How cautious should you be about taking on a stallion? [H&H VIP]

  • Some people compare stallions to adolescent boys. If they have a steady job and are a bit tired, they are much easier. Others liken them to a raging bull, to be kept in isolation and approached in full body armour.

    Stallions are not for novices. They have to be handled and ridden with more care than your average gelding. But think kid gloves rather than armour. And if a stallion-owning friend deems you worthy of competing her precious horse, that probably proves you have sufficient skill.

    But however talented you are as a rider, are you ready for the challenge? Are you aware of taking precautions when out and about? And is your stabling and turnout appropriate?

    Tackling turnout

    Stallions should be kept separate from mares, and usually require individual turnout.

    Lara Dyson of Cyden Stallions competes three in dressage. She treats them “like the mares and geldings”.

    “They are led to and from a normal field in headcollars,” she says. “The only difference is that you cannot have horses in the next field able to touch noses. But they have standard stables and fencing.”

    Lara works with Tristan Tucker and Guy Robertson on natural horsemanship so that her stallions understand their and her space. Tristan uses ground work to train stallions to be mentally balanced and social with other horses. He even stables some of his breeding stallions next to mares.

    Mike Jackson, who competed advanced eventing sire Up With The Lark, also manages stallions in the same way as his other horses.

    “They go on the walker, hack out, travel and are sometimes turned out with geldings,” he says. “I do keep the girls [mares] well away if possible.”

    Competition environment

    Everything may change outside the controlled, familiar environment at home, and all riders of stallions take precautions at competitions.

    Lara moves her stallions around in bridles to ensure control. Riderless ponies are her biggest worry.

    “They had small ponies as teasers so I am very careful of ponies walking around without riders.

    “I make sure there isn’t another horse standing nearby when taking boots off, in case the rider jumps off or the horse is a mare.”

    Mike says stallions must learn to cope with distractions.

    “I get the young stallions out as much as possible so they experience different scenarios,” he says. “And I also use only one stud to collect [semen] so that they associate that stud with covering and every other trip is competition work,” he adds.

    Some stallion owners elect to use a particular bridle for covering to further differentiate the two jobs.

    Sara Squires events the advanced thoroughbred sire Sula Blue. He also sees a clear line between stud work and competition. He even covered a dummy the morning of his dressage test at Gatcombe, where he came fourth.

    “You wouldn’t know he’s a stallion at competitions; he travels with other horses and always focuses on his work,” says Sara.

    Ridden rewards

    Stallions do require extra care, but some of the best horses in the world are uncut.

    “They have a little bit more about them — more suspension, lift and presence,” says Lara.

    “Their attitude to work is far greater than anything else I’ve ridden. Once they’re on side, they’ll do anything you ask, and impressively.”

    Sara says that Sula Blue’s self-preservation across country enables her to ride him positively and fast. But she is careful not to dominate him.

    “I’ve learnt not to practise a move too often, and to give him breaks between the harder work,” she says. “It took me longer to get his trust, but we now work very well as a team.”

    Mike finds stallions are slower off the leg, which he addresses through training.

    “They also have strong necks and backs, which can work against you if not kept supple,” he says. “But they have natural presence, power and flair. The challenge is getting them to work with you. When accomplished, it’s very satisfying.”

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 5 February 2015