Experienced handlers are vital to running a safe breeding operation. Photo courtesy of Naia Graham.

Housing stallions requires a unique set of facilities and handler experience. These experts explain.

Beautiful, strong, powerful. Breeding stallions are essential to the continuation of our sport, but they’re not for every horseman to handle. If you’re considering adding a stallion to your herd, you’ll want to make sure you are prepared—both with the right facilities and with experienced handlers. These three stallion station owners share the important management techniques they incorporate to keep their stallions healthy and happy and everyone involved safe during interactions.

Special Handling Required

Jake Dahl co-owns Vista Equine–Colorado with partner Stephanie Webb in Fort Collins, Colorado. Dahl says the stallions at their facility are only handled by certain workers—not every person on staff has access.

“We limit the contact to one specific guy who feeds and cleans the stallion, so these guys get used to him, he is used to them and nothing changes in their routines,” Dahl said. “These guys know how to handle stallions, and they know how to be around them. Plus, the stallions get used to that one person handling them, and they get more comfortable while we are collecting and breeding them.”

New staff for the stallion manager position are trained extensively on how to interact with stallions before they’re assigned to work with them.

“They learn what to look for while handling the stallions and how to be careful around them,” Dahl said. “Most of our stallions are very docile and good-mannered, but they are still stallions, and they are a different animal than mares and geldings.”

Stallions have more testosterone than mares and geldings, so they are more aggressive and territorial—particularly during breeding season—and require caution when being approached.

“You want them to come up to you, make sure you have eyes on them at all times and are always paying attention to them,” Dahl said. “Pay attention to that stallion the whole time you are with him—don’t visit with anybody else, don’t look at your phone. Focus 100 percent on what you’re doing with him.”

Dahl also trains his crew to keep the stallions out of their personal bubble and require them to behave when being handled. Always have an escape route when working with horses, particularly stallions, Dahl advises. Don’t get trapped in the back of a stall without an exit.

“You need to have a mutual respect between the stallion and the handler,” Dahl said. “I show my handlers this is where you stand and this is where you don’t.” Dahl says he sees show stallions that are docile at home but then present their stud-like nature once they are away at a show.

Handling stallions requires a specific skillset and setup.
Don’t discourage a stallion from acting like a stallion—in the breeding shed. You can expect good manners the rest of the time, but make the boundaries clear. Photo by Abigail Boatwright.

“You may think your horse is the perfect stallion, he’ll mind his manners, he never thinks about mares, he’s not aggressive,” Dahl said. “Those are the horses you need to pay attention to the most, because they’ve not been put in a situation where they felt they had to defend their territory. A stallion will eventually show you he’s a stallion, unless he’s been specifically trained to handle new situations. No matter how well behaved he is at home, he knows he’s a stallion and you need to watch out for that.”

Dahl especially cautions against letting people who are unfamiliar with the stallion get in close proximity.

“Don’t let just anybody go in his pen and handle him,” Dahl said. “At some point, he’s going to show you he’s a stallion, and you need to be prepared.”

Naia Graham co-manages Southwest Stallion Station with her husband, Tyler, in Elgin, Texas. The facility employs stallion care 24 hours a day.

“It’s not the same guy the entire time, but we have someone with them monitoring all the time,” Graham said. “It’s his job to make sure they’re getting turned out and going back and forth to the breeding shed, and that they are kept safe.”

Graham’s stallion caretakers are familiar with the horses, comfortable handling stallions and typically use a stud chain over the horse’s nose while leading to the breeding shed.

“It’s just for an extra reminder in case they get unruly,” Graham said. “They typically do not act up, once they learn the protocol, but you never know when something is going to set one off, so you have to be ready for it.”

Mac Murray co-owns MJ Farms with his wife, Janis. The facility is south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, the stallion handlers wear safety equipment, including riding helmets, while collecting the stallions.

“Both the person handling the stallion and the person doing the collection wear helmets,” Murray said.

Housing stallions effectively includes laying out your facility to allow for room to roam.
Make sure your breeding facility is laid out in a way that allows stallions room to roam and visual access to other horses, without close contact between the animals. Photo by Abigail Boatwright.
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