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

Facility Needs

Vista Equine’s facility has a stallion shed row with larger stalls—12 feet by 18 feet. Unlike the herds of broodmares, stallions have runs that allow them to see each other but not interact up close.

“You want to keep stallions separate from each other so they can’t be touching nose-to-nose,” Dahl said. “You don’t want them to be able to kick one another, bite each other and carry on, because they are territorial.”

To keep the stallions as safe as possible—just like the other horses at the facility—Dahl’s horses are contained in runs with pipe fencing, the stalls are reinforced with solid boards up to 9 feet and the stallions have a double wall in between each other.

Dahl recommends arranging your horses in such a way that the stallions are not in regular, casual contact with mares unless you’re pasture breeding, which has a different set of challenges.

Make your facility as safe for your stallions as possible, and place them in the environment where they are most comfortable. Some prefer dry lots, some prefer stalls, some prefer pastures. Find the atmosphere that best suits your stallion, and let him claim the space as his own.

Graham’s stallions each have their own stalls with runs, as well as individual paddocks for turnout and exercise. The stallion barns are separate. While the stallions can see each other, they can’t come in contact with each other, for the animal’s protection.

However, some stallions need more social interaction. Leading barrel horse sire Firewaterontherocks, for example, has a companion sheep.

“Sometimes it is guesswork to try and find what will make the animal comfortable,” Graham said. “These are testosterone-filled animals that are not necessarily meant to be handled by someone inexperienced. We are asking them to be docile, but at the same time, mother nature is going to take its course. You have to be careful with them and also listen to their needs.”

A safe environment for breeding is important for stallions.
A safe environment for breeding is crucial—choose non-slip flooring and room for handlers to maneuver while collecting stallions. Photo by Abigail Boatwright.

When it comes time to for breeding, Graham’s area for collection is set up with pens so the stallion can be teased by a mare and then taken directly to the dummy without having to hobble him. The flooring is comprised of chopped rubber that is three feet deep to protect the horses from injury. Human contact during the breeding process is minimized, thanks to the design of the collection area.

Murray’s stallions are collected in a barn 150 feet long with two large doors at one end. The stallions know when they arrive through those double doors it’s time to be collected, and there will be a teaser mare waiting in a pen. If they go through the back door of the barn, they’ll be headed to exercise or go on the hot walker.

Routines

To ensure the happiness of his charges, Dahl works to find the right balance of living arrangements for each of his stallions. Maybe one stallion is intimidated by others and doesn’t feel comfortable being stalled by his rival. Dahl will move horses around until they feel secure. He also makes outdoor turnout a priority.

“Getting these horses turned out to where they can see sunshine and see each other is a big thing for stallions,” Dahl said. “You don’t want to keep them closed up where they never see the light of day. They need activity to keep their mind fresh and focused. Let them get out and exercise and play.”

When it’s not breeding season, Dahl’s horses are worked in the round pen to keep them fit and their minds occupied.

When a stallion is in the collection shed, Dahl and his crew expect him to behave like a stallion.

“We want him to nicker at mares, we want him to act like a stallion,” Dahl said. “For these performance horses, when they’re not breeding, we want them to act like a gelding. So there are things we do to signal to the horse that it is not time for breeding.” These signals include steering clear of the breeding shed, using a different halter—leather with a chain for breeding, nylon the rest of the time—and getting a lot more time exercising in the off season.

Graham’s stallions each have a customized routine for turnout and exercise built around their collection schedule and feeding times. If a stallion is a show horse, his diet and exercise regimen will be different than the retired horses.

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