When unexpected challenges affect a stallion’s performance, what do you do? These breeders share their processes for making those difficult decisions.
Some stallions are talented and good-minded enough to begin their breeding career while still pursuing a barrel racing career. Others excel simply in the breeding shed. Whether your stud is working two jobs or one, managing his breeding schedule means considering several factors. So what happens when your stallion suffers an injury while competing or an injury that affects his breeding ability? How do you handle the changes needed to keep your horse healthy, and hopefully, still breeding? These breeders shared how they handled challenges with their stallions, and perhaps their advice will help you with your own.
About four years ago, 1999 brown stallion JD Look became irritated, wouldn’t jump the phantom to breed and was in a lot of pain, says his owner, Karen Gleason. This continued for some time, gradually getting worse.
“Then he became really colicky, and this went on for months, and we didn’t really know what was going on,” Gleason said. “We couldn’t get him collected, and he was frustrated and mad.”
Gleason got the stallion an appointment at Idaho Equine Hospital, and they discovered the problem — a twisted testicle, known as a torsion.
“When they get older, their testicles can shrink a little, and it ended up twisting,” Gleason said. “They can untwist it sometimes with surgery, but their success rate wasn’t that great with an older stallion — it would probably twist again.”
Gleason opted to castrate JD Look on one side. It was right in the middle of breeding season, so the Gleasons dug into their stores of frozen semen and used it for the rest of the season.
“The next year we tried to breed a little, because he came back and would collect, but pretty much everything [in his semen] was just half, so we didn’t have that great of luck,” Gleason said. “He was getting older too, so we used more frozen if we were under the wire, and then it ended up that it wouldn’t ship that well, so we’d use it on the farm.”
The Gleasons had better luck if they spun the semen down in a centrifuge and made sure they had enough sperm in parts per billion to ship. It added layers of complication to his breeding process. Since the farm did not own a spinner, he needed to be taken to a veterinarian to be collected.
“I didn’t worry about it on our own mares, but if I was shipping, I wanted to make sure we had everything just right,” Gleason said. “He used to ship just phenomenally, and when he was younger, we didn’t worry about anything. We had really good luck for the first 10 to 15 years of his [breeding] life, and then it got tricky.”
Eventually those frozen semen stores dwindled, and his breeding success rate declined. The then-19-year-old stallion was finally retired from breeding. After arthritis became unmanageable and his quality of life declined, he was humanely euthanized in 2021.
“I think we did everything within our means for him,” Gleason reflected. “Some of his colts and fillies have been doing really well, and the longer you have a stud and see everything come up, you start to notice traits that shine. It takes a lifetime to prove a stallion. In our case, we appreciate now more than ever some of the things he did pass on.”
JD Look (Strawfly Special x See Me Do It x On A High) has 64 money-earning offspring earning $341,870, according to EquiStat. His top progeny is Rebel Look with $92,651.
Feel The Sting
Don Ham is the breeding manager for 70 Ranch Performance Horses in Gainesville, Texas, where he cares for 2013 chestnut stallion Feel The Sting, among other horses. Prior to 70 Ranch purchasing Feel The Sting (Dash Ta Fame x MP Meter My Hay x PC Frenchmans Hayday) in 2020, the stallion injured himself. “Stinger” was being ridden by Ryann Pedone, and she qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on him that year before he fractured his hock going around a barrel at the Pink Buckle.
The stallion has a screw in the joint now but has fully recovered — so much that he was able to go back to competing under Sherry Cervi, who along with her father, Mel Potter, bred the stallion. He amassed $139,712 in competition, according to EquiStat.
In the fall of 2021, Stinger was retired from barrel racing. The decision was made after he injured his knee while Cervi was rodeoing on him in the Pacific Northwest in June 2021.
“In the rodeo world, they run on all kinds of ground, different surfaces — wet, dry, you name it. They’re not in climate-controlled facilities at these outdoor rodeos,” Ham said. “It wasn’t anything severe, but his knee got sore.”
The decision to retire Stinger wasn’t difficult, Ham said.
“At that point, he really didn’t have anything else to prove,” Ham said. “I think that’s why you compete on them, so people can see they are able to do it and to see their athletic ability, along with their breeding, to see if they are something they want offspring by. At some point, from our perspective, it’s risk versus reward. At that point, we made the judgment call to bring him home and retire him.”
Feel The Sting stood to a full book of mares in 2022. Ham says the stallion’s injuries have not affected his breeding performance at all.
“You wouldn’t even know he’d been injured,” Ham said. “That’s what we had in mind. We didn’t want to keep hauling him until he wasn’t able to mount the dummy or it was going to diminish his breeding career.”
HP Feel The Fame, owned and ridden by Pedone, is Feel The Sting’s first and highest money-earning progeny, with $97,694 in EquiStat earnings.
Freckles Ta Fame
On September 2, 2021, Freckles Ta Fame was competing at a rodeo with Shali Lord, and rounding the first barrel, the 2009 sorrel stallion fractured his hock. “Can Man” has EquiStat lifetime earnings of more than $402,000 and is also a breeding stallion standing at Vista Equine in Colorado, so his injury not only sidelined his competition schedule but also his stud book.
“They couldn’t do surgery [on his injury],” owner Joe Spitz said. “They said it was too bad to do surgery, so he was put in a stall from September to sometime in March.”
Joe and his wife, Carla Spitz, picked up Can Man and brought him back to their place in Colorado. After many months of recovery, by fall 2022 he had recovered, although he’ll never compete again.
