A stallion horse is a male horse that is capable of siring offspring. To be registered, a purebred stallion must be able to meet the conformation standards and the phenotype of the breed.
Compared to geldings and mares, a stallion tends to have a nick that is thicker and with a larger crest. There is typically more muscle mass throughout the body of the horse and herd instincts may be present at times as well.
The temperament of a stallion can vary widely. Influences of training and genetics make it so that some stallions are calm, gentle, and willing – while others are stubborn, aggressive, and difficult to handle. With proper training, a stallion can be competitive at the highest levels of sport in many different events.
History of the Term “Stallion”
Referring to male horses that can sire offspring as a “stallion” is a practice that dates to the time of King Henry VII. During his reign in the late 15th and early 16th century, several laws were passed in Britain that controlled the export and breeding of horses. The goal was to improve the population that existing in the kingdom. It became illegal to allow an uncastrated male horse to be placed in the commons or fields.
Those male horses had to be kept within bounds. They were required to be tied to their stalls. The word “stallion” literally means “stalled one.”
Although other uncastrated equine breeds, such as donkeys and zebras, also have stallions, the term originated through the requirements issued by Henry VII.
What Is the Herd Behavior of a Stallion?
Stallions typically form one of two different herd types. One is the family herd, where the stallion has 2-4 mares and their offspring with them at all times. They stay together as a family until the young horses are ready to wander off on their own to form their own herds. Powerful stallions may have 5+ mares in their herd, but large harems are very rare.
The other type of herd that stallions form is called a “bachelor group.” Horses are very social animals and thrive when they have companionship. Stallions that are unable to find mares for their own herd will group together and form their own group. The age range of a bachelor group can be quite extensive, with elderly and young stallions working together.
The stallion is often seen as being the head of the herd, but the leadership role is actually held by one of the mares. This is the boss mare, or the “lead mare,” as some prefer. It is her job to find food and water. The boss mare decides which shelter they should use.
The role of the stallion is to defend the herd. Most stallions will stay near the rear of the herd, acting as a guard to prevent an attack from behind. They may “encourage” slower members of the herd to keep up with the box mare.
How Often Do Stallions Fight?
Stallions rarely fight each other for mares when living in the wild or in semi-feral conditions. A stallion can compete for the mares of a herd at any time. Some may just choose to try to “steal” a mare or two to form their own herd if a stallion has a large harem.
When two stallions meet and the goal is to square off for a herd, they will usually bluff each other until one of them decides that they are the weaker horse and decide to wander away. Even if a fight breaks out, the weaker horse would be able to flee and that made for only short periods of combat at best.
It is when stallions are confined in small settings, in captivity, where the violent and prolonged battles for herd dominance occur. In captivity, there is no way to flee. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain with victory. These fights can result in serious injuries, harm owners and handlers, and even cause injury to mares and foals.
How Are Stallions Managed Properly?
Stallions that have been domesticated can be trained in several different ways so they can be properly managed. The training regimen for the horse is dependent upon his personality and temperament, the region where the horse lives, and the philosophies of the owner and the trainer.
Before anything else, a stallion must be trained to learn how to behave around all humans with respect. Stallions are naturally aggressive and have an urge to dominate their surroundings. Without training, a stallion will often bite at people as a way to protect himself or to express that dominance.
Confinement and isolation is one of the most common methods of management, but this may not be the best option. Horses are social creatures and human contact, though better than nothing, is not the same as having other horses around. For that reason, more handlers are moving toward what is known as the harem management model.
By allowing the pasture to be managed instead of the stallion, the horse has the opportunity to behave like a horse. Even if a bachelor group is formed with geldings and other stallions, the aggressive behaviors can often be tempered. There tend to be fewer negative stable behaviors or habits that develop in the harem management model as well.
It should be noted, however, that the natural instincts of a stallion may overcome the training they have received at any time. Common sense must always be used when working with these horses. For that reason, only a handful of breeds permit children to be working with stallions and even fewer permit children to show or ride stallions in competition.
Disadvantages of Natural Management Methods
The primary disadvantage of the natural management methods for stallions is that the foaling date for mares can be somewhat unknown. Although they receive more exercise that stallions that are kept in the stall, it is more difficult to manage the predictability of offspring and that can put the health of a mare at risk.
With proper training, stallions can often work with mares without difficulty, but again – the natural instincts of the horse can overwhelm the training at times. Even in highly regulated settings, such as those at the Spanish Riding School where Lipizzan stallions are managed, the occasional management problem does come up.
Stallions of a breeding age are the most likely to exhibit challenging behavior.
When stallions are provided enough space, and are given enough food, then they can find a way to live peacefully. Even stallions that have been used for breeding can coexist with each other in a bachelor herd when there are enough resources available to them.
Stallions can be challenging, but they can also be wonderful. It is always important to focus on the good qualities of the horse so the unwanted behaviors can be properly managed.