Stallion Temperament

One of my well-tempered stallions

One of my well-tempered stallions

Generally speaking, Fell Pony stallions are tractable.  My first stallion especially spoiled me, as his temperament was agreeable in as many ways as I could experience:  considerate of mares, gentle with foals, easy to train, and respectful of humans.

I was speaking to my mentor recently about Fell Pony stallion temperament.  He said, “If you haven’t got the temperament, it’s too hard work to do all the rest that comes with a stallion.” Our conversation came about because we were discussing a stallion whose breeding I especially admired.  My mentor said his temperament, though, wasn’t right.  As an example of temperament, he said he couldn’t keep the stallion in a pen next to mares because he couldn’t be quiet.  My mentor had traced the temperament problem two generations back.

“It takes three generations to undo the harm done by breeding to a stallion with temperament problems,” he said.  A few mares will always put the temperament right no matter the stallion they’re bred to.  But the temperament issues can resurface a generation or two later, so given the number of well-tempered stallions in our breed, it’s not worth the problems to breed to a stallion with a questionable temperament.  My mentor then went on to tell me about working with a Fell Pony breeder many years ago with a sizeable herd.  He helped the breeder select for temperament, and they were able to see improvement over time.

My mentor and I often discuss how hard it is to find good ponies for breeding stock.  Proper action, for instance, requires so many elements of conformation to be right that it’s hard to find many ponies who have it all.  Then put temperament in as a requirement, and sometimes to me the problem seems daunting.  My mentor, though, reminded me that in our breed, good temperament is relatively easy.  He then went on to say about stallions, “You have to have the temperament.  You can’t beat a quiet stallion.  You can’t beat a sensible stallion.  If you haven’t got the temperament, good action doesn’t do you much good.  It’s easier to get good temperament than good action.”

I know people who have ‘rebounded’ after dealing with a challenging stallion.  After having their hands full with an ill-tempered stallion, they meet a well-tempered colt and embrace it as stallion quality because of its equable temperament, overlooking problems in conformation.  I also know people who have put up with a challenging temperament in a stallion because the stallion had physical attributes they admired.  Neither is a strategy that serves our breed well.  It takes generations to undo the harm done by breeding to an ill-tempered stallion or breeding to one with serious conformation faults.  In either case, it’s best for the breeder to continue looking for a stallion than to settle for something less.

Despite my mentor’s repeated assertions about temperament in our recent conversation, I was having trouble accepting that the stallion I admired should be counted out because he wasn’t well mannered enough.  Stallions like him with great conformation and movement, I believed, were too scarce to let them pass by.  Then I was reminded of the judgments I make every time a male foal is born here at Willowtrail Farm.  I have had more than one whom I knew as soon as I first handled him that he would be a gelding because of his temperament.  Just as my mentor admonished, it’s too much work to let them stay entire, and they are certainly more of a credit to our breed as geldings than as stallions.  Finally I realized that my mentor was right.  Even when a colt has stunning movement and conformation, if his temperament isn’t right, he’s better off being a gelding.  Making this judgment is part of being a responsible breeder.

This week my rising year old colt Willowtrail Mountain Prince has been asking for attention.  Whenever I appear with a halter and lead rope, he vies with his aunt Rose for which of them will get it put on their head.  I bred Prince’s parents to see if I could get a breeding quality offspring.  I knew when I first saw him that he had a good chance of meeting this goal from a conformation standpoint.  The good news is that Prince has shown me since his first hours of life that he passes the temperament test, too.  Of course, he’d make a great gelding for someone as well!  For more information about Prince, click here.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013

About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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