Stallions need clear boundaries
A highlight of my time in South Africa was being asked to play with a 5 year old Friesian stallion called Zander who had only recently been purchased by Carl Bronner.
Zander was quite a cruisy character but like most young horses in a new environment, he was fidgety and always wanted to move when being saddled, bridled or mounted. He was used to being tied in the stable for these things so when coming to a more natural home, he was asked to take more responsibility for keeping himself still when asked.
In the 10 weeks she’d owned him, Carl had ridden him a little and sensibly spent more time on the ground getting to know him. He was also being socialized to run with other horses in preparation for serving mares which he hadn’t experienced yet.
This was achieved by running him with a quiet old gelding he’d made friends with over the fence. Soon he will have his gelding friend swapped for an older, experienced mare when she is not in season so they can get to know each other before the hormone levels start rising.
But back to my session with Zander which was viewed by 20 or so keen students, many of them having colts or stallions themselves looking for insights into how best to handle them. Carl had found he was relaxed and comfortable in the small round yard so we decided to stay with this comfort zone to give him the best opportunity to take in new things.
It also enabled me to start at liberty with him which could illustrate how to provide comfort and discomfort without too much pressure and in a way he could understand from herd interaction.
I became the ‘alpha mare’ and with the aim of allowing him to only find the centre of the arena as a comfortable place to stand still. It didn’t take many repetitions of sending him out to trot around before he realized he could ‘ask’ to come back in by focusing on me with his ear, lowering his head a little and then turning his head to me.
At first he could only stand still for a few seconds but the more he got to move, the more he wanted his comfort back (Friesians are quite ‘short’ horses so only want to run a short distance) and it wasn’t long before he could stand for 30 or 60 seconds. He also got to where he would realize his mistake at having moved, run to the edge of the yard and turn to come straight back in.
It was lovely to see him trying so hard to keep his feet still and while doing this, I left him alone a lot, just as horses do, and occasionally looked for his itchy spots to see if we could be friends.
Once he was really sure that the arena centre and being with me was comfortable, we gave him a break, had a cuppa then came back to introduce the halter and saddle to the arena centre.
He was quite happy to be haltered and stood quietly and still to be saddled, not needing to be sent out to move until after the saddle was in place. It was a big change from the past battles to keep him still where a lot of constant reminders and pressure could be seen by him as nagging, and stallions just don’t tolerate that.
After saddling, I moved him around and checked that he could cope with my stick moving around him, and that he could yield softly to the halter in preparation for riding him in the halter for the first time. It took him a while to realize he only would only get comfort when he stopped leaning on the halter as he had been used to pushing on it. Once I was happy that he could flex his neck and yield his hindquarter, I stood him to get on and he tried to move – once! After one high energy hindquarter yield he decided standing still was the better option and was no trouble to mount.
I finished his session when he was able to yield his head and hindquarters softly to a stop from the walk and trot as it had been a big morning for him and I wanted to finish before his concentration lapsed.
Zander, like most stallions, just needed clear communication as to where the boundaries were and he was the ideal subject to demonstrate how we need to be black and white (not grey) with comfort and discomfort, which is why handling a stallion is best done when you have a high level of savvy and experience.
Carl reports that Zander is such a gentlemen now that she has respect in all the right places and she has started to test that by taking him for walks past other horses with great success.