When I rescued a herd of 3 siblings – they share the same father – from slaughter, the two young colts were not gelded. Montaro was 2 years old and had already bred a mare or two. His half-brother Jax was 18 months, didn’t know he was a stallion yet, and still made the “don’t hurt me, I’m a baby” face. This is where they flap their mouths open and closed, quickly, and it signifies to other horses that they’re still very young and not a threat to anyone.
My plan was to try and keep them as stallions until they had finished growing. Montaro was such a stellar, solid character I hoped I could keep him a stallion forever.
The other side to this story is that prior to rescuing these 3, I had been thinking about breeding my Andalusian mare, Zorra, but I wanted her to have a natural, unrestrained, breeding experience. I had found a gorgeous Canadian stud whose owner was open to facilitating this.
And then Montaro arrived. And Zorra come into heat. And Montaro started plowing down fences to get to her. So fate took over.
I let them be together for a couple of days, hoping that would alleviate the fence destruction – one night I had my whole family out working until 10 pm to put an additional line of electric fence on top of the wood fence – and I captured some of their beautiful courtship on camera.
I was struck by how much variety of movement and nuance there was in their courtship. From stillness, to a dead gallop. From tenderness to roughness to playfulness. But always consensual. I found their dance stunningly beautiful:
Can you just feel the weariness in Zorra in some of these pictures? The poor girl was wrecked! But notice also, the shots where Montaro wanted to take a break and eat for a while, she would go over and nip at him to get him going again. At the time these photos were taken, they had already been together for most of the day. In some of the photos, you see Montaro has mounted Zorra, yet his penis is not descended, nor erect. Whether this is because he is exhausted, or losing interest, or both, I don’t know.
At one point, I separated them to give Zorra a chance to rest and recover – her rear fetlock joints were swollen from where Montaro’s front legs/hooves would knock the outside of her ankles as he slid off each time. She was not happy to be separated from him though and 24 hours later (after Arnica cream and cold hosing), I put them back in together as I felt her emotional distress was greater than her physical injury. Talk about suffering for love!
Here’s something else I didn’t understand about stallions before: A stallion will not be kept occupied and content with just one mare. It is his biological imperative to breed EVERY mare in the vicinity. So Montaro lost interest in breeding Zorra after a few days, and turned his attention to his half-sister and the band of 7 mares in the neighboring field!
By that time I was on fence repair #5 and even the electric reinforcement was not sufficient to deter him from attempting to bust through. Sadly, I had no other option, and called the vet to have Montaro and Jax gelded.
Interestingly, no matter how much they wanted to be together, Montaro was just a little short for Zorra, she also would move away whenever his ‘thang’ started poking at her (we teach our horses move off pressure after all). However, I was speaking with an older German woman who had seen many horses breed naturally in her youth and she said neither of these things are obstacles if the mare really wants to breed. Her feeling was that Zorra was not ready.
So fate decided there would be no foal – and in light of the surplus of horses going to slaughter, I can’t say I’m sorry about that. Not that any of mine ever would, as I have covenanted with my horses for life, and made provision for them in my Will. However, I think it was not just special, but, right that Zorra got to experience passion, her sexuality and natural expression in this way.
I had also researched equine vasectomy (Section-Ligation-Release or SLR) as I wondered whether I could leave Montaro a stallion in all but reproductive capability, so my herd could enjoy a more natural existence with the semblance of breeding/mating. However, without the loss of his testosterone (from his scrotum), he was not going to stop destroying fences!
Perhaps if I was on my own land – instead of boarding on someone else’s property – I could have talked to Montaro about whether he would prefer to live in a smaller enclosure (with 8-10 foot high wood fence with 14 gauge steel electric reinforcement) for a few years to see if he could settle down over time and be able to respect fences. But that option was not available to me.
A friend of mine has a stallion who lives side-by-side with her mares, with only a 3 strand regular electric fence in between and he is fine. But he is also older, so a lot more mature. When the mares come into heat, she simply moves them one field over. Her stallion can still hear, see, smell them, but he does not even attempt to go through the fence to get to them. She has also taken him to clinics and shows and he is very well behaved at all times.
