I was talking to a visiting contractor about the Pony Shuffle the other day, and we got talking about managing my senior stallion in the shuffle. Apollo reliably trailers with mares, even mares in heat if I manage things right, but he has shown me that even pasturing with one of his own mares isn’t sufficiently interesting to keep him from testing fences. There is a herd of quarter horse broodmares about a mile upwind of my pasture, and one day he apparently caught scent of them and decided to break through a fence and take a walk, with his mare along for the fun. Fortunately the fence at his destination was strong enough to thwart any amorous intentions on his part until I got there and helped him return to where he was supposed to be.
I do everything I can to keep my ponies in as natural a social situation as possible, meaning rarely is a pony ever housed alone. These efforts apply to my stallions as well; I try to keep them with mares or geldings whenever I can. So when I read recently about pasturing stallions together, I was intrigued because that’s not something I’ve ever tried. I know one Fell Pony breeder who has done it successfully, and I’ve heard of bachelor bands in mustang herds. What are the keys to success when pasturing domestic stallions together?
It is now illegal in Switzerland to house an equine alone, though it is allowed to house individuals in stalls. How to house stallions, then, is of keen interest in Switzerland. The Swiss National Stud has been pasturing some of their stallions together successfully for several years. Sabina Briefer-Freymond, the research veterinarian there, shares these keys from her study of the pastured stallions:
- The stallions should be familiar with each other prior to being put out to pasture; for instance stalled near each other so they are familiar with sight and sound and scent.
- The pasture should be large; an acre per stallion or more is recommended. This feature is obviously part of what makes mustang bachelor bands work.
- The stallion pasture should be a large distance from other equines, especially mares. This feature was part of the Fell Pony breeder’s success at pasturing her stallions together.
- Stallion pastures should have extra high fencing to prevent escape. (1)
In the April edition of The Partnered Pony™ Inquirer, I touched on how, for fencing to be effective, it must address not only the physical nature of the barrier but also the visual and psychological elements, too. When pasturing stallions, these elements have different characteristics than for other equines. Even though visually Apollo couldn’t see the mares a mile away, the psychological element of ‘distance’ is relative; a mile isn’t enough if there’s a strong wind with mares upstream. And my young stallion Robin showed early on that from a physical barrier standpoint, high fencing was indeed necessary to keep him in; he was so athletic that he could jump normal fences if his hormones suggested the need to do so.
The Swiss researcher Briefer-Freymond shared the following: “[Stallions] that were pastured together the first year showed even fewer aggressive and ritualistic behaviors upon being pastured together in following years. Apparently, they had learned to live together and had acquired a ‘social experience.’” (2) This observation gives me hope that when I can put together the needed physical, psychological, and visual elements for a stallion pasture, that from a social standpoint pasturing my stallions together might be an option in the future.