12 Stallion-Care Myths - Fact or Fiction?

Find out how much you know about stallion care with our fun and informative mythbusters' tour through a modern-day breeding barn.
Avatar:
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
Find out how much you know about stallion care with our fun and informative mythbusters' tour through a modern-day breeding barn.

Do you know the difference between stallion-care lore and reality? If you own a stallion, or are thinking about owning one in the future, you should. The more you know, the less unnecessary work-not to mention heartache and disappointment-you'll experience. That's because in addition to all the things that can go wrong (such as injury and illness) when your general horsekeeping falls short, there's a host of unique problems that can arise when your stallion's needs aren't met. These include urinary-tract and behavioral problems, breeding difficulties, and genital infections.

Here, we list 12 quirky stallion-care myths-plus two truths. Test your knowledge, then see how you did-and to learn the important facts behind each statement.

1. You need to clean your stallion's sheath more often than you would a gelding's.

2. For the best odds of getting a healthy mare pregnant by a healthy stallion, pasture-breed her.

3. As a rule, stallions are taller than geldings.

4. Stallions need a higher-protein diet than geldings or mares to maintain good condition.

5. You need to clean your stallion's stall more frequently than you would a mare's or a gelding's.

6. The best way to keep your stallion's genitals from becoming infected is to wash him after each breeding.

7. During a busy breeding season, it's best to let your stallion rest, rather than make him exercise.

8. Stallions kept together in the same pasture will fight.

9. A fever can adversely affect your stallion's sperm count.

10. You shouldn't vaccinate your stallion during breeding season--the vaccine may adversely affect his sperm.

11. Stallions are more susceptible to parasites than mares and geldings are.

12. It takes 7 days to build a sperm cell.

13. It's not normal for your stallion to masturbate, so you should take steps to stop him if he does--it'll affect his sperm count.

14. A stallion's testicles descend into his scrotum around the time he reaches puberty.

1. You need to clean your stallion's sheath more often than you would a gelding's.
Busted! Sheath cleaning's primary goal is to remove accumulations of smegma (waxy secretions) that irritate the delicate skin in the pocket between the penis and its protective sheath. Smegma can even form hardened "beans" in the little moat around the urethra at the penis' tip. (Beans can dangerously interfere with a horse's ability to urinate.)

Your stallion has higher levels of the hormone testosterone than are found in a gelding. Therefore, he's likely to extend his penis to its full length six or more times per day, even when it's not breeding season. This essentially turns inside-out all the little folds, pockets, and nooks- and-crannies within his sheath, allowing small accumulations of hardened smegma to flake off.

A gelding, on the other hand, rarely extrudes his penis completely, dropping it only partway to urinate. Cleaning the sheath twice a year is plenty for most geldings-more often than that and you risk irritating the penis' delicate skin, disrupting its normal bacterial flora, thereby increasing its susceptibility to infection.

And your stallion? He should get by quite nicely with a sheath cleaning once a year or less. (Think about it. Wild stallions never get their sheaths cleaned.)

2. For the best odds of getting a healthy mare pregnant by a healthy stallion, pasture-breed her.
Bingo! The key word here is "healthy." For mares, this means normal heat cycles. For both mares and stallions, this means normal hormone levels, healthy reproductive tracts, and sound bodies.

High-tech, artificial ways of getting sperm and egg together do have some advantages, such as a lowered risk of injury, infection, and venereal disease. But the biggest stumbling block to successfully breeding healthy horses is timing-getting semen into the mare at precisely the right time.

A healthy mare (and her powerful hormones) can call the shots a lot more accurately than any human can, because she'll accept a stallion's advances only when the time is right. And, when mare and stallion are left to their own devices in a pasture, away from yanking stud chains attached to nervous handlers, the chance for human error is completely eliminated.

3. As a rule, stallions are taller than geldings.
Busted! Stallions may appear larger than life, because of their bluster and uppity nature. But the truth is, testosterone-the hormone that makes them act like stallions-also causes the growth plates in their cannon bones and other long bones to close earlier than they would in a gelding. Once these plates close, they seal, halting further growth. Therefore, colts gelded before puberty (in most cases, before they're yearlings) will grow about 1/2-inch taller than if they were left intact.

4. Stallions need a higher protein diet than geldings or mares to maintain good condition.
Busted! A heavily booked, healthy stallion might need added energy (fat and/or carbohydrates), because he's physically active during the breeding season. But unless he's showing signs of age (for example if he's developing a droopy topline or losing muscle mass), increasing his protein intake won't do much to keep him in shape.

And, I wouldn't increase anything in your healthy stallion's balanced diet unless there's evidence to suggest he needs it--as you may know, overfeeding can lead to a whole host of serious health problems, including laminitis and obesity. (The latter is known to kill a stallion's libido, or sex drive.) To meet your stallion's dietary needs during breeding season, objectively check his body condition and weight once a week, and adjust his ration accordingly, with expert counsel.

5. You need to clean your stallion's stall more frequently than you would a mare's or a gelding's.
Busted! Most stallions are meticulous housekeepers, designating one spot in the stall as the place to relieve themselves. As a rule, geldings are slightly messier, and mares are the messiest, most apt to urinate and defecate in any old place.

Studies indicate it's the hormone testosterone that governs this behavior-stallions typically make "stud piles" by repeatedly defecating on the same spot and urinating on top of the whole thing. In the wild, the stud pile is "relieved upon" by a number of stallions and often is the site of muy macho battles. In the stall, this habit is a boon, because the absorbent manure soaks up urine, making it easy to keep your stallion's abode clean and fresh-smelling, without a need to dig up "pee spots."

