Have the same handler - an experienced stallion person - work with the stallion consistently.
With either kind, it's important to remember the basic health aspect of the horse. You want the stallion to go into the season in the best shape possible.
Look at the physical condition of the stallion. Is he overweight, or underweight? Is he getting out and getting exercise? It's good for a stallion to get out as much as possible not only for exercise, but for his overall well-being. Make sure his teeth are okay. He should be on a regular vaccination schedule. All of his vaccinations should be given 30 to 60 days before the breeding season starts. I prefer 60 days. That way, if he has a reaction to the vaccination and gets sick or has a fever, it won't affect his breeding ability. Don't vaccinate stallions in the middle of the breeding season because a high fever can affect sperm, which take about 60 days to mature in the stallion.
Also make sure the stallion has been on a good deworming programme. If you have an older stallion, keep an eye on him during the season. He might need some medication for his normal aches and pains.
For any stallion, I recommend a breeding soundness exam prior to the breeding season. This includes collecting the stallion and evaluating the semen. This gives you a baseline to evaluate the stallion, or can help you find problems early and allow you to manage the stallion differently. Then, if there is any problem during the breeding season, you have a baseline to go back to and compare to see where the problem lies.
That's a problem with natural covers like in Thoroughbreds - you just see mares not getting pregnant. With artificial insemination, you collect the stallions routinely and you can see changes in the semen. It's especially important to do a pre-season breeding soundness exam with stallions used for AI because you can see what to expect before the breeding season begins.
With a new stallion, whether a young horse or one new to your operation, you need to learn as much about him as possible. If he was on the track or in training for performance, try to find out if he was on any medications. There are no drugs that enhance fertility, but many can hurt fertility.
Learn his personality. Is he aggressive? Is he timid? What are his vices? Then you work with him accordingly. Deal with the horse on an individual basis, and get him to the farm in plenty of time to work with him before the season begins.
Have the same handler - an experienced stallion person - work with the stallion consistently. Don't reprimand him for acting like a stallion. Let him look around the breeding shed. Turn him loose in there, if possible, and let him mark his territory and get comfortable without people or other horses.
When you introduce a new stallion to a mare, make sure she's an older, experienced mare in good heat who's healthy. Don't wash her or him the first time or two, that just takes away her smell and distracts him. We tend to make things artificial too soon. Let him get interested in mares, and if he wants to jump the mare, let him.
Once he starts getting into the routine, then you can start washing him. Use only warm (slightly warmer than body temperature) water before and after breeding. If you use cotton, which isn't always necessary, make sure all the cotton is rinsed off. Don't use soap or disinfectants. They destroy normal bacteria and often let others flourish, like pseudomonas. Also, some things could be spermicidal if not rinsed off well.
With a new stallion that will be collected for AI, you might want to train him to a phantom. If so, do it before the breeding season starts.
With an older stallion it is just a matter of re-introducing him to his routine. If he is experienced and just new to your farm, try to find out from his previous handlers his idiosyncrasies and routines and try to adjust your management to help him settle into his new surroundings. Some older stallions have quirks, and it's good to know them before the season starts. Some stallions hate to breed maiden mares. Some stallions don't like certain color mares or certain size mares. Some don't like the breeding apron put on a mare.
Learn as much as you can about your stallion before the season starts, and the season will go much smoother.
John Steiner, DVM, a partner in the Hagyard-Davidson-McGee veterinary firm near Lexington, Ky., specializes in reproduction of stallions and mares.