Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Life of a stallion: Ladykiller or lonely guy?

Non-horse people -- and I suspect men especially -- assume that stallions live the sweet life. I've heard otherwise. A friend recently shared a sad story of a "hot" (meaning popular) stallion on the West Coast. She visited a vet facility where this stallion lived -- he had no turnout, and this beautiful animal was clearly miserable, throwing himself against the bars of his stall. His hair was long, his coat unkempt, and he had marks on his body from biting himself. She suspected he was only handled for breeding.

How many stallions lead lives of isolation and confinement? In looking at farm extension publications and other traditional sources, the prevailing advice is management by confinement. Stallions are separated from other horses and out of the ebb and flow of barn activity. In one sense confinement might simplify stallion management. It reduces the risk of disease and it would certainly protect one's investment in an expensive animal. But the isolation of an intelligent, energetic animal is a sad thing.

Letting stallions be horses
To my mind, all horses deserve time outside, free from human constraints, and in a social (herd) environment if at all possible. Is this realistic with stallions? In 12 Stallion Care Myths: Fact or Fiction (from Equisearch), the author states:

"Although it's the nature of domestic stallions to fight over a harem of mares and their foals, they're not territorial-that is, they don't fight over a piece of real estate. Many stallions kept in the same pasture or pen get along as well as any geldings might, as long as there are no mares to fight over."
There are farms that give their stallions a social life. The training center Epona Equestrian Services advocates a new approach to managing stallions, helping them to integrate into herds for a more fulfilling, social existence. The center staff offer a stallion management program to help stallion owners "create living environments modified to help stallions not just survive, but thrive." Individualized to the needs of the stallion and trainer, the program's goal is to improve the horse's ability to relate to both people and other horses, so that their environment can be less restrictive. Some stallions are eventually turned out with mares or with other stallions.

In the Hilltop Farm newsletter article Creating Happy, Healthy Stallions, farm staff describe their approach to stallion management. They allow their stallions to have contact with each other, although it's less contact than the average horse enjoys. While stalled “they can touch noses and even ‘love on each other’ through the bars. They are not walled off,” a farm staff member writes.

Some experts say that stallions can go out with other stallions; some say stallions can go out with mares. Others insist that stallions must be pastured separately. I suspect a lot depends on the stallion, not to mention the owner. Let's hope most stallions lead a better life than the stallion my friend told me about.

So what do you think? Readers, share your stallion experiences!


Secret Life of Stallions from the Horse Connection

Living arrangement for stallions (COTH thread)

Is stallion ownership for you? from myhorse.com

Just one of the boys from AQHA magazine

Managing a stallion in competition from New Zealand Horse and Pony

Stallion behavior and endocrinology: What do we really know? from Equine Reproduction

Stallion behavior from the Domestic Horse

Stallion Program at Epona Equestrian Services

Secret stallions: Fathers and husbands from the Feb 06 Horse Connection

Stallion handling from Horsetalk New Zealand

Give your stallion a life from Scott Creek

Stallion behavior from The Horse Magazine

Modern Horse Breeding: A Guide for Owners by Susan McBane (Google books)


  1. I have handled stallions for years, have raised one in the past and have a young one now. I have found it depends on the temperament of the horse and how they are raised. I keep them out in bachelor herds, with no mares, and they all get along great. Lots of guy time, playing, acting manly, and getting a lot of steam out of their system. I also occasionally put them out with bossy mare, bred or not in season, so they learn manners with them. My guys never get the idea they are anything special, and get plenty of exercise and socialization. I ride them and give them jobs. Breeding was always a small part of their job, so it was never the focus of their life. That being said, temperament is also important. I have seen stallions raised this way, who at 6=7 years old suddenly decided they were boss, and got more aggressive with the other horses. So best to be aware and plan for personality changes.

  2. There are some breeders who turn their stallions out with their mares in a large pasture and free breed. I guess that would be the best possible life but not always manageable for many many people. I think most issues are due to lack of experience and lack of room to accommodate proper management and fencing...

