What’s it like being a stallion handler at Nunnery Stud?

Chris Constantine tells us, in a new series of staff profiles
Chris Constantine and Tasleet: “All the stallions have their own characters”

In a new series, we will be profiling colleagues in different areas of the Shadwell racing and breeding business who pull together to make the operation such a success.

First up is stallion handler Chris Constantine. He tells us all about the nature of his role, the horses he works with and a little bit about himself.

If you are considering a rewarding career working with horses, check out our employment page to see what opportunities are on offer at Shadwell.

So Chris, when are the stallions in action?

The stallions are in action for the best part of six months, from February 15 to July 15. Although the vast majority of commercial breeders are looking to breed their mares to produce a foal to be born as close to January 1 as possible, and the gestation period of a thoroughbred is around 11 months, the stallions here tend to be at their busiest during the month of April.

What is the stallions’ routine in the build-up to the covering season, and then during it?

Stallions are creatures of habit and routine, so we try to keep their day as structured as possible. From the beginning of January they will be exercised on the horse walker first thing in the morning for up to 45 minutes, before being turned out until around 2pm when they come in to be groomed and fed.

With all horses, it’s imperative that things are kept as natural as possible, so we find the six or seven hours they have out at grass each day is vital.

During the season, the stallions will cover three times a day at 7.30am, 3pm and 8pm, but they’re still turned out to grass between their morning and afternoon covers.

Can you put into words what it feels like, handling a 500kg animal during the covering process?

You get a huge adrenaline rush because, in spite of all the many precautions that are taken, there is still an element of anything can happen – especially with maiden mares. You constantly have to be on your guard, but there’s a fine balance as it’s important to keep the stallion relaxed and to build up their confidence throughout the process.

Do the Shadwell stallions have different personalities?

They’re all very different – they have their own individual quirks, and that’s what makes the job so enjoyable, dealing with these different characters on a daily basis. It allows you to build a bond with each individual and, whether you should or not, we all have our favourites.

And which is your favourite stallion?

It has to be Nayef, who was the first horse I ever put up. He’s an absolute gentleman and a great stallion to learn from. He has always been very professional in the barn.

What does a stallion’s diet consist of?

It all depends on the time of year, but during the covering season when they’re doing high-intensity work they’ll be on a high-carb feed with lots of oats for that additional energy.

Depending on the volume of mares they’re covering, they might also get an extra scoop of feed during the season compared to their usual four scoops per day: one in the morning and three late afternoon. They also get plenty of hay – as much as they will eat – as this assists with maintaining a healthier digestive system.

The Nunnery stallion barn is famous in Europe for its unique design. Can you explain the layout to us?

We have an iconic stallion barn here at Nunnery Stud. His Highness Sheikh Hamdan wanted to replicate the barn at Three Chimneys in Kentucky. It’s a square design, which allows all of the stallions to see each other and it has a particularly high roof with lots of ventilation to aid airflow though the barn.

What’s the best aspect of working with the stallions and how did you come to work at Shadwell?

It has to be the adrenaline rush you get from putting the stallions up in the covering shed and the relationships you build with the stallions and the stallion team.

We’re a close-knit outfit, and it has to be when you’re working in such a dangerous environment. The covering process has to run like a well-oiled machine and everyone has to be on the ball – even the ageing Arsenal fan!

I had no experience of working with horses before I did the E2SE course (https://www.nationalstud.co.uk/education-programme/full-time-courses/) at the National Stud in Newmarket. It was through this that I got a student placement at Shadwell and it’s all snowballed from there.

Thanks Chris, and good luck with the covering season ahead!