On Tank, the school horse that I ride most of the time

On Tank, the school horse that I ride most of the time.

Sue van der Linden is an adult ammie who is embarking on a journey to get her own horse (for the first time ever!) and is sharing her adventure with HJU. Thanks, Sue!

Great!  I’ve decided to buy a horse!  Now, for the other 9 million things to decide…

And I thought deciding to BUY a horse was the big decision!  This is worse than buying a car or building a house.  There are so many decisions to be made.  Several of them are only becoming apparent now that I’ve made the choice to buy.  And honestly, now I’m a little scared because I’m really getting into new territory.  I mean I knew about these things, but now they take on a whole new weight and importance because, after all, this is MY horse we’re talking about.

Mare or Gelding?

Some of the choices are pretty basic, and downright obvious — like mare or gelding.  But in my case, even on such a simple and basic issue, I’m not finding much relief.  The barn where I ride has no stallions, and isn’t really equipped to handle them.  Plus, that just seems like more horse than I’m up for.  Great!  Easy decision — no stallions.

But that’s only one check mark on the list.  I still have the conundrum of “mare or gelding?”  I’ve always had a better time on geldings, like Tank, Ozzie, Bosley.  Maybe it’s my Type-A personality, or the fact that I work in a highly male dominated business for my “day job.”  Suffice it to say that it’s usually pretty clear to people what my opinion is on things.  So I guess working with men all day makes me more comfortable with the geldings.

They can be high strung and require more discipline and repetition of exercises.  Heck, I could use the repetition of the exercises, because I’m nowhere near as good as Reed Kessler or Beezie Madden (if only).  So that’s no drawback to me.  I am also sympathetic to a horse becoming bored with a pattern repeated over and over and over again.  It bores me too!  I have also ridden enough horses that anticipate and get wired at the second iteration of a pattern because they already did this exercise in the class before.  So I find it fun to figure out how to throw enough other “stuff” (circles, changes of direction, leg yields, etc.) into the exercise to keep the horse listening to me because he doesn’t really know exactly what’s coming next.

But boys come with unique challenges, not the least of which is sheath cleaning.  I haven’t had to do it for the geldings I’ve ridden in the past, so I may be making a bigger deal of it than it really is.  But conceptually, you have to admit it’s a little weird and gross.  (Ask me about the time when I discussed sheath cleaning the gelding I was leasing with the owner and other leasers via e-mail on my corporate e-mail.  Let’s just say the legal department was a little flummoxed about how to deal with that conversation string!)  Some geldings are so uptight about it that they have to be sedated, which seems a little extreme.  Then again, I have to be sedated to get my teeth cleaned at the dentist, so who am I to judge.  I guess compared to trying to clean the sheath with your horse objecting violently, sedation looks more appealing.  And once you own a gelding, that glamorous job is all yours, even if you have leasers.  Ugh.

Then I have these amazing rides on some of our mares, like Bertha, CeiCei, C-Ray, Lady, Cherie.  Bertha is particularly noteworthy.  She can be very, very mare-ish.  Don’t get me wrong, it keeps you honest.  But sometimes she’s just in a mood, and she can act out really badly.  I’ve seen an instructor with the most solid of legs and the firmest of seats, armed with a dressage whip, get tossed off ‘ole Bertha!  I know every horse has their “days.”  But it seems to be more frequent with mares.  And this is supposed to be an enjoyable activity.  I really don’t want to feel like I have to suit up for battle all the time.  It just makes me wonder if a mare would be a good match for me.

That said, one of the best lessons I have ever had was jumping on Bertha.  Ironically, she’s probably the antithesis of what I say I’m looking for now.  She’s a short, gray, bossy, tough, recalcitrant, retired show pony who won practically everything she ever entered, and she knows it.  She knows what her job is, and she knows what the rider’s job is, and she expects you to do your job before she will do hers.  You have to earn her respect first.  And even once you’ve done so, you have to be completely consistent or she won’t move.  Squeeze with the leg, nudge with the seat, but have a little too much pressure with your hands, and Bertha says, “You don’t know what you want me to do, so I’m just gonna’ stand here until you figure out.  Wake me up when you do!”  If you really tick her off, she can throw a buck.  At only 14 hands, it’s not too bad.  But Bertha and I came to an understanding over time, and now I love her.  During that famous jumping lesson, we practically floated over the fences (and they weren’t little dinky ones either).  It’s one of those memories I will hold forever.  So, maybe I’m projecting Bertha’s bad days on all mares all the time.  In any event, I could do without having to deal with the whole mare-ish thing.

And then there’s having your mare go into heat.  Different horses react differently, but it’s another thing to be dealt with.  Who can I turn my horse out with when she is in heat?  Who can’t I turn her out with when she is in heat?  How do I have to change other aspects of her routine in response to a cycle?

I have often heard it said by several of the trainers at my barn that “I’ll take a good mare over a gelding any day.”  <sigh>

So I guess at the end of the day, it’s a choice of sheaths v. mare-ishness and heat.  Choice deferred for now.

Now, what breed?