Prepping Stallions for the Breeding Season
John Steiner, D.V.M.
How you get a stallion ready for the breeding season depends on
many things, but basically you can break it down into getting new
stallions introduced into the breeding routine, and a refresher
course for experienced stallions. With either kind, it's
important to remember the basic health aspect of the horse. You
want the stallion to go into the breeding season in the best shape
Look at the physical condition of the stallion. Is he overweight,
or underweight? Is he getting out and getting exercise? It's good
for a stallion to get out as much as possible not only for
exercise, but for his overall well-being. Make sure his teeth are
okay. He should be on a regular vaccination schedule. All of his
vaccinations should be given 30 to 60 days before the breeding
season starts. I prefer 60 days. That way, if he has a reaction
to the vaccination and gets sick or has a fever, it won't affect
his breeding ability. Don't vaccinate stallions in the middle of
the breeding season because a high fever can affect sperm, which
take about 60 days to mature in the stallion.
Also make sure the stallion has been on a good deworming program.
If you have an older stallion, keep an eye on him during the
season. He might need some medication for his normal aches and
For any stallion, I recommend a breeding soundness exam prior to
the breeding season. This includes collecting the stallion and
evaluating the semen. This gives you a baseline to evaluate the
stallion, or can help you find problems early and allow you to
manage the stallion differently. Then, if there is any problem
during the breeding season, you have a baseline to go back to and
compare to see where the problem lies.
That's a problem with natural covers like in Thoroughbreds-you
just see mares not getting pregnant. With artificial
insemination, you collect the stallions routinely and you can see
changes in the semen. It's especially important to do a
pre-season breeding soundness exam with stallions used for AI
because you can see what to expect before the breeding season
Another point with stallions collected for AI is that you need to
make sure and check for EVA-you don't want to be shipping a virus
somewhere else. Remember, if you freeze the sperm, you are
preserving the virus, too. Same is true of equine infectious
anemia. Make sure the stallion's Coggins test is up-to-date.
With a new stallion, whether a young horse or one new to your
operation, you need to learn as much about him as possible. If he
was on the track or in training for performance, try to find out
if he was on any medications. There are no drugs that enhance
fertility, but many can hurt fertility.
Learn his personality. Is he aggressive? Is he timid? What are
his vices? Then you work with him accordingly. Deal with the
horse on an individual basis, and get him to the farm in plenty
of time to work with him before the season begins.
Have the same handler-an experienced stallion person-work with
the stallion consistently. Don't reprimand him for acting like a
stallion. Let him look around the breeding shed. Turn him loose
in there, if possible, and let him mark his territory and get
comfortable without people or other horses.
When you introduce a new stallion to a mare, make sure she's an
older, experienced mare in good heat who's healthy. Don't wash
her or him the first time or two, that just takes away her smell
and distracts him. We tend to make things artificial too soon.
Let him get interested in mares, and if he wants to jump the
mare, let him.
Once he starts getting into the routine, then you can start
washing him. Use only warm (slightly warmer than body
temperature) water before and after breeding. If you use cotton,
which isn't always necessary, make sure all the cotton is rinsed
off. Don't use soap or disinfectants. They destroy normal
bacteria and often let others flourish, like pseudomonas. Also,
some things could be spermicidal if not rinsed off well.
With a new stallion that will be collected for AI, you might want
to train him to a phantom. If so, do it before the breeding
With an older stallion it is just a matter of re-introducing him
to his routine. If he is experienced and just new to your farm,
try to find out from his previous handlers his idiosyncrasies and
routines and try to adjust your management to help him settle
into his new surroundings. Some older stallions have quirks, and
it's good to know them before the season starts. Some stallions
hate to breed maiden mares. Some stallions don't like certain
color mares or certain size mares. Some don't like the breeding
apron put on a mare.
Learn as much as you can about your stallion before the season
starts, and the season will go much smoother.
John Steiner, DVM, a partner in the Hagyard-Davidson-McGee
veterinary firm near Lexington, Ky., specializes in reproduction
of stallions and mares.