April 18, 2022

Disco Handling Evolution

Since the clinic a few weeks ago, I've been processing what I learned every time I work with Disco. And some of the advice I've kept, and some of it I've acknowledged before setting it gently off to the side.

Beginning of April

On the one hand, I got a lot of good information out of that clinic and have put quite a bit of it to use. Her no-nonsense way to handle him, her insistence that he pay attention to the handler, and the tools she gave me to confidently escalate the situation when I need to earn some respect from him have all paid off handsomely.

Exactly one time since then, we had a bit of a knock-down-drag-out over walking quietly through the gate at turnout, and without what I learned in the clinic, I probably wouldn't have stuck with it for the 30 minutes it ended up taking to get him doing what I asked in the way I wanted him to do it. But I did, and he hasn't challenged me on anything since.

Middle of April

Some of her other advice, though, after taking a deep breath and having a long conversation with Lisa about her decades of experience raising and handling Welsh Cob stallions, I'm setting aside. And maybe the clinician will get an "I told you so" out of me on that someday, but maybe she won't.

Riding Connor's sire, *Tuscani Dundee, in the Hoosier Horse Fair ten years ago yesterday

The clinician's approach to handling stallions is to handle them impassionately and I'm going to call it coldly. No scritches, never allowing them to walk up to you, treating them like a deadly weapon that might go off at any moment, that kind of thing. Extreme discipline and old broodmare energy at all times. 

Me and baby Echo, 2018

And I'm going to sound like a Paralli wingnut for a second, and you're welcome to roll your eyes at me and tell me I'm going to get hurt someday, but I'll own it: My gut says if I treated Disco the way she wants me to treat him all the time, he would end up confused, emotionally isolated and fearful. She doesn't know this breed the way Lisa and I do.

Me with then two-year-old stallions Castleberrys Reno (Disco's sire) and Castleberrys Echo in 2018

I do not think he needs to be my best friend. I do think that this breed thrives on interactions with their people in a deeply fundamental way that drew me to them in the first place, and the stallions are no different.

You do still need to stay one step ahead of them and demand respect, it's true, but I feel that treating Disco with such impassion at this stage in his development would be harmful. And that maybe there's more than one way to raise a good, safe, respectful, well-mannered stallion.

Connor's stallion full brother, Castleberrys Cadence, last week in Oregon

So I'm going to be smart about it, I'm going to take the parts of what I learned from her that are great, I'm going to file the rest away, and I'm going to continue to lean heavily on my mentor, Lisa, and take it one day at a time, which has been the plan since the beginning.


  1. Trust your gut. I find the "take what you like and leave the rest" approach for most clinics is the way to go. I can't wait to see what you and Disco get up to!

    1. ^^^This, trust your gut. I wish I had many times in the recent past.

  2. I definitely am a bit of a wingnut (although I've moved on from Parelli to some even crazier stuff) but I recently learned the lesson that no one knows my horse better than me. Sometimes the most sound training methods that work on other horses aren't right for your horse and your relationship with your horse. Props for listening to your gut!

  3. I've always been a huge believer that you can learn something from every horse person you meet. Whether it's information you file away for later, information you use, or information you take as something you'd never do. I feel the same way about handling horses as I do about riding them: they don't all fit in the same mold and you have to learn to adapt to each individual animal. Sure, many of them are find with doing things the same way, but I think as a horseman/horsewoman part of that is to learn when to use which skills.

  4. I think the way you do. Every horse is different and that goes for stallions as well. Jamp was handled with plenty of affection when he was a stallion in Europe (I grew to know his people over the years, and they treated him like us amateurs tend to treat our horses). He was very respectful of his humans, but also looked for guidance in a softer way as he wasn't a particularly brave horse. I think if he was only ever treated like a robot, he would not have been as nice to be around. Al too, was treated like a family member, and while he's now a gelding, even just a few weeks into that when I got him, he was polite and respectful. More aggressive stallions need to be treated a little differently, but the ones that are personable I think can be handled with some love too.

  5. I think you are on the right track. I worked on a Morgan breeding and training farm as a teen and the (multiple) stallions were treated just like the other show horses with a couple of extra safety precautions. They had a different halter/biting rig for breeding and they knew the difference between a work session and a breeding session. I've since been around other performance horses that happened to be breeding stallions and they were mannerly gentlemen. I don't think you have to be so strict you can't show them affection or have a connection, you just need to insist on excellent manners and that you are in charge.

  6. If you treat stallions like monsters, they become monsters. There are plenty out there who really can live much like a gelding. Plenty who can't handle their own hormones too haha. I think your plan is spot on, obviously require respect but it's ok to let them have feelings

  7. Totally agree with you. It's very clear that you are making choice about Disco's handling and being a stallion as responsibly as possible, and not all stallions are the same. I know I mentioned it before, but I have a few clients with very well behaved and polite stallions who are treated firmly, but more or less like the rest of the horses on the farm, and it's nice to see what some stallions can be like when they have the right personality, and they are handled well.

  8. My experience is only with Andalusian stallions. I have found them to be engaging and needing a relationship. I agree with being dispassionate- in the sense to not get all emotional about the behaviour but that doesn't, to me, mean you can't have a positive relationship.

    Carmen is a rather strong mare. she has benefitted from my relationship but has also really needed firm boundaries at times.

  9. The big Friesian stallion at work is 17.1hh, 650kg of pure gentleness. Even at collection time, the big guy doesn't put a toe wrong. He leads in a flat halter (no chain), travels with geldings, doesn't bat an eye being ridden with mares. And he is a total cuddle bug -- and has been loved on and snuggled by his adoring owner ever since he came to South Africa as a five-year-old. He knows where the line is, and occasionally we do remind him to toe it, but he is a total pet at the same time and has never caused trouble with this.
    At the same time, I would never, never handle a warmblood or even the sweetest Arabian stallion the way we handle this guy. I totally agree with you that some breeds are just different, especially the more cold-blooded ones like the Friesian or your sweet cobs.

  10. I'll have to find the video of my trainer's stallion sharing a large hay bale with a gelding and the trainer's small son sitting with them, singing songs to both of them. They were so cute, ruffling the kid's hair with their noses in between bites of hay. They're not loaded weapons if they're raised right which includes mental enrichment. Manners have to be perfect because they've got a lot . . . on their mind. But I've met stallions in several breeds that were completely lovely to handle and frankly, they're horses. They need the touching, the grooming, the bonding in order to be calm and happy.

  11. Arab stallions here. Arabs NEED human interaction from THEIR person. The stallions get it the same way any other horse does and they are well mannered, respectful, and gentle with geldings and mares.