“He doesn’t limp, doesn’t show any signs of lameness,” Joe said. “His hock is still swollen up some. But two different vets advised us not to ever run him again, which was fine with us. He doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody.”
Now, the Spitzes and the team at Vista Equine are working to see if Can Man will return to breeding. Joe says he’s flexible enough now to jump the phantom dummy.
“We don’t anticipate anything requiring adjustments, but you know how that goes,” Joe said. “His colts are running very well now, and that was always the deal anyway. He was going to run barrels and then retire to the breeding barn. That’s what we’ve done, just quicker than we thought we would.”
Freckles Ta Fame (Dash Ta Fame x Frenchmans Freckle x Frenchmans Guy) has 15 offspring so far, and his progeny’s earnings top $469,161 according to EquiStat. His highest-earning offspring is Born On Derby Day with $265,181; followed by Famous Cash Can with $156,201 — both full sisters trained and jockeyed by Can Man’s original trainer and rider, Ashley Schafer.
The Physical Impact of Breeding
Jake Dahl is the breeding manager at Vista Equine in Colorado. He oversees seven stallions with all their various challenges. In his experience, when a stallion is injured, the stallion station will most frequently pivot to using frozen semen while the stallion heals. Stock piling frozen semen from your stallion, even if you mostly breed with chilled or fresh, is a smart idea.
Does breeding have an effect on a stallion’s physical or mental state? Dahl says yes.
“It does affect them, and they have to be in shape, because they’re using a lot of the muscles in their legs,” Dahl said. “If a horse is sore in his stifle or hock, back or even hip, it’s hard to get them collected off a phantom, and they may not even want to do it. When they do, they may end up getting more sore, the more you do it.”
When horses are sore during breeding season, Dahl asks a veterinarian to examine the stallion to determine the cause before continuing and possibly making the problem worse.
If a stallion is injured, whether or not it affects the horse is based on a number of factors such as the severity and location of the injury, the stallion’s personality and how they handle pain.
“The worst type of [injury] is in a hock, stifle or hip, and they have to use those joints to be collected,” Dahl said. “A horse that is sore in the front end doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue.”
Making the Decision
Dahl says if you’re trying to decide if your horse should continue competing and breeding, or one or the other, listen to your horse.
“I think many times, your horse is going to tell you when he can’t do them both at the same time, because something is going to give,” Dahl said. “Either you’re not going to get as good quality of semen from them, or they’re not going to collect as easily while they’re competing — or the other end, they’re not going to compete as well.”
Your stallion’s rider and trainer may have insight on your horse’s performance, and they can also help him adjust to doing both jobs.
“Being able to get his attention back on his day job after he gets done with the breeding season is a big part of it,” Dahl said. “The hard part about my job is I need them to act like a stallion, and the hard part of their job is they need them to not act like a stallion. We’re both working together, but we’re wanting different things from that horse.”
A lameness examination by your veterinarian prior to breeding season each year — even for a retired barrel horse — gives you valuable information on your horse’s health that can inform your decisions.
“It’s a good idea in October and November to see if he is getting sore in his hocks [or anywhere else], and do all the maintenance he needs at that time of year,” Dahl said. “That way in February, they’re ready to go.”
Some horses benefit from hock injections or maintenance with Adequan or Legend to keep them sound throughout the breeding season.
Another thing to consider is your horse’s emotional fortitude, Dahl said. “The biggest thing I tell all stallion owners is if you’ve never collected that stud, and you’re competing on him, be prepared. He can become a whole different animal when you get back on him after you collect him,” Dahl said. “He might be the gentlest stud you have ever been around in your entire life, and then he comes to the breeding barn, figures out what his other job could be, and sometimes they have a hard time making that difference between their breeding job and their working job.”
Dahl says if your horse doesn’t do well balancing breeding with competition, you could consider collecting and freezing semen in the off season, with time to recover, before hitting the arena.
So what can we learn from these stallions’ experiences? Gleason says make sure you have experts involved in the breeding process.
“You should seek a place to make sure you’re getting your clients the best product you can,” Gleason said. “Especially if your stallion is older or you have other things going on.”
Joe recommends seeking advice from a veterinarian — or two — if you have questions about your horse’s competition or breeding careers.
“The vets said to never run [Can Man] on the barrels again — we had two different vets, and we took their advice,” Joe said. “I would say take your horse to the best vet you can, and let them make the decisions for you.”
Ham says the horse’s health should be first and foremost. Then, ask yourself if the stallion needs to compete.
“Asking that question is how we realized [Feel The Sting] didn’t have anything else to prove,” Ham said. “It was just cool that Sherry was riding him, and she rode his mother, and he didn’t get to go to the NFR because of his unfortunate accident, even though he qualified. We were just trying to see if it was possible to fulfill a couple of dreams. But at the same time, we did not want to risk it.”
Ham has stood stallions who had stifle injuries, and it’s difficult to collect them. Their breeding careers, and even their lives, can be cut short because of injuries. It’s important to weigh the risks.
“You have to prove that breeding is what it says — greatness. But there’s a fine line between proving that and risking your investment,” Ham said. “The most important thing is your horse’s health. If it gets to the point where an injury is going to cut his breeding career or his life short, you have to make a prudent judgment call.”
Not all stallions can excel in the breeding shed at the same time as the rodeo arena, and that’s OK. It’s wise to consider your horse and these factors and decide what’s best for your particular situation.
“The ones that can do it are phenomenal horses,” Dahl said. “But they just don’t come along every day like that. If you get one that can do both jobs equally well, you’ve got a rare find, because that doesn’t always happen.”
This article was originally published in the January 2023 issue of Barrel Horse News