchen Mathes of Harwinton, Connecticut.
“You can’t be too aggressive with stallions or you get them scared,” Gene says, and that adversely affects showing and breeding performance. “You have to have a certain amount of respect in them, but you can’t abuse them.”
“Don’t pick at studs,” Gretchen adds. “You need to have a fair response to their actions. When they are bad, they need to be corrected, but then be done with it. When they are good or reasonable, stay out of their space and leave them alone.”
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From show pen to breeding shed, here are their tips for a good-manners game plan for your stallion.
People too easily forget that good behavior starts at home when the stallion is a colt.
“A stallion that’s 3, 4 or 5 years old, he’s set in his ways, and if he’s learned too many bad habits, you’re not going to get much done with him,” Gene says.
Gretchen agrees: “People often don’t do a good job of teaching the basics, like standing still while being haltered, right from the beginning as a baby.
“They’ll let colts push or lean or chew on the halter, and I don’t accept any of that. When they get bigger and get fresh, suddenly you can’t get your hand up around their necks to halter them.”
If Gretchen has a weanling or yearling that is tough, she’ll leave a leather halter on him, snap a shank on and then halter him over that halter.
“I don’t put myself in a position where he can push on me. He has to be taught, your space, my space. He doesn’t come into your space, and you’re not going to overdo going into his space.”
Another of Gretchen’s pet peeves is a horse that circles to the left around its handler.
“You must teach a baby to push away from you to the right, and to get off you and out of your space,” she says. “That way, he learns not to push.
“A colt has to be taught – especially for me as a woman – when I put my hand right, it means go right, get off me. And don’t let him drop an ear at me and lean on me; that’s all about dominance, and you cannot allow it to happen.
“If a horse gets a little out of control and you let him circle around to the left, he just gets more and more out of control. It’s dangerous with any horse, but especially with a stud.”
Good behavior also comes from a healthy dose of horse socialization, and, again, it starts when they’re young.
“When our colts are weanlings or yearlings, we turn them out together and let them socialize,” Gene says. “They’ll come in the barn at night but go out together during the day.
He adds that it’s not uncommon for one individual to be significantly more aggressive, and in that case, Gene will pull the aggressive one from the others.
“I’ll take an aggressive yearling and turn him out with my two roping geldings; I’ve actually had colts I’ve turned out with broodmares,” Gene says. “It will turn them around, and they will learn to respect other horses.
“You take a chance sometimes of getting one hurt, but that’s a chance you’ve got to take. It’s better than having issues with one being aggressive. If you don’t do something, he’ll never be any good, especially for a show horse.
“You can’t wait until a stallion is 3 or 4 to do that, because then he’s too strong and aggressive. But it will help his disposition in the long run if he learns it young.”
Gene adds that if a horse stays overly aggressive, he’s gelded.
Socialization continues to be important for a stallion as he matures.
“It’s a big mistake to just keep a stallion totally away from all other horses,” Gene says. “In our show barn, when we’re grooming or working stallions, we’ll have other horses around, mares and geldings. We won’t tie a mare right next to him, but she might be where he can see her. We curry and vacuum, and horses are walking by. You’d be surprised how a stallion gets accustomed to it and learns to stand and be quiet.
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“A lot of people will keep stallions separate from everything, and that’s the worst thing to do. You have to let them be horses; they have to learn how to act right around other horses.”
Gene adds that ponying stallions helps, too, to help “settle their minds” and get “quiet around other horses.” He ponies all his show stallions, using his roping horses that are used to being dallied off of, and he does not allow the stallions to be aggressive toward the pony horse.
Solid socialization will pay off in the show ring.
“If you let him around other horses before you’re out in the ring, he’s accustomed to it and knows what you expect from him,” Gene says. “You can’t take a horse out there that has never been around other horses and expect him to show well. He has to know that he can be around the other horses without causing problems.”
At home, the Parker breeding stallions get turned out every day in separate paddocks where they can see other horses and mares in the pastures.
Check back next week to see how Gene and Gretchen maintain good manners in their stallions at shows and in the breeding shed.