Stallions have an extra spark and cheeky intellect that Olympian Lisa Wilcox believes is important in the dressage arena. She describes working with stallions as a bit of a chess match that requires the rider to bring their thinking cap every day.
"I love the challenge that all their testosterone has to offer," she said. "when you've build a strong relationship with a stallion, you can count on all of this working for you and it's an amazing experience."
Becoming known as the "woman who rides stallions" evolved from training in Europe for 12 years. Those experiences included training with Herbert Rehbein and then riding at several stud farms in Denmark and Germany where she was a trainer at Gestüt Vorwerk, an Oldenburg stud farm. At Gestüt Vorwerk, she rode nine stallions a day under the tutelage of Ernst Hoyos, a trainer at the Spanish Riding School.
She's becoming an expert at working with stallions, encouraging them to reach their fullest potential, while respecting their natural power. It's an expertise she uses daily in her own training program with client horses and her own Gallant Reflection HU. She believes the 9-year-old stallion may be the most talented she's ever ridden and is working towards the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
She shares five secrets to her success training stallions.
1. Consistency. Stallions need a systematic program on the ground and in the saddle.
2. Patience. Testosterone gives stallions more power and energy than mares or geldings. She encourages riders to be steady in their requests and avoid getting irritated when the attitude surfaces.
“It’s hormonal,” she said. “Staying patient and focused on the work at hand is what brings their attention back to you.”
3. Practice good management. Always consider the stallion’s surroundings. That’s as important at home as at a show or during shipping. Be a good steward of their hormones and don’t make situations tempting by teasing them with mares.
“What’s out of sight is generally out of mind,” she said, “Don’t make that part of a stallion’s life more challenging than it already is.”
4. Hire qualified staff. Stallions have a natural ability to size up their handler and their experience, or lack thereof.
“Make sure the groom that you have made responsible for that stallion is knowledgeable and experienced in handling stallions,” she said. “A stallion can sense a groom’s inabilities in two seconds and that can become an unnecessary hazard.”
5. Take your time. Stallions can be deceiving. Their muscle development makes them appear more developed than the really are. This is particularly true for young stallions.
“These muscles are empty, it’s our job to develop these muscles into effective carrying muscles,” she said. “Avoid pushing the young stallion too fast or else his joints, ligaments and tendons will be at risk of injury.”