Stall-cleaning tip: If the stud pile is located in a good, out-of-the-way place, leave a small amount behind to maintain that spot. If you'd like to relocate the stud pile, coax your stallion to the desired location by moving a few of his urine-soaked manure balls there.

6. The best way to keep your stallion's genitals from becoming infected is to wash him after each breeding.
Busted! The best ways to keep your stallion from getting infected is to book him only to mares certified to be healthy by a veterinarian, and to refrain from using live cover to breed any mares of questionable reproductive health. (Instead, breed questionable mares only by artificial insemination, so your stallion is never exposed to infection).

Although stallion managers used to wash a stallion's penis as many as three times daily during breeding season, this practice has fallen into disfavor. As mentioned earlier, frequent washing irritates the penis' delicate skin and disrupts its normal bacterial flora, thereby increasing its susceptibility to infection.

7. During a busy breeding season, it's best to let your stallion rest, rather than make him exercise.
Busted! Regular exercise is vital to keeping your stallion healthy and potent. Good circulation and fitness-as well as a change of scenery and routine-are important for both his physical and mental well-being. And both play a significant role in his libido and sexual performance. Lack of exercise has been implicated as the most common cause of obesity in stallions, a real performance-buster during breeding season.

Exercise also helps your stallion to maintain strong legs and a strong back, which are necessary for him to rise onto his hind legs, flex his spine, support himself in the mounted position, and thrust his pelvis, all without pain or discomfort. Of course, his exercise program should be invigorating and conditioning, not a strenuous workout designed to create a superstar athlete, which may be both mentally and physically stressful. Such stress interferes with his hormonal balance, can decrease fertility, and can put him at risk for injury.

8. Stallions kept together in the same pasture will fight.
Busted! Although it's the nature of domestic stallions to fight over a harem of mares and their foals, they're not territorial-that is, they don't fight over a piece of real estate. Many stallions kept in the same pasture or pen get along as well as any geldings might, as long as there are no mares to fight over. In fact, large-scale breeders commonly turn out all their stallions together during the off-season, while mares and babies stay in a separate pasture. (Caveat: Before you turn out your domestic, solitary stallion with another stallion, consult a knowledgeable, experienced stallion manager for assistance.)

9. A fever can adversely affect your stallion's sperm count.
Bingo! Even a relatively mild fever of 102.5 Fahrenheit (normal is around 101 degrees F), lasting for only a day or 2, can weaken and kill existing sperm. It also causes new sperm to develop abnormally, which can decrease-or even halt-his fertility. And, a decrease in sperm quality can last as long as 40 days.

10. You shouldn't vaccinate your stallion during breeding season--the vaccine may adversely affect sperm.
Busted! Although old-time vaccines used to make a horse sick and feverish for a day or 2 (which we already know can adversely affect sperm), equine vaccines available today generally don't cause these problems.

However, stress definitely has a negative effect on all bodily functions, including reproductive processes-and giving your stallion multiple vaccines on the same day could be stressful for him. And, even when the injection is given properly, once in a while the injection site will get swollen, hot, sore, and stiff for a day or 2 afterward. The resultant discomfort can interfere with your stallion's libido, as well as his ability to tease, mount, and ejaculate.

To reduce the risk of vaccination-related stress, follow these tips:

  • Choose your stallion's vaccines wisely, in conjunction with your vet's advice. That is, don't just vaccinate your stallion willy-nilly for every disease ever discovered.
  • Acquire vaccines from a reputable source, so you know they've been properly stored. If stored improperly, they can become spoiled or contaminated, or otherwise rendered ineffective.
  • If possible, have your vet give all injections to ensure they're done properly and given in the right location.
  • Use (or have your vet use) only preloaded, single-dose syringes, rather than vaccine drawn from a multiple-dose vial, as they're less likely to be contaminated.
  • Give (or have your vet give) your stallion only one or two injections per day; wait at least a week before giving any more.
  • Schedule each injection to take place during a time when your stallion won't be doing any breeding for a couple days to allow time for any swelling or soreness to go away.

11. Stallions are more susceptible to parasites than mares and geldings are.
Busted! Just being a stallion doesn't make for increased susceptibility. However, if your stallion is asked to work harder than he can handle during a busy breeding season, he can get stressed. Such stress can lower his immune system, making him vulnerable to parasite infestation (and other illnesses).

12. It takes 7 days to build a sperm cell.
Busted! From start to finish, the process of building a viable sperm cell takes 57 days! But it's a constant, ongoing process. At any one time, there are generations of sperm at various developmental stages in your stallion's testicles.

13. It's not normal for your stallion to masturbate, so you should take steps to stop him if he does--it'll affect his sperm count.
Busted! Wild stallions, as well as stallions in confinement, will drop their penises, become fully erected, and "masturbate" (move the penis upwards towards the belly) as often as every 3 hours, if left undisturbed. But they rarely ejaculate--so the sperm count isn't adversely affected. And, contrary to popular belief, a stallion that does this isn't necessarily more potent or fertile; this is just normal behavior that goes with the territory of being a stallion.

14. A stallion's testicles descend into his scrotum around the time he reaches puberty.
Busted! In most colts, full descent has taken place before birth, or within 10 days after birth. There are cases in which descent occurs as late as 2 to 3 years of age, but that's the exception, rather than the rule.

Idaho-based Karen E.N. Hayes, DVM, MS, is an equine-reproduction specialist. She and her psychologist husband, Dan Hayes, raise Friesian horses, using mostly shipped semen selected from the handful of approved stallions in the United States and Holland. "We joke with Darrell, our UPS man, that all our 'kids' are named after him," she says, referring to the frequent deliveries. "You know, Katrina Darrell, Olivia Darrell, Jacob Darrell, Zachariah Darrell, Ysibel Darrell, Darrell Darrell, etc."

This article first appeared in the January 2001 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.