Horses are herd animals, and therefore social by nature, would you agree with that statement? So a question I posed to my class today via a rousing game of Jeopardy, was as follows:
“Horses are herd animals and social by nature. Some breeding facilities will isolate stallions away from other horses–some of these studs tend to be more obnoxious, ill-mannered and harder to manage than studs who are around the horses on the farm. A breeder in New York owns a Paint stud, Thinkin Straight, and she lets him pasture with her gelding, mare(when not in season) and is currently letting her colt who she’s weaning stay in the pasture with him(not 24/7, turnout is limited and monitored). She says he is the quietest stud you’ll ever meet and that he’s the most well-mannered stud you’ll ever meet because she allows him to live as though he has a herd. Will a stallion have better manners if he is allowed to live with other horses because this feeds his desire to be a social animal, or is this just an all-out bad idea?”
I don’t necessarily think this question has a right or wrong answer, I think it depends on the horse(s) involved and the manager of the facility. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to allow a stud to live within a herd-like setting, WITHIN REASON. If a stud is going to be allowed to run with mares and geldings and foals, I think they all need to be closely monitored. You obviously don’t want to turnout a stud with multiple horses and leave him out there if they aren’t going to all get along with one another. Evaluating the stud’s personality and behavior, and evaluating the personality and behavior of the horses he’d be out with, is something I’d make sure to do before turning anyone out anywhere. If the stud is a quiet and well-mannered stud, who’s respectful to the horses he’s around, I don’t see a problem with turning him out with other horses.
From a show environment or business and breeding perspective, one might not be so quick to turn a stud out with other horses, for fear of him being kicked or hurt by an ornery mare, or for fear of a mare being hurt from him harassing or mounting her if she even suggests that she might be coming in to season. An important breeding stallion might not be turned out freely with other horses because you don’t want anything to happen to him to risk an untimely end to his career. If these were the cases, then maybe you’d keep him pastured with other horses pastured around him, but not give him free access to interact with these horses.
I’ve heard of breeding farms isolating stallions and I’ve heard that those same stallions are harder to handle and tend to be more ill-mannered and aggressive, than a stud who’s allowed to be amongst other horses or at least around other horses, in a mock herd-like setting. It seems to me, that if horses are social animals, stallions especially(it’s part of their make-up to have a herd that they look over and manage) that isolating a stud, or any horse at this point, would be bad for their physical and mental health. For their mental health it would be stressful on them to never be around other horses or be able to interact with other horses or just see other horses. I would think then that the stud would develop unnecessary vices such as cribbing, weaving, pacing and in perhaps extreme cases, self-mutilation. For their physical health ulcers could develop from the stress of always being alone, which affects hair coat quality, weight, disposition and performance under-saddle. If self-mutilation occurs that also has an effect on them physically since they’re harming themselves. The pacing or weaving that could occur would cause their hooves to wear down unevenly and also result in them being too tired to do any kind of work and to start dropping weight.
Perhaps allowing a stud to live amongst other horses isn’t for everyone or isn’t the best thing to do, there are obviously risks, but I think there could be some benefits too. I feel like an obnoxious stud would be taught manners quickly by pregnant mares, which is a benefit for both the stud and the handler. The stud would have companionship and not have to worry about the stresses of isolation. While keeping a stud in a pasture filled with horses isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I don’t think it’s something that should be so quickly turned down either. It has it’s pro’s and con’s as most everything in horses does, but at the end of the day I think it all comes down to the horse(s) involved and the manager and what they feel is best for everyone involved.