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ITM IRISH STALLION TRAIL: Meet the stallion handlers
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ITM IRISH STALLION TRAIL: Meet the stallion handlers
on 04 January 2019
We spoke to six stallion handlers about their very unusual jobs

EOIN BANVILLE,

ARCTIC TACK STUD

Q: When and how did you become a stallion handler?

I started in Coolmore Stud and moved home in 1999. Heron Island was the first stallion to stand here.

Q: What stallions will you be managing this year?

Arcadio, Jet Away and Ol’ Man River.

Q: Describe your typical daily routine with the stallions pre-season?

The stallions do nothing until January 1st except go out in the paddocks for a couple of hours each day. They have just started in light exercise now, lunging, the bare minimum. We’ll up the exercise gradually but most stallions don’t need to be that fit.

You want to put as much nutrition into them as you can. Red Mills have spent a lot of time and money researching this area and we use their nuts.

Other than for vaccinations, the stallions hardly see the vets at all.

Q: What skills do you need to be a good stallion handler?

Stay calm. You can’t bully a stallion. Don’t hassle them or try to dominate them. They can all have their quirks and some horsemanship is required but my three couldn’t be better behaved. Anyone could handle them.

Q: What do you do when the covering season is over?

It’s very different here than at some of the bigger studs. We are preparing foals, yearlings and store horses all year round.

CLIVE COX,

RATHBARRY STUD

Q: When and how did you become a stallion handler?

I’m from Kildare and qualified in dairy herd management. My parents were friends of Clifford Barry, the manager at Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Stud in Versailles, Kentucky. It was a chance to travel and that’s where I first started working with stallions. I came to Rathbarry Stud in 2006.

Q: What stallions will you be managing this year?

I manage all six of our stallions - Acclamation, Ajaya, James Garfield, Kodi Bear, Tagula and Moohaajim.

Q: Describe your typical daily routine with the stallions pre-season?

At the moment they are all lunged for 15-20 minutes in the morning, groomed, and put on the walker in the evening for 25-30 minutes. I also hand-graze them throughout the day. When the season starts they will be out of their boxes three or four times per day, so that will keep them fit. James Garfield has settled in well. He has a lovely disposition, there is no badness in him.

James Garfield is the latest arrival at Rathbarry Stud. Photo Healy Racing

Q: Have you ever travelled with the stallions or done this job in a different country?

When I worked in Kildangan I travelled with shuttlers to Australia and New Zealand. Everything was much the same, just different surroundings. Horses who return from shuttling settle back in quickly.

Q: What skills do you need to be a good stallion handler?

You must be patient and have a cool temperament. Be calm, don’t show aggression. Don’t fight with a stallion. If you are bad to them, they will be bad to you. You don’t have to be physically strong – I have seen ladies handling stallions in America.

Q: What do you do when the covering season is over?

In the off-season, the stallions go out in the morning. I muck them out, clean the yard, power-wash it, paint it, whatever needs to be done. Rathbarry is a family-run business and it’s always busy with silage, hay, mares and foals.

I bring the stallions back in at 4.30pm. Acclamation and Tagula – the two eldest – might stay out until 9pm.

Were you ever attacked by a stallion?

I’ve had a horse who got me on my chest once. Stallions can be unpredictable. You have to plamás them sometimes!

RAY MOORE

GILTOWN STUD

Q: When and how did you become a stallion handler?

In 1994 I left Coolmore Stud to work with stallions on a small stud farm in Victoria, Australia.

I was only 19 at the time. I did three seasons out there with one northern hemisphere season in Shadai [Japan] in the middle.

Q: What stallions will you be managing this year?

Sea The Stars and Harzand, father and son.

Q: Describe your typical daily routine with the stallions pre-season?

Just after Christmas we start working them with rollers, in side reins and lunging. Long, gentle stuff. We like to have our horses fairly fit, so we never let them get too gross. With a horse as popular as Sea The Stars, you could get a blast of mares from early in the season, so he needs to be ready for that.

Once the season starts all they need each day is a walk and pick of grass. From April, if the weather is good, we try to get them out in the paddocks.

Q: Have you ever travelled with the stallions or done this job in a different country?

It was much the same in Japan and Australia. At Shadai there were 24 stallions and two covering sheds.

There were 68 mares covered in one day. In those days most of the horses were from Europe or America, so there wasn’t much change in their routines.

Q: What skills do you need to be a good stallion handler?

Patience is the number one thing. You want them to respond to you in a positive way. A key time is when you are starting off a young horse.

After a month covering mares, they can think they are Don Juan. They can get exuberant, so you need to be firm but fair. Let them think they are the boss.

Q: What do you do when the covering season is over?

Our horses don’t shuttle, so they still have to be looked after though there isn’t nearly as much to be done. Once summer comes they are out all day and come in in the evening.

Sea The Stars gets a lot of visitors all year around. There heaps of mares and foals in Gilltown, and we have racehorses here on rest, so I help out doing this and that.

Q: What’s the funniest thing you have seen while working with stallions?