When I first received Montaro, I researched the Internet looking for ANY information about natural ways of keeping a stallion. But the only information I could find was about breeding stallions penned up in the inhumane stall and tiny paddock setup. If anyone has any stories to share of ways they’ve seen (or heard about) that worked – to either keep a stallion with a herd, or on the same property, but with a good quality of life, PLEASE share them in the Comments section below…
The only story I heard was from the owner of the herd of 7 mares on the neighboring property. He laughed when I told him I had a stallion coming and wished me good luck. He said, “Yeah I tried that once and nothing could hold him – not even an 8 foot fence topped with electric wire. So I had to have him gelded.” Snap. 🙁
Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Lazer Tapping instructor. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.
14 thoughts on “VIDEO: Beautiful, Natural, Unrestrained Stallion & Mare Courtship”
Thank your for your interesting observations and the article.
I keep my three stallion together in a pasture for three years now. Yoakom ist 16, the two boys will be five this summer. Directly in the pasture beside them is a group of two mares and one gelding.
It was clear from the beginning, that the mares “belong” to Yoakom and the younger ones respect this fact. They never passed the fence, even if one of the mares is in heat.
When they came to this new place, with group of mares on the other side, Yoakom tried to chase the boys from the pasture. Once all of them understood, that they are supposed to stay there, they found an arrangement. Yoakom still watches his girls closely, but he also spends time with his buddies.
What kind of fences have you had, separating Yoakom from the mares on either side?
On the picture you can see the fences as well as my three <3 🙂
Years ago I kept a young Morgan stallion in a small herd of mares and he did fine. Before he’d bred one, a wise old mare taught him some manners when he lunged at her. They were going up hill and she kicked out with both feet and rolled him over backwards down the hill! Nothing was damaged except his pride and he was always respectful when courting a mare in heat after that.
Hi Jini, I raised my current arabian stallion from birth (I had his sire previously) and still have him as a 12yo living in a herd of geldings alongside 2 other herds with mares and a gelding in each. There is always a laneway separating them but the fences are mostly 3 strand electric and that works well until the solar electric doesn’t work! He’s only escaped 3 times in all these years and that’s been recently on my new property where the fences are not permanent yet.
Each time I was able to catch him with minimal damage done although that’s not fun at 3am!
I believe his good nature is from being kept in a herd until he was 2 years old, then he was allowed to run with 3 older mares, of which one became his permanent ‘wife’ and they had 3 foals together. Until the last foal was born they lived together but the mare got to the age where it was not fair on her to breed and I couldn’t keep any more foals so I moved him in with the geldings.
Now I’m considering gelding him simply because as he gets older I think it will be harder on him, and I also don’t want to risk any more escapes and the stress it causes us.
I wrote about keeping stallions and breeding naturally on my website here:
Hope you enjoy reading about my experiences too 🙂
That’s very interesting Cynthia – because that’s very similar to the plan I had in mind (but only 1 foal and then a vasectomy) – and for your stallion it worked beautifully! I guess some stallions are just more aggressive than others. Now that I’m thinking about it… I wonder if he became more aggressive/conquering because his brother (also a stallion) arrived. I didn’t give that any credence at the time, because he’d lived with his brother before (and there were mares around then too) and his brother was completely unaware of his breeding capability – he was still very much a ‘baby’. But who knows, maybe Montaro hit a trigger-age. Or maybe the herd of mares in the adjacent field – who called to him all day long – wound him up. Well, hindsight always opens up more options and more ideas doesn’t it?
Anyway, I really enjoyed the article on your site, MY COLT’S FIRST MARE, thanks for sharing that!
And while your Zorra had days to try it, two of my friend’s mares got pregnant from accidental escapes! (they were mother and daughter, and the daughter’s first experience).
If your stallion goes through vasectomy in order to be with empty mares, they will get in heat every few weeks (at least here in tropical zone). That is not natural, natural is to get pregnant and then sexual hormones go down for about a year.
I have a mare, I wish to have a stallion and then a foal from them, and then… I wonder if it wouldn’t be best to sterilize the mare. So they can live together and repeated cycling won’t stress them. (I don’t know how hard is this surgery on them – I think of laparoscopy intervention, but don’t know if it’s possible, or if any vet has experience to be trusted).
Back to your Montaro, has he ever been with mares out of heat, so he could see them as simply horses? Maybe this could ease down a stallion’s anxiety about mares.
Hmmm… that’s a very good point and one I had not even considered. For the people who have stallions living near their mares – how often do your mares come into heat? And does it change with the seasons?
