Managing Senior Stallions

Managing Senior Stallions

Tips for keeping your stallion healthy and productive into his golden years.

bay stallion running (Credit: Bee Silva)

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You’ve heard the success stories of stallions who reproduce well into their 20s. There’s no magic potion. These breeders are simply meticulous about the care of their stallions, monitoring all aspects of their lives – from turnout to nutrition to collection schedules – to keep attitudes happy and avoid burnout at all costs. Read on for 17 tips on maintaining your stallion for a lengthy breeding career.

1. Maintain a Consistent Daily Routine

“It’s a good idea to establish a routine with breeding, feeding and exercise,” says Judy Adams, a breeding manager from Clements, California. “They look forward to it. A lot of horses will fret if their schedule is changed. In a stallion, the last thing you want him to do is be unhappy. Have his food on time, and breed him at the same times each occasion.”

But each stallion is different and might prefer a unique schedule. “If it’s not a routine they like, you might have to change something, whether it’s the route you take to the breeding shed or the halter. There’s not one set plan to follow for every stallion. Get to know your stallion and read his attitude.” If your stallion travels, maintain a consistent feeding schedule with the same feeds as he gets at home and provide exercise at similar times to his home schedule, she says.

2. Stand Stallions with Good Attitudes

“We’ve had a lot of good stallions because they had good mental attitudes,” says Greg Whalen, an American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame breeder from Clements, California. “If you have a horse that’s mean, you can tell. You can see the attitude in their colts. I don’t go for kicking the stalls, pawing and raising heck. The Quarter Horse shouldn’t be that way. Some of the great stallions, you could rope off them and tie them alongside a mare. Hereditarily, all that stuff comes back around.”

3. Set Ground Rules at an Early Age

“It all starts when they’re young,” explained the late Jack Kyle in an interview before his death. Jack was a 40-year breeder and American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame inductee. “If you never let a young stud get out of hand, you’ll never have a problem with him. You never want to let a stud take advantage. That starts way back when they’re young. “If you get a 3- or 4-year-old horse that somebody hasn’t mannered, you’ve really got to school him and be really firm. If you’re going to fight with a stud, you’ve got to win the fight. That’s where most people get into problems. They’re not firm enough with the horse when he’s young. That’s where bad habits are developed.”

4. Exercise Regularly

“The horses I’ve handled through the years had a regular schedule,” Jack said. “Never was a stallion in the stall without a great deal of exercise. I rode them all for at least an hour a day. Most, I roped on. I showed them, too.”

5. Put Them to Work

“The best thing I’ve found with studs, in general, is keeping them busy,” Jack said. “Give them exercise and do things on them. I rode all of mine in performance.”

6. Ensure Nutritional Health

“A healthy horse is going to stay fertile longer,” says Joe Hockensmith, stallion manager for Dan McWhirter Quarter Horses in Doniphan, Nebraska. “There are no supplements that will boost fertility, so meeting the horse’s daily requirements is the best you can do. “Senior feeds are more processed, so they’re easier to digest if the horse’s teeth aren’t in good shape to grind thoroughly,” Joe continues. “Most senior feeds don’t require a lot of chewing, and they can be used as a complete feed, eliminating the need to feed forage. Beet pulp is a common ingredient for fiber to keep their gut working properly. Senior feeds are also higher in energy, mainly in the form of fat, and lower in protein, which the older horse doesn’t need as much of. Too high of a protein content is hard on the kidneys. The main things are digestibility and energy.”

7. Be Flexible with Feed

“Decreased appetites can become a challenge,” says Carol McWhirter, of Dan McWhirter Quarter Horses in Doniphan, Nebraska. “We feed steam-rolled oats to complement the senior feed. They get oatmeal at night. You might have to change feeds to keep them interested in eating.”

8. Schedule Dental Care

“The biggest key to proper nutrition in older horses is proper dental work,” Joe says. “Horses’ teeth continue to erupt throughout their lives until they wear out. They’ll eventually run out of teeth.” The teeth wear unevenly, sometimes creating sharp points and jagged edges, making it impossible to chew, so proper dental work is crucial.

9. Perform Frequent Physical Reproduction Exams and Semen Evaluations

“As your stallion ages, his fertility can decrease,” Carol says. “You want to know the semen’s condition so you don’t overbook and can be prepared. It’s hard for people to understand and work around the limitations of an older stallion.”

10. Time Breedings with Optimal Mare Ovulation

“As stallions age, their sperm quality drops, and they produce fewer viable sperm,” explains Joe. “The sperm might be ejaculated dead, and those alive might not do the job as well as they used to. They might not live long enough to fertilize the egg. We have to do more intensive management to time inseminations as close to optimum time of ovulation to have any success.”

11. Pasture Breed

“Older studs are easier to keep happy in a pasture,” Jack said. “I’ve had good success with it.”

12. Ease Up on Collection

“What hurts an older horse is overuse,” Greg says. “It’s different today than it was 25 years ago. When a mare was ovulating, she had to be bred, so you had to use that stallion. Today, I can collect a stallion and put the semen away and breed a mare 48 hours later. That saves your horse. You breed your mare today, then you put 30 ccs of it away. You wait two days and breed another mare with it, so you don’t have to collect him again.”

13. Incorporate a Dark Cycle

“Stallions need to go through a dark cycle every year,” Carol says. “Many farms keep their stallions under artificial lights year-round. That is absolutely wrong. They need to go through a dark cycle in fall and winter. Then when it’s spring, their systems know to gear up for sperm production.” Horses kept under artificial lights year-round can experience libido problems, she says. “Dark cycles are part of the natural breeding cycle of the horse, helping make sure foals are born in the spring, when they have the best chance of survival.”

14. Make Accommodations

“Older stallions can tend to get arthritic or sore, so we adjust the height for the mounting dummy and administer joint supplements if needed,” Joe says. “You also might have to adjust collection methods. Their libido decreases a little, so you might need an increased amount of teasing time.”

Adams suggests teaching your older stallion to collect standing up, which helps relieve stress on the hind legs. “Some take to it well,” she says. “If you can get them to collect without having to jump on a phantom, it can certainly reduce strain. They’ll need a surface to lean against to ejaculate standing up, which you’ll need to create on an individual basis.” The standing position can be an effective way to breed older stallions with soreness and joint pain, she explains.

15. Allow Socialization

“Keep stallions in close proximity to other horses, whether stallions or mares, as a stimulus,” Joe says. “You’ve got to keep them separate to some extent, but if they can see and vocalize with other horses, that helps. Studies show that visual stimuli help them. They’re herd animals, so they’re happiest when they’re with a group.”

16. Offer Pasture Time

“Pasture turnout is good for any horse’s mind, to let him relax and unwind,” Jack said. “It keeps him from being bored of standing in a stall. But it doesn’t help with discipline. You’ve got to establish that.” Judy says, “We made sure Doc Tom Tucker had green grass, a nice lot to play and run in with shade, and a nice stall to get out of the weather. With older stallions, you have to make sure they’re really happy and comfy. They need to get plenty of sunshine and free-choice exercise.”

17. Find a Friend

“A friend is important, whether it’s a gelding, a goat or a sheep,” says Judy. “I’ve handled stallions that were very aggressive, and the more we isolated them, the worse they got. We found out that if we put them somewhere where they could be next to a horse or another animal, they weren’t as aggressive. They were being bad because they were lonely. Isolation isn’t a good thing for them. They’re social animals, and they need friends.” Experiment until you find a companion your older stallion likes, Judy recommends.

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