A: Many years ago in rural Australia, a breeder arrived with two horseboxes.

One had the mare and one was filled with red wine to pay for the nomination. I got a few bottles myself!

HUGH SUFFERN

TULLYRAINE HOUSE STUD

Q: When and how did you become a stallion handler?

Originally we were breeders. We bred Dorans Pride, Harcon and Callisoe Bay. Then I took a half-share in Zaffaran with Alfie Buller at Scarvagh House Stud. He was a very decent National Hunt stallion. A number of years later I bought my own farm and stood Insan, a horse who came from Denis Hickey. He did very well for us. Then I want back into partnership with Alfie with Winged Love, who came from Germany. He was very successful for us.

Q: What stallions will you be managing this year?

After Winged Love died, we got the chance to bring Conduit over from Japan, where he has a good strike-rate. He has already had a blacktype chase winner in Japan. His first crop here have just turned two. Conduit covered over 100 mares in each of his first two seasons here and I’d hope he would get a similar number this year.

Q: Describe your typical daily routine with the stallions pre-season?

Conduit thrives outdoors and we like to get plenty of weight on him as he can run up a bit light when he is busy in the covering shed. At some times of the year he lives in the field, 24 hours, and he loves it. Even in winter, because of the mild weather and dry ground, he is out a lot of the time.

Q: What skills do you need to be a good stallion handler?

Because of the busy veterinary practice here, I only handle the horse part of the time. Marnie Murphy is my stud manager and she is very good with stallions. Having a female handler is unusual but Zaffaran was not a very pleasant guy to handle and the girl who looked after him was only 5ft 2in!

I would say the most important trait you need is awareness – be aware of your stallion’s mood, his character, and also that of the mare. What signal is she sending out? Any horse at the end of a rope is potentially dangerous.

OWEN SMYTH

KILDANGAN STUD

Q: When and how did you become a stallion handler?

It just evolved over time. In the 1980s, when Michael Osborne was the manager here, I was riding out yearlings and I was asked to help with the stallion Sure Blade.

Q: What stallions will you be managing this year?

We have 15 this year– Shamardal, Exceed And Excel, Teofilo, Ribchester, Dawn Approach, Fast Company, Profitable, Belardo, Raven’s Pass, Jungle Cat, Slade Power, The Last Lion, Buratino, French Navy and Fulbright. We like to keep things flexible, so that everyone is familiar with all the stallions.

Q: Describe your typical daily routine with the stallions pre-season?

They are on the walker and getting about two hours in the paddock every day. The ones who have just returned from shuttling get more time to get their heads right.

Q: Have you ever travelled with the stallions or done this job in a different country?

I’ve done Japan several times and have shuttled to Brazil with the stallions. Usually our horses are going to Darley farms, so there is no major change. When the stallions go to independent studs, we keep in close contact.

Q: What skills do you need to be a good stallion handler?

You have to be confident in your own ability. Mating mares is a natural process. We are just there to facilitate it, so keep it simple. It’s not a glamorous occupation. A lot of hours can be wasted in the covering shed, so you have to be patient – and have an understanding wife!

Q: What do you do when the covering season is over?

Plenty of our stallions stayed home this year, so they have to looked after. Then there’s housekeeping, painting fences and so on.

Do any of the stallions have a peculiar trait?

Some stallions like to stretch their backs or have a scratch in the covering shed. The young stallions can be very vocal but the older ones have it all worked out – they whisper!

PAUL CROKE

IRISH NATIONAL STUD

Q: When and how did you become a stallion handler?

I did the stud management course here and came back to work in 2010. I worked in foaling and as yard foreman before ‘shuttling’ to Australia with Amadeus Wolf. I did three of those southern hemisphere seasons and have been full-time stallion manager or foreman since 2012.

Q: What stallions will you be managing this year?

All eight of them – Decorated Knight, Dragon Pulse, Elusive Pimpernel, Free Eagle, Gale Force Ten, Invincible Spirit, Palavicini and National Defense.

Q: Describe your typical daily routine with the stallions pre-season?

At the moment the stallions are being turned out every day and they are exercised on the walker. Some would get a lunge, all to keep their minds right. This should be enough to keep them in good condition.

Q: Do shuttling stallions have to be managed differently?

Not really. Free Eagle has just returned and he has summered well and has not acquired any quirks. We check his bloods and once we know he is healthy he is straight back into it.

Q: What skills do you need to be a good stallion handler?

You have to be confident. Stallions are clever. They recognise when they have a different handler, they can feel it in the lead. You have to be strong, firm, in charge. But if you are too strong with them they will do nothing. It can be like managing children. You try different methods to get them to do what you want.

Q: What do you do when the covering season is over?

I’m here 90% of the time anyway. In the summer you would still have a few ‘shows’ of stallions and there would be photographs required for the brochures. I tend not to be involved in other areas of the stud unless I’m needed.

Q: Have you ever been attacked by a stallion?

I got savaged in Australia about eight years ago.

I knew the horse was a bit tricky but I wasn’t expecting him to go for my leg. It was a bad injury though it cleared up quickly.

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