Stallions Demand Savvy
If you have questions about stallion behavior, we are happy to share our knowledge and experience from the natural horsemanship perspective. But because safety is #1 in Parelli horse training, we encourage our students to put their stallions aside until they get their horse “savvy” up to snuff.
The Parelli program recommends that students not attempt to work with stallions until they’ve passed Level 4. Stallions are magnificent, awe-inspiring creatures, but they demand the highest possible level of horse savvy…or watch out. Stallion owners think, “It won’t happen to me,” but most people who’ve been on the unhappy end of a stallion never saw it coming…the next thing they knew, they were in his jaws.
Dangerous Stallion Behavior
Safety around stallions is one of Pat Parelli’s concerns for good reason. He once saw a woman killed by a stallion. The horse bit her throat and ripped her esophagus out. He has also seen two fingers snapped off, forearm tendons ripped out, and people lifted off the ground by the teeth of a stallion. He himself has been picked up and dragged.
There’s a stallion Pat knows of that lives in a maze of pens that funnel him into the breeding shed so no one has to handle him – even though all his teeth have been removed. One of the top thoroughbred sires in the world was so vicious, only one person could handle him and a pitchfork was required to approach.
At top horse establishments around the world, breeding barns look like torture chambers, equipped with chains, whips, hobbles, helmets and flak jackets. Yet every year, every breeding season, people are still hurt, maimed, or killed by stallions. What does this tell you about the potential perils of owning a stallion? In a fight, even a grizzly bear is no match for a stallion.
With a stallion, everything can be fine until:
Even if your stallion appears mellow, please don’t be fooled. In the right situation, stallion behavior can change on a dime and this horse can become a killer. It was a “mild-mannered” stallion that ripped out that woman’s throat.
Understanding Stallion Behavior
The Parelli approach to natural horse training is to always start by understanding your horse, so you must understand that a stallion’s job is to procreate and to fight for dominance.
When a stallion’s libido is aroused, he becomes a superhorse. His hormones – mixed with testosterone and adrenalin are like rocket fuel, powering his strength and determination tenfold. Nothing stands in his way and he will fight to the death.
Upbringing is also an influence on stallion behavior. Usually, the more unnatural the environment, the more perverted the stallion behaves. Many stallions are kept isolated from other horses. Stallions crave contact with other horses, so isolation only worsens their behavior.
Unable to do their jobs, segregated stallions become extremely pent-up. Then, when exposed to other horses, they exhibit extreme aggression and become very difficult to handle. On the other hand, when stallions are raised with other horses, they learn to become polite, if they’re rude, a pair of teeth or heels quickly come their way.
Often, stallions are petted and handled by people who don’t understand the importance of a respectful relationship. Or, the stallion may be handled aggressively, punished for excitable behavior, restrained with chains over their noses or gums, kept on a tight rein. Like a man in jail, his behavior rarely improves in prison; instead, it usually becomes more perverted.
Very few stallions are excellent breeding quality. Far too many people keep a stallion because they don’t have the heart to geld him. Yet, the stallion goes on to live a life of frustration. Instead of breeding several times a day during the breeding season, he’s allowed one or two servings a year, if he’s lucky. And yet all his hormonal and instinctual drives are still there. Without enough outlet for his libido, you’ll have a very frustrated or depressed stallion on your hands, with potentially serious consequences.
Think of life from the stallion’s point of view. You’re kept in solitary confinement with no social contact, not enough exercise, and not nearly enough mental and emotional stimulation. Naked “girls” are led past your stall every day. You become frustrated and bored. Then, you are taken to the breeding barn. When you’re led out of your stall, how are you going to act? You know exactly where you are going and what will happen, so you get excited and start prancing. The mare is hobbled and twitched, and all you do is take a flying leap onto her back.
No introductions, no friendly chit-chat, no foreplay, no rebuffs from the mare for rough or rude behavior. Stallions treated like this are taught to be rapists. It’s against everything “natural.” The kinder approach is actually to geld the horse.
Pat Parelli recommends gelding colts within the first two weeks of birth. Some people are concerned that early gelding will affect a horse’s growth and performance, but it doesn’t. Pat’s geldings – castrated at ten days old – have grown into stout, handsome horses.
Pat advises, “Don’t keep your colt a stallion. There are thousands of stallions around who should have been gelded because of poor conformation, bloodlines or personality. They weaken the gene pool and are walking liabilities for their owners. When your horse is a stallion, you can never relax.”
You must understand a stallion’s psyche and herd behavior. You must know how to earn his respect without using violence. You must read situations very quickly and stay one step ahead of what he’s thinking all the time. This is why handling stallions is a Level 5 study. You should be at least a Level 4 fulfilled. Notice the emphasis on fulfilled. This is probably what people underestimate the most.
Owning a stallion is not just about handling his behavior; it’s about considering his lifestyle and needs, too. After all, natural horsemen always think about things from the horse’s point of view first.
Stallions and the Parelli Seven Games
Nipping is a disrespectful behavior. A nipping stallion is playing games and he’s usually winning them. If he can sneak in, take a nip, and then duck away, he’s having a ball. Just watch young horses playing together. You’ll see this exact same nip, recoil and duck pattern. It’s even better if he can make you mad, more points for him!
The answer for this horse, however, is not punishment. It’s the same as for any horse with this behavior. That’s why you need enough savvy to play and win the Parelli Seven Games – especially the Porcupine Game (which is what he’s playing when he’s nipping you). And you’ve got to win without your stallion feeling like a loser.
If you earn your stallion’s respect, he will not play those games on you. But you can’t gain a horse’s respect through punishment. Not only does it not cure the problem, it can come back to haunt you on a bad day, and on a bad day a stallion can be your worst nightmare.
The secret to working with a stallion and molding problematic stallion behavior is to completely understand your horse and be savvy enough to know what to do at all times. The Parelli tools for this level of horse savvy include understanding horse personality through our Horsenality™ DVD, establishing an appropriate relationship using the Seven Games and joining our Parelli Membership to take classes and develop your horse savvy to a “stallion-worthy” level.
Visit Parelli Savvy Club for more educational articles and videos designed to inspire, empower and educate horse owners of all levels.