  3. The horse in the beginning of your post sounds so sad! :o( There is only one stallion at my barn and he isn't lucky enough to hang with a group of bachelors, but he does have a large grass paddock all to himself, but next to a gelding pasture so they can chat over the fence. His owner also works him every day and insists on manners - he is on perfect behavior even when sharing the grooming barn or the arena with a bunch of mares.

  4. I have to agree with Shadow Rider. My own stallions have been turned out with each other without incedent. When my colts, were young,(prior to breeding maturity) they were turned out with the bossy mares, to teach them manners. Over the winter months they would be turned out with the bred mares. If possible I turned my guys out with geldings who would stand up for themselves. All my stallions have a job, they are all broke to ride prior to the first breeding. I want into their mind first. They are ridden 3-5 times a week to use up their energy. We have yet (knock on wood)to have a problem or incedent. My boys are good citizens and easy to handle by anybody.

    I too have seen stallions locked up indefinetly and only pulled out fr breeding. It is very, very sad to see. Along with the mental anguish these confined horses go through, they can become extremely aggresive. Horses are herd animals, even the stallons. Even if it is pasturing them next to other horses, that would even be acceptable. I do that with my senior stallion. He always gets my babies after they have been weaned.

  5. I thought you might be interested in this. Last year I saw a performance by wonderful Menorcan stallions at Son Martorellet. I didn't get to visit during the day, but it looks as though they turn them out. They certainly socialise a lot as they attend the island's many fiestas. They are most famous for their rearing 'dance'. I saw some unique saddles, made on the island, which all have a raised back to help riders stay at 90% during the rearing. There are several U-tube videos and you can see Son Martorellet at this website: http://www.sonmartorellet.com/ingles/index.html

  6. I'm sure there is a lot of what your post mentioned going on - confinement, etc.

    I find that quite sad - a responsible owner can do a lot with a stallion with good temperament (and would you really want to breed one that had a bad termperament? I think I'm too responsible...)

    I've known a few people with stallions who ride and show their horses. Once place even uses one stallion for lessons. Proper management and training can go a long way.

  7. I have no personal experience to offer, having never owned a stallion myself. But I think this is a great topic. Were I to ever own a stallion, his quality of life and happiness would be more important than breeding him, or even keeping him entire if it came to that.

    Horses are bright, social creatures and need entertainment, exercise and companionship to thrive.

  8. thats so sad to think of. especially considering that most of these animals are so exquisite.

  9. I agree with A Bay Horse - I've never owned a stallion, and I won't until I have my own facilities to let him live as naturally as possible.

    The links in this post were particularly fascinating! Thanks.

  10. Very thought-provoking. I will never have a stallion, but my father had one when I was growing up and he turned the stallion out with two geldings. They had a great time. The mares were across the street.

    A friend has a very happy stallion turned out with mares for breeding. The mares looked happy, too.

    I would hate to think of the isolation that you describe, but I'm sure it's true in many cases. The more money a horse is worth, the less the horse gets to do.

    I also have a theory that the more money a horse is worth, the more suicidal it is. Turn out a low-dollar nag and nothing will happen. Turn out a high-priced show horse and he'll find a way to pull something or get hung up in million-dollar, "horse-safe," fencing.

  11. I live in the Near East, in Turkey. I have a stallion who came from Bulgaria. In these two countries, I don't know about others, it is really no big deal to have stallions. They make sure they are not near the mares or each other in the barn, turn them out regularly with geldings. We have ridden with as many as 3 stallions in the arena at the same time with no aggression. With my stallion, if there is a mare, even one in season, he does not respond.

    They say here that there is no need to geld unless the horse has an aggressive disposition, otherwise, it is bad to mess with their natural hormone levels. They say the stallion hormones give a glossy coat and nice muscle definition. My daughter was assigned a really kind stallion to ride when she was eleven at her club.

    When I have mentioned on US-origin message boards online that I bought a ten year old stallion for my 14 year old daughter to ride, I have been berated by scandalized Americans for being a bad mother. They say *all* stallions are evil.

    When we bought him, we knew him, and my daughter had worked for six months with the women who had trained him up from first saddling.(just so you don't think I'm a bad mother!)

    I wonder if the American view has to do with a combination of the romanticized idea of mustangs and the insurance industry.


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