As with mares people spend a lot of time and effort selecting a stallion for conformation, athletic performance etc. and matching those to the chosen mare. Reproductive ability is often overlooked. The standards of management of the stud at which the stallion stands also need to be considered. If you are choosing a stallion for purchase for breeding you will need to assess his general history, temperament and libido, age, general conformation and condition, as well as undertake external and internal examinations of his reproductive tract and a semen evaluation. However, if, as in the majority of cases, you are selecting a stallion simply to cover your mare, many of these criteria will be of limited interest to you. You will still need to be assured that fertility rates of the stallion are high so that this minimises the number of times your mare needs to be covered and, therefore, reduces both her exposure to potential infection and her keep fees.
If the stallion’s fertility rates are good, then criteria such as history, age, internal and external reproductive tract examination and semen evaluation will have been met. However, you may want to consider criteria such as temperament, libido and general condition. Temperament is important in many ways and will influence ease of management, treatment of the mare and the temperament of the foal. Ideally a quiet, calm stallion, who is easy to handle should be selected. Such a stallion will be kind to mares. This is not always the case with many stallions and mares are returned to their owners with badly bitten withers and neck. Fifty per cent of the genetic makeup (genotype – genetic make up of the individual) of the offspring comes from the stallion, therefore 50% of the genetic component of temperament of a foal will come from its sire. It is true to say that the environmental influence (phenotype – characteristics dictated by the way
an individual is brought up and its environment) of the mare on the
temperament of the foal is greater than the stallion’s but there are stallions which do produce vicious, unpredictable offspring.
The overall condition of the stallion is also important as this reflects the standards of management of the stud. If he is poorly turned out, in poor condition, it is likely that your mare will return from stud in a similar condition. It is very important, therefore to visit the stud where the stallion is standing if possible and discuss their management regime. A well-run stud will give you a good impression when you visit, management will be clear, staff experienced, boxes clean and tidy, pasture in good condition and used regularly for turn out, animals will be in good condition and well kept. If your mare is to foal at the stud you should visit the foaling facilities, they should be clean, safe and roomy with a good system for 24-hour monitoring by skilled staff. The place need not be spotless but should present a good, professional image. You should talk to the stud owner about your mare and the stallion you wish to use, discuss how visiting mares are to be accommodated, and whether scanning or rectal palpation is used as well as look at the covering facilities. You also need to ask about the nomination arrangement (covering agreement), how to book your mare in and what the arrangements are for paying the covering fee etc.
It is increasingly popular these days for mares not to be kept on the stallion’s stud but on a neighbouring boarding yard. These boarding yards act as holding areas for mares which are to be covered by stallions in the locality. As part of the deal, your mare is looked after, foaled down if required, her oestrous cycles monitored and she is taken to the stallion of your choice on the day of ovulation for covering (termed ‘walking in’) and then brought back to the boarding yard on the same day. She will be kept at the boarding yard for as long as you require, normally until pregnancy has been confirmed at Day 18 or 40 of the pregnancy. If you are not that happy either with your mare being kept away from home for any length of time or with the management practices of the stallion’s stud and it is not too far from home, you can walk your mare in yourself on the day she is due to ovulate and take her home the same day.
There are advantages and disadvantages to all systems. If you live near the stallion then the cheapest and possibly most convenient option is to walk her in yourself. However, it may be difficult for you to determine whether your mare is in oestrus at home though ultrasonic scanning can be used. Such a system means that you have more control over the management of your mare and it avoids the upset of travel and a strange environment. If, however, you live a distance away from the stud, unless you can use artificial insemination you will need to take your mare to board at the stud or a nearby boarding yard. Such a system may enable oestrus to be determined more accurately as all the necessary equipment and expertise is at hand. However, control over the management of your mare will lie with the stud so this needs to be considered carefully beforehand.
Ultimately the stud set up, its facilities, equipment and expertise available will reflect the type of stallion and his nomination fee. Less intensive systems such as native pony studs cannot be expected to have the level of facilities and monitoring that a thoroughbred stud has. However, the nomination and keep fees for native pony studs are much lower (typically a nomination fee of tens or hundreds of pounds) than thoroughbred studs that can stand stallions for hundreds of thousands of pounds.