Dear Friend and Horseman,
Here it is, Springtime again. I both love and hate this time of year. I love it for the nice weather, spring flowers etc. I also hate it because this is the time of year when the 3 year-old stallions get zapped with their first big dose of testosterone. It turns some of them into holey terrors. It’s also the time of year when the mares start to cycle, driving the young stallions crazy. All this makes a trainer’s job more difficult, oftentimes unpleasant and sometimes down right dangerous. But that’s just part of the profession, you take the bad with the good.
If you have a stallion and you are inexperienced with studs, let me share with you my personal philosophy…
If your stallion ever gives you that “I’m going to get you” look, it would probably be wise to let a more experienced handler take over. No stud is worth getting hurt or killed over. Hardly anybody realizes it but many people have been injured by stallions. More people than you would ever imagine, have been maimed or killed.
Now, let me make something perfectly clear… Not all stallions are overly aggressive. In fact some of the best horses I’ve ever ridden were stallions. However, let me point out that they were the exception, not the rule.
If a stallion is to become a sire, he should be exceptional. To my way of thinking, the only horse that deserves to be a stud is one that possesses those exceptionally good qualities and consistently passes them on to his offspring.
On the other side of the coin, we have the problem stallions. These are the ones you need to watch out for. These are the ones that are overly aggressive and threaten to get you. This over-aggressiveness is sometimes a stallion’s normal behavior. Sometimes the aggressiveness is man-made. Either way, it’s dangerous.
Some owners who have a problem stallion, refuse to castrate them. These folks have not been viciously mauled… yet. Their time will come.
I have been attacked several times and luckily escaped without serious injury. But, I have personally witnessed people getting maimed by studs. One guy lost his ear and part of his shoulder muscle. Another guy was almost mauled to death before anyone could get the stud off him.
A trainer friend of mine came crawling to the show arena on his hands and knees, covered in blood. His cutting stallion had attacked and mauled him just a few minutes prior to the class. Pretty scary stuff.
Most people don’t have a clue how quickly a stallion can change from “passive” to “attacking”. Seldom do you have much warning. With experience, you can learn to read a stud and learn what they are thinking. But, the learning process can be a little risky.
I remember well the first time I was attacked by a stallion. I was 10 years old. I wanted a palomino stallion in the worst way and to my surprise my folks got me one. (In my parent’s defense, I should tell you I had horses since I was 7 and was a heck of a good rider by the time I was 10. They just didn’t realize the danger).
I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was Spring, a Friday and I was walking home from school. As I came down the driveway and into the barnyard, there was a cattle truck parked there at the loading chute. My folks were standing there talking to the driver of the truck. I approached and asked what was going on. With an enthusiastic smile on her face, my Mom said there was a surprise waiting for me in the barn.
Just then I heard the unmistakable scream of an excited stallion and I knew my dream horse was inside our barn.
I ran to the barn and went inside. Standing loose in the big stall was a beautiful palomino stallion with a white mane and tail. He was short, about 14.1 hands, but he was stout. He was upset because he could see the mares standing outside in the pasture and he wanted to get out there with them.
I should have known better than to go in his stall without haltering him first, but I went in to pet him anyway. As I walked up to pet his neck, he opened his mouth wide, like an alligator, and lightning-fast took hold of my shoulder. He picked me up, shook me like a rag doll, then threw me into the corner.
He wasn’t finished with me yet! I’m on the ground and here he comes again with his mouth wide open. Man, I was scared. I figured here he comes again and I’m a gonner. My hands and legs were flailing about trying to fend him off. Just by shear luck, I hit the stud in the eye just as he was coming in to bite me again. The poke in the eye startled him enough to give me time to get the heck out of there.
If you have children who love horses, pay close attention to this next part.
There I was, 10 years old, shirt all torn up and I’m hurt bad. What would you guess I did next? If you guessed I ran to my parents and showed them what had happened, you guessed wrong. If they knew the stud had attacked me, they would have gotten rid of him.
I was way more afraid of losing the horse than getting mauled again!
I stayed in the barn until the coast was clear, then ran to the house, cleaned myself up and went upstairs to my room before anyone suspected anything. While I was going up the stairs, my two younger sisters saw my injured shoulder and I had to bribe them to keep their mouth shut. (Actually, during my entire childhood, I had to continually bribe them to keep quiet about stuff I had done).
Next morning, I was up at dawn. I fed all the horses but not the stud. I had other plans for him and I had to do them before my parents came outside.
First thing I did was rope that rank little stud in the stall and snub him up real short to the corner post. I managed to get him saddled and bridled without getting bitten. The next part was the most dangerous. I had to figure out a way to get him out of the barn and get on him without being attacked.
The stud had that mean, “I’m going to get you” look in his eye, so I knew I didn’t dare untie and lead him. Instead, I climbed on his back first, gathered up the reins and then untied him from the safety of the saddle. Once he realized he was untied, he bogged his head and gave a couple of crow hops but nothing too bad.
I stayed on his back while opening the stall gate. Once we were outside, I headed him up the drive way and away we went. I figured I would tire him out by riding him to all the neighboring farms and ranches and show them my new stallion.
That little palomino son-of-a-gun was rank… and not very broke. For the first hour all he did was scream and run off with me. After about three hours though, he was dripping with sweat and starting to run out of steam. I just kept riding him and visiting all my friends in the area.
By the time we returned home, it was almost dark. And guess what? That little stud was too tired to do anything but hang his head and put one foot in front of the other. When we got to the barn, I fed him a double ration of hay and said good night.
The following morning, when I went out to feed, my little stallion had a different expression on his face. That mean “I’m going to get you” look was gone. He still was a handful to saddle and bridle. And he still tried to bite me, but the “viciousness” was no longer there.
I gave him another “all day” ride. And for the next two weeks, I rode him everyday before and after school. I rode him so much, that stud thought he had died and gone to hell. Within a month he was dog gentle.
I learned a lot about horse nature from that little stud. Most of all though, I learned that the easiest horses to get along with are the tired ones.
Take care and have fun training your horse.
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