Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lessons from the Wild (Social Classes and testosterone levels)

I've read or sent this article out many times over the years... It's always worth a re-read and great for those new to stallion care and herd dynamics!

Social classes and testosterone levels...
At the International Symposium on Equine Reproduction in Lexington, Kentucky a paper was presented on the social interactions of the free roaming horses. I would like to share with you my notes from that meeting. I think you will find the information interesting. The information was presented to us so we could help breeding farms with sexual problems that might arise. If we look at how the horse has spent the last several thousand years interacting with other horses, we might be able to detect problems that have arisen since man took over a few hundred years ago . Some of this information is a little explicit, which I suppose is the way veterinarians and their sexually active horses are.

The studies for this report were conducted by graduate students using binoculars over a very long period of time. They studied horses in the wild as well as a free roaming group put together by the University of Florida. The advantages of the University’s group is that they could be brought in for blood, semen, and physical examinations.

The free roaming horse herd basically has two groups. The harem with the one harem stallion, and the bachelor herd. The first consists of a band of mares and its one stallion. The bachelor herd is where all the boys who do not have harems hang out.

The harem stallion and his group are in constant interaction. He is constantly checking the mares’ urine and stool, disciplining the young, protecting the perimeter of the herd, and breeding any mare who will let him. This stallion will move around twice as much as one of the boys in the bachelor herd.

The mare appears to be the one who decides the time for breeding, and uses body language to tell the stallion. If he is too busy with other domestic duties and has not noticed her, she will search him out. One of her favorite moves is to cross in front of him and bump his chest with her chest or hips.

To be sure he is not just imagining things, the stallion will mount without an erection. He will usually do this twice for each time he mounts with an erection. It is a precautionary move we can understand.

Once the stallion is sure the mare is receptive, he will breed her many times. As we have long known, if the stallion can achieve an erection, he will have adequate sperm numbers to settle a mare with a healthy uterus. After ejaculation, the stallion usually does not dismount immediately but waits for the mare to move away, usually after thirty to sixty seconds.

There are several points in the above that are applicable to our breeding situations. Due to a lack of space I will discuss them next week.

There are several interesting comparisons between the harem stallion and the bachelor stallion. When a stallion becomes a harem stallion, a position all the bachelors would like, his blood testosterone level will double within one week . Within sixty days his testicles and accessory sex glands will increase in size and the sperm count will increase.

If bad luck comes his way and he ends up back in a bachelor herd, the testosterone level will drop rapidly: within 24 hours to a level approaching a gelding.

If a bachelor stallion has the bad luck to be pastured in a field with a stallion and harem, his testosterone will be at its lowest possible level. In that situation, the harem stallion will have the highest testosterone possible.

Last week we discussed the sexual habits of the wild horse. These were observed and chronicled both in the wild and in free roaming herds within controlled areas. There are several ways we can use this information with our breeding stallions and in our own herds.

The foreplay and breeding process in the wild are a little different from the stallion that is hand bred. The mare does a great deal of the teasing and uses body movements to demonstrate this to the stallion. In turn, the experienced stallion will mount the mare a time or two without an erection, just to be sure she is not “teasing” him. The repercussions can be quite humbling if the mare is not ready to be mounted. After mounting and ejaculation, the stallion will remain on the mare until she walks away.

How does this apply to our situations? If the stallion is a young inexperienced stallion or an older stallion who has been injured or is especially cautious, he may be reluctant to attempt breeding the mare. Taking time to let them become acquainted should be rewarding. A gentle mare in strong heat should be walked back and forth in front of the stallion, eventually passing so close that she brushes against his chest with her rump. As his confidence grows he may wish to mount the mare, but without an erection. If you still have control by now, let him mount and stay on until he is ready to dismount. He may do this a time or two before achieving an erection. Once he does enter the mare and ejaculates, let him stay mounted until he slides off or the mares moves away.

The stallion has a very sensitive ego, which probably comes as no surprise to any female. If he is jerked away from the mare because he is attempting to mount without an erection, or if he is jerked away from the mare immediately after ejaculating, or is being bred on a slick surface, the stallion will have trouble concentrating because he is anticipating negative feedback. It may not bother him for the first few times or even for a year or two, but the effects apparently accumulate. He will become progressively harder to handle due to these psychological effects.

When organizing accommodations for a stallion, keep in mind that he is a social animal and in the wild is in constant contact with mares. The stallion stalled alone will have only one half the testosterone level of the stallion stalled or boarded where he can see mares. If you have more than one stallion, stalling them so they can see each other and see mares will provide the ultimate stimulation. Boarding side by side is probably not a good idea psychologically as the competitive spirit may become overwhelming and the stallion will stay hyperactive patrolling their common border. Of course the best way to train the young stallion is to let him watch an experienced stallion breed mares.

Here in the Ozarks we do not share the concern over sexual vices with our neighbors in other areas. In Kentucky where tradition runs deep, there is a serious concern over masturbation in the breeding stallion. The fear is that masturbation will deplete the sperm and he will not have enough left to breed. In a thirty year period at the turn of this century, there were 46 devices patented with the purpose of stopping this habit. You can use your imagination to picture these horrible things. Recent studies have shown the stallion will masturbate, without ejaculation, every ninety minutes, 24 hours a day, without going blind or deaf. If attempts are made to prevent it, the stallion’s behavior will often start deteriorating.

There are few topics as interesting and challenging as the sexual habits of the horse. I hope the above will be a benefit, as you prepare for what should be a very fertile and trouble free breeding season!

Read more here -
http://www.horsesense.ws/horsedoc/lessons_part_2.htm (here for part 2 of this article)

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