By: Melissa Sykes
- Most farms open their breeding sheds on or around February 15, then close them the first or middle of July. Some farms beef up their stallions in anticipation of weight loss during the breeding season. But a stallion’s weight plays only a minor role in fertility.
“It’s difficult to increase or decrease a horse’s weight so that it affects semen quality,” said Rolf Larsen, associate professor at the Alec P. and Louise H. Courtelis equine teaching hospital at the University of Florida. “There are horses that get a little depressed and horses that get overcharged (during the breeding season).
“There’s not a hard and fast rule,” Larsen said, when it comes to a stallion’s ideal breeding weight.
At Bridlewood Farm (in Ocala, FL), stallion manager David McClure has been caring for stallions for the past 22 years. He likes for a stallion to be a little on the heavy side.
“We try to beef up the horses as they come in from off the track,” he said. “We’ll up the number of feedings and amounts for horses that may start to lose weight.”
In order to maintain what McClure considers each stallion’s ideal weight, the horses are weighed monthly.
Stallions covering books of 60 or more mares are becoming more and more commonplace. “We see a lot of studs breeding 75-80 mares,” said Larsen. “The male horse is physically capable of covering that many mares provided he has good libido and no inherent fertility problems.”
Stallions can easily cover two mares per day, but it may prove to be a toll on them psychologically. In that case, Larsen suggests giving the stallion a day off.
“We breed seven days a week,” said Mark Roberts, farm manager at Adena Springs South. “If I have a horse starting to back off from his mares, especially a young horse, we’ll give him a rest.”
But, unless there’s a medical reason, a stallion usually will only need to miss one or two breeding shed appointments before he decides to get back to business.
The day-to-day care of stallions during the breeding season is not much different than during the off-season.
According to Larsen: “Since the breeding season is six months long, it’s almost impossible to delay” any form of routine care, such as vaccinations and worming, to the off-season. “It’s more of a farm policy issue since the Thoroughbred is bred only through natural cover.”
“We vaccinate our studs for flu/rhino and worm every month,” said McClure.
Roberts prefers to vaccinate and worm every other month. “Worming and vaccinating is a normal routine for these horses,” he said. “Some people don’t like to vaccinate (stallions) during breeding season because they might spike a temperature the next day. And if that fever doesn’t come down quick, you’ve got bigger problems.”
Keeping a horse mentally fit plays right along with keeping them physically fit. At both Adena Springs South and Bridlewood, stallions spend their nights (weather permitting) outside in large paddocks.
Although many stallions are never ridden again once they retire to the breeding shed, some farms feel this form of exercise is beneficial.
At Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky, every stallion goes out with an exercise rider. “All of our stallions are ridden,” said general manager Dan Rosenberg. “They go out six days a week, because the rider needs a day off.”
Riding a breeding stallion and riding a horse in race training are two very different things, said Rosenberg. “We’re not asking for any speed,” he said. “We let the stallion tell us what he wants to do. If he wants to break into a canter or just jog, it’s not something that we’re making him do.”
However the stallion may act with a rider up, his ground manners usually are much improved. “Allowing a rider on his back is a submissive gesture,” explained Rosenberg. “The level of control is greater from on his back than from on the ground. We find that we have less problems overall handling them.”
On average, the stallions at Three Chimneys will “hack” between one and three miles under saddle. The key, said Rosenberg, is to be consistent with the exercise program.
“Don’t start and stop on them,” he advised. “We ride our stallions year round.”
That included the late Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. “At his age (27) we wondered if there was a point when you stopped doing this,” Rosenberg said. “The advice we got was to let the horse tell us if it was too much.”
Exercising in this manner may be what kept this popular sire a potent, healthy breeding animal, Rosenberg believes. “If you’re physically fit, you feel better and live longer. This is keeping the excess weight off and exercising the cardiovascular system.”
An added benefit Rosenberg has noticed is that his stallions appear to be happier horses. “They like having a job to do,” he said, and they apparently like doing what they were bred and trained to do.
As Roberts pointed out “You just need to treat them like normal horses.”