Understanding Stallion Behavior


Blog Better - Post, Comments, and Comment Form

Understanding Stallion Behavior

Morgan Murphy

Understanding Stallion Behavior

If you have been around horses for any length of time, you've probably heard stories about dealing with stallions. Many horse show organizations have specific rules about the minimum acceptable age for anyone handling or riding a stallion, which is often 18 years of age. Bottom line, do stallions make good companions or should gelding be recommended in all but top shelf breeding stock?

Stallions, when kept alone, can appear quiet, even calm and easy going. But in the wrong circumstances, a stallion's behavior can become unbelievably dangerous almost instantly. According to renowned horse trainer, Pat Parelli, in a fight, even a grizzly bear is no match for a stallion. For example, as soon as he is around mares, particularly if any are in season, he may feel compelled to assert his authority and misbehave. In this article, we will examine stallion behavior.

The stallion has characteristic physical differences such as a muscular neck crest – Hanoverian Stallion*

What Makes Stallions Physically Different
Aside from the obvious physical difference between stallions and geldings, the physiological and hormonal processes that take place within a stallion’s body make handling them very different to a gelding or mare. The stallion's behavior and uniquely masculine appearance is driven by testosterone: the hormone that plays a key role in the development of male reproductive tissues such as the testes as well as promoting increased muscle and bone. It is this hormone that drives the stallion to reproduce and express dominance .

Testosterone is produced primarily by the testicles, in response to chemical signals from the brain. During breeding season (when the days are longer,) these chemical processes are more active, increasing testosterone production to coincide with increased fertility in mares. When a stallion’s libido is ignited, he becomes a super-horse. His hormones, mixed with adrenalin, act like rocket fuel, impacting his strength and determination dramatically. Nothing stands in his way and he will fight to the death. Outside of breeding season, stallion behavior is still under the influence of testosterone, maintaining some degree of libido, sperm production and secondary sexual characteristics, year round. While the stallion's instinctive drive to dominate can be impacted by the way his handlers train and manage him, bottom line, the most docile stallion can instantly turn on his handler when inclined. And, completely without warning.

The Right Way To House Stallions.

Smart breeders, committed to their stallions welfare, understand the importance of maintaining the horse's health in a low stress environment. This contributes to their horses normalized sexual behaviors as well as healthy sperm production. While personal preference plays a big part in how a stallion's housing is configured, it is important not to keep them in complete isolation. They should be able to see other mares and stallions. Many stallions housed in Central Kentucky enjoy virtually idyllic living conditions, where they share a barn facility with other stallions. Each horse has his own stall and paddock, separated from adjacent paddocks by well designed, virtually indestructible double fencing. This way, stallions can interact with one another in a healthy and exercise friendly environment.

Should You Geld Your Horse?

Unless your horse is of superior breeding stock, we highly recommend that you geld. It is literally, the kindest cut. Many respected horse people geld their colts at 10 days after birth or even earlier. They know that gelding does not prevent their horses from growing into strong, handsome and highly competitive animals. Yet, given their gelding's gentler demeanor, they can be turned out with other mares and geldings. It also means less stress for their owners, who don't have to deal with the additional liability that stallion ownership can create.

In some cultures, stallions are rarely gelded. For instance in Puerto Rico, Paso Fino's are generally left intact and in Portugal, Lusitano's are also often left intact.

* Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  • Really interesting article - I worked with stallions for many years and was taught to handle them safely and respect their strength and character. I was lucky to work with very well trained stallions in a breeding program who covered by AI only, even these stallions were unpredictable.