October 2, 2009
Don’t let your stallion become a problem child. Give him a job and treat him like a normal horse.
Stallions get a bad rap for being stubborn and hard to manage. They’re like the kid in school who everyone assumes is a big bully. Not all stallions are stubborn bullies. You just have to know how to handle them and how to treat them like normal horses.
Trainer Jim Brinkman, manager of the Pitzer Ranch in Ericson, Nebraska, has been breeding horses for more than 30 years. He has learned plenty about how to deal with stallions and all the ins and outs of their sometimes-ornery behavior. Here’s some advice from Brinkman and equine behaviorist Sue McDonnell, Ph.D., from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine on the best way to treat your stallion like a normal horse.
A Horse Is a Horse
The first thing to remember is that horses are naturally herd animals. In the wild, they run together and interact all day. There is a process of working differences out, and everyone figures out the pecking order on their own. Staying true to that philosophy, the Pitzer Ranch runs its stallions together from the beginning.
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“We run our horses together as babies and separate the stallions and fillies around March when they are yearlings,” says Brinkman. “Then we’ll let them run together until they are 3 or 4 and bring the stallions in to determine if they should be cut. It’s good for them to run with a group so they learn how to get along with each other.”
If particular stallions can’t seem to get along, they will stay together longer and work it out or be put with the geldings. Of course, Brinkman joked, you have to have good fences to manage stallions together.
McDonnell emphasized the relevance of having plenty of space to run stallions together. If you keep your animals out in social groups, the least risk for injury comes with huge open spaces. Often, a fight ends when the weaker horse gives in and gives up.
“You need to make sure there is enough room for a horse to get away from a fight. Do not put them in a tight spot with a square corner they can easily get stuck in or a number of obstacles they could run into,” McDonnell says.
When you confine a stallion to a stall or an area completely by himself, there are bound to be some problems. Solitary confinement isn’t fun for anyone, including stallions. Try to make stalls as open as possible to allow your stallion to see what’s going on around him.
“Stalls that have open sides help a lot, so they can see each other and smell each other,” Brinkman says. “They tend to get pretty cagey and start to kick and bite when they can’t see out.”
A big reason why some stallions are unsocial is because they are locked up most of the time and don’t know how to interact with other horses.
Just like anyone, stallions don’t enjoy being confined in tight spaces. Bigger is better for stall sizes. McDonnell recommends at least a 12-by-12-foot stall for stallions.
“It’s not that you necessarily need all that space, but it puts them more at ease when they know they have room to move,” she says.
Give Him a Job
“A stallion is a lot like an 18-year-old-boy. If he’s got a steady job, and he’s a little tired, he’s a lot easier to get along with,” Brinkman says with a laugh.
From ages 3 to 5, a stallion goes through a puberty stage where he is not settled. However, if you raise him right, and if he has a steady job, he should be settled by the time he’s 6 or 7.
“Taking direction from you on a regular basis helps. It’s not about dominating him but working together as a team toward a common goal,” McDonnell says. “If he’s only brought out for breeding, he has so much energy, and he’s not used to taking direction from people. It’s inevitable he is going to be difficult to manage.”
Brinkman says he has found cattle work to be useful because it gives stallions something to focus on and get their aggression out.
Sometimes a stallion will be a stallion. You can’t pick on every little thing, or it will make things worse.
“When we’re riding, I’m not real big on getting after him if he makes little noises, because there isn’t much you can do about that,” Brinkman says. “But if he gets out of control, make him move his feet. If you jerk on his head, all he does is learn to get away from you. Make him move his feet and do something. Making noise becomes imprinted with the reaction of having to work harder. Pretty soon, they figure out it is less work to stand quiet and be easy to get along with.”
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The More the Merrier
Believe it or not, having several stallions and plenty of other horses around is sometimes easier to manage than just one. It’s fairly tough if you don’t have some numbers to play with and get stallions used to having company.
“If you do just have one stallion, you must remember to be the lead. You can’t let him push you around,” Brinkman says.
Horses understand body position. If you go in to feed your stud horse, he has to back away from you and understand you are in charge. Stand there and look him in the eye and wait him out. Don’t feed him until he gives to you. If he steps over to you and moves you, then in his mind, he has dominated you.
“Don’t ever be scared to go get help from someone who has more experience than you. It’s much easier to fix it in the beginning than try to correct a problem after he thinks his ways are set in stone,” Brinkman says.