by Natalie DiBerardinis
While I know Oprah wasn’t referring to showing stallions, or horses in general, it does succinctly sum up our philosophy at Hilltop Farm. There are currently thirteen breeding stallions living at the farm. While some of them have finished competition careers, and are enjoying a life of leisure and breeding, others have the challenge of managing two careers—show horse and breeding stallion. Can a stallion be successful in both jobs? Absolutely, but they are going to need a little help along the way.
Stallions like routine in their day, their handling, and their ‘herd’, and they will notice any change in that routine. “The training we do at home gives us the tools we need to help the stallions stay focused on us when in a new environment,” says Michael Bragdell, Hilltop’s Head Trainer. When traveling with stallions, especially young stallions, you need to be more aware of the horses around you, in the stabling areas, the warm-up ring, etc.
Stallions should be exceptional individuals, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the same phases of development that other horses have, or that they aren’t entitled to having an ‘off day’ on a rare occasion. Michael is well-aware of the pressures on stallions to perform well in competition. “With the stallions, especially, I have to tune out the outside distractions of spectators and other competitors, and maintain the training system I have for each horse. If I am confident and focused, my stallion will be as well.”
Not all stallions can mentally handle breeding during the week and competing on the weekend. Some are better at separating their ‘jobs’ than others are. For some stallions, you may need to choose shows outside of breeding season, or only breed via frozen semen, to give a stallion his best chance in competition.
People underestimate the physical demands a breeding season places on a stallion. Their bodies can get sore, they may drop weight, and some stallions are tired after collecting, while others are energized. A popular stallion, with a good book of mares, may be headed for collections three times a week on average, and possibly up to six days a week at peak breeding season. We must balance the breeding schedule with the training and competition goals for each horse. Some goals have finite time lines, like qualifiers for championships, and requirements and deadlines to maintain a breeding license, etc. Those events must sometimes take priority, and the breeding season schedule, or book of mares, will be accommodated to allow for those competitions. At other times, breeding takes priority for a stallion owner and the competitions can be selected around, and in balance with, the breeding season.
So why does Michael prefer to train and show stallions? “Despite the extra work that goes into training and competing a stallion, I find it extremely rewarding. When you have built the trust and relationship with them, I feel that they will really do anything for you, and the partnership you create is really something unique.”