Oh and yes, Montaro had been with numerous mares (he grew up in a herd) and then had mares in neighboring pastures (separated by only a 3-strand electric fence) and he was fine. The mares were fine.
Most mares come in heat about every three weeks in spring/summer/autumn no matter what. If they are around males, including geldings, they will probably just display more obvious behaviours. I think repeated oestrus is stressful for most species, and possibly more stressful for mares who are around males, as they spend a lot of time doing all that acting out, but not getting bred. As far as I know, the only really good answer for horses is to shoot all the people and let them have the planet to themselves.
Marthe Kiley-Worthington writes quite a bit about her experiments with keeping vasectomized stallions with mares in her book “The Behaviour of Horses” https://www.amazon.co.uk/Behaviour-Horses-Relation-Management-Training/dp/0851316883 I think it solves on problem but creates another.
This article also offers some interesting insights about how horses might view the whole breeding question. It really made me think: https://fellponiescolorado.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/mare-fertility-and-male-companionship/
Oooo I am SO looking forward to reading that book Kris – I just ordered it. So THANK YOU!!! I didn’t even know such info existed. And that article also contained information I’d never heard of, or thought about before. I’m wondering what will happen with the herd dynamic as Juno grows older – and if left a stallion will he automatically supercede his dad, or will Montaro stay boss? And of course, if things do not go well, then – as my brother said – I may end up having both procedures done. Gah. For both Juno and me. Well, as I said, REALLY looking forward to reading that book. And shoot me anything else you come across too. xo
A few more thoughts on stallions in herds: https://www.facebook.com/groups/808480805889892/permalink/1096456510425652/?comment_id=1096826160388687&ref=notif¬if_t=group_comment_follow
This thread showed up on my timeline, maybe if you search the group you can find more about this subject
Thanks for your article and for all the great comments too! Very thought provoking. In my quest to keep horses as naturally as possible, obviously gelding has been something that I have questioned a lot. The realities of keeping a stallion with mares, the reality of the mares being ‘unnaturally’ in season continuously and trying to find a way to make this work so that everyone’s best interest is considered, is very complex. I agree, there are way too many horses being bred. And when they are mated, it is usually such a clinical affair … to see this courtship and prolonged dance is beautiful and hopefully will inspire anyone using against traditional stud farms.
Hi Jini! I was thinking about the desire to mother as it’s on my own mind.I wonder about Zora and if she wants to become a mamma. With such a close heard and keeping everything humane and by choice, would your only option in allowing Zora to breed be to keep the foal? I just wonder about horses and their babies – after letting them get old enough would it be traumatizing to sell the foal (that is grown a good deal, and not really a baby anymore) – say for financially reasons, not enough resources to grown the heard,etc? Since you communicate with your horses I am curious if you have any insight if mares come to a point where they are ready to let them go, or if it would always feel as a loss. I do not know about how they are in the wild, if they ever see their babies after leaving the heard..atleast as far as I understand the males at least would leave the heard right?
I actually didn’t grow up around horses, just always loved them and felt a connection. I love watching your channel – it all resonates deeply in what I connect to in horses and learning a little something along the way. Thank you for sharing all that you do!!
Hi Katie – from Lucy Rees work with a wild herd in Spain, the fillies are driven out of the herd by the stallion at around 2 years of age. This is to prevent fathers breeding with daughters. In the Cloud documentary a mother left with her filly as she preferred another stallion to the one she was currently with. So they both went to the new stallion (who was actually her mate from years previous). And yes, the males are driven from the herd when they become aware of their desire to breed (or just before) and they will often stay close to the perimeter of the herd until they join a bachelor band of stallions.
However, just like us, there is a difference between survival-based behaviours and domestic behaviours. When hormones and the drive for survival in a harsh world no longer rule your days… what do you choose to do? My 2 wild mares are still nursing their fillies at 2 years old. Aude (semi-feral) nursed Juno until he weaned himself at age 4 – she still offered, but he chose to stop nursing.
And when Juno went with his Dad and brother on an adventure North to Kesia’s place, Aude chose to stay with me, but she was very sad and grieved intensely for 2 days. She still has her sad days – and always stands on the same spot. We are often sad together.
Zorra had the chance to breed with Montaro before I gelded him, but although she was relentless at him, she never allowed him full penetration, so she did not conceive. I have a slideshow video of them here: