One of the few areas in the equine realm that I've not yet dabbled in is breeding. That said, I happen to reside in one of the Thoroughbred breeding meccas of the world, Lexington, Ky., and have learned quite a lot about the area stallions, mares, and offspring.
I was fortunate enough to visit several prominent Thoroughbred farms this past January during stallion open house season, and seeing some of these stunning stallions in person was incredible. But one thing I hadn't considered prior to visiting was the wide age range that spanned the youngest and oldest horses I'd meet.
Quiet American is still on stud duty at age 26.
Yes, I'm talking about the senior stallion, some of which are all but immortal here in the Bluegrass. Although three of the stallions were recently pensioned, it was thrilling to stand next to 23-year-old A.P. Indy (retired from stud in 2011) and 22-year-old Kingmambo (retired in 2010) at Lane's End Farm, and 21-year-old Holy Bull (retired in 2012) at Darley America.
I also learned that there are several senior studs still on duty here in Kentucky. This is, by no means, a complete list, but just a few notable ones I came across during some research:
- 26-year-old Quiet American, who resides at Darley, stood for $15,000 in 2012.
- Belong To Me, a 23-year-old Lane's End Farm stallion, stood for $5,000 in 2012.
- 20-year-old Smart Strike stood for $85,000 at Lane's End in 2012.
- Distorted Humor, a 19-year-old WinStar Farm stallion, stood for $100,000 in 2012.
- 19-year-old Unbridled's Song stood at Taylor Made Stallions for $85,000 in 2012.
- Taylor Made also stood 19-year-old Northern Afleet for $15,000 in 2012.
- 18-year-old Pulpit stood at Claiborne Farm for $50,000 in 2012.
I wondered what, if any, management changes happen as stallions age, so with the help of one of my stablemates, Michaela Mathis, I went straight to the source and asked Darley America Stallion Manager Jim Zajic about caring for senior studs. And in the grand scheme of things, senior stallion care isn't much different than that of their younger counterparts.
The main difference between caring for older and younger stallions at Darley, Zajic said, is that the former group consumes senior feed. Some of the horses receive a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement or firocoxib (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication marketed as Equioxx), he said. Senior stallions receive the same free-choice alfalfa/orchardgrass hay as the younger stallions, and they also spend about five hours per day outside in individual paddocks like their younger brethren.
The breeding end of the spectrum is also similar for older and younger stallions, Zajic said. "We take the same considerations into breeding the older stallions as the younger stallions--mainly just monitoring them to see what works or doesn't work for them, just like you'd do with any stallion," he said. "Every stallion is different, regardless of age, so we try to cater to each one's individual needs."
Zajic said that senior stallions books, like Quiet American's, are typically smaller than younger stallions--remember, The Jockey Club requires live cover in order for an offspring to be registered, so stallions must breed every mare, rather than have semen collected and distributed to several mares--and they stay at Darley year round, rather than shuttling to the Southern Hemisphere for an additional breeding seasons.
Eventually, there comes a time when a stallion isn't up to breeding mares anymore. Zajic said the main factors that play into that decision are fertility and arthritic conditions. "We monitor fertility percentages on a weekly basis, and, of course, arthritis or any other ailments are monitored on a daily basis," he said.
Once their breeding days are over, like Holy Bull's, Darley's stallions lead a life of luxury: "They maintain exactly the same routine, but without the breeding," Zajic said. "They remain in their same stall and barn with the same amount of turnout and care. They would follow the same schedule as, say, Bernardini, but again, without the breeding."
Zajic said he enjoys working with stallions of all ages, and I can't say I blame him. He's got a few barns of stellar studs to oversee!
I was thrilled to hear that even though these senior stallions are valuable and legends in their own time, they're still allowed to be horses after a life of hard work.
And before I close, I want to say a huge thank you to Jim Zajic, Michaela Mathis, Michael Banahan, and everyone at Darley America for their help with this blog entry!
Have you ever managed a senior stallion? What changes did you make as he aged? Share your experiences below!