As the snow begins to melt and brown turns to green, the arrival of spring signals the start of equestrian breeding season. Although stallions are continuously prepared for duty, the average mare’s first ovulation is in March for mid-latitude climates in the Northern Hemisphere. Equestrian breeding, when the goal of a healthy foal is reached, can be the most spiritually rewarding aspect of horse ownership, yet a breeding facility also creates some of the biggest challenges to ensuring the health and safety of the handlers, veterinarians and the horses themselves. From beginner breeders to seasoned experts, safety should always be the foremost concern every step of the way.
The distinguishing aspect of any breeding farm is the presence of stallions. Handling stallions carries a safety stigma that can only be managed by commitment, time and discipline—notice that brute strength is not among these attributes. The act of handling stallions should not be designated solely to men. Intelligence carries more weight than brawn. A stud handler needs focused calm accompanied by an attitude that can be called on to demonstrate restraint or force when warranted. There is no room for fear and intimidation on either side of the lead. This temperament should be conveyed to colts early in life to facilitate development of a well mannered stallion. Allowing play behavior from a yearling to go uncorrected can lead to severe injuries when the horse becomes full grown. A breeder must also consider the natural character and manner of the stallion. There are instances when applied discipline training will not overcome the instincts or hormones of a stallion. Gelding should always be an option for dangerous stallions—a serious injury is not worth an impeccable blood line.
Breeders require proper facilities for the housing and breeding of their stallions and mares. If possible, stallions should be housed separately from mares, weanlings and yearlings. Breeding should be in a separate facility far removed from riding arenas and stables. There are risks associated with traditional pasture breeding that are easily avoided with semen collection and artificial insemination. Natural mating could facilitate serious injuries to both horses while infections are also more likely to occur. The breeding facility should ideally be designed with the following features:
When collecting from stallions develop a routine. The route to the breeding facility, for example, could act as a cue that triggers a set of safe habits for both handler and stallion. Always inspect and choose appropriate handling equipment; carry a whip if necessary. Have sufficient length of lead line to be at a safe distance during mounting of the phantom. The handling team must be prepared to respond if any break in the routine occurs—such as charging the tease mare. An uncontrolled stallion is dangerous for everyone involved. Once complete, take the opportunity to reward the stallion with a kind word and a pat on the withers for a job well done. Despite the need for a stern attitude when handling, stallions require the same mutual respect and love we give to all horses. Whether performing in the show ring, or on the farm, our stallions deserve the opportunity to live a well balanced life as some of our best allies.
The importance of preventative safety remains paramount. Daily inspections of the environment your horses live in goes a long way in preventing emergencies. We at Safety Check Inc. are trained in hazard analysis and accident prevention. For an equine safety consultation or barn walkthrough, please feel free to contact us.