When I adopted The Mare, I didn’t have a ton of information about her. Okay, I had next to no information about her. I knew her immediate previous situation, and that was about it. What I did know is that she spent the majority of her life in a field with a large herd of other horses (stallions, geldings, mares and foals), being pretty much left alone, and that they weren’t in the best shape by the time someone stepped in.
Out of all the horses surrendered, The Mare had the highest body condition score, and not a scratch on her anywhere.
What did that tell me? The Mare is The Boss.
Looking at her, you’d never guess it – 14.3 hands of Morgan in-your-pocket personality, camera-ready model, ears forward at anyone who walks past her stall…it belies her authoritative rank. She hasn’t met a person she doesn’t like (bonus points if they have treats), has an exceptional love of babies, dogs and cats, and is a total ham.
When she’s in the ring, she’s all business. Lunging, under saddle, in-hand, line-driving, whatever it is, she knows it isn’t a time to socialize and that I am in charge. She’s had horses run up behind her, come running at her head-on, sneak too close for comfort up her side, buck/rear/spook/porpoise around her and she never bats an eye or flicks an ear at them.
It’s a very different story when it’s her territory, i.e. her stall or turnout.
At home, she spent a (very) short period of time in a stall facing the aisle way. We thought it’d be a good place for her to adjust back to stall life, where she could see people around her, see outside, and what was going on in the barn. It wasn’t long before I got a text. Had to move your horse today, she kept biting horses as they were walking past her stall. Whoops! Solid-walled corner stall it is. My trainer shared my conclusion that The Mare was probably top dog in her previous herd, so we were always apprehensive to try turning her out with other horses. She went out alone for a while, and one day, I got a picture from my trainer.
She tried turning her out with one of our other Morgan mares who also isn’t particularly friendly. They succeeded in mutually ignoring each other and spent the day in opposite corners of the field. I still wasn’t totally convinced she should have friends, but it was at least a step in a positive direction.
When she relocated with me to Otterbein, I requested that she have a solid-walled stall as well (some of the stalls here have open bars between them, and a few have solid walls for individuals such as The Mare). She spent the first summer being turned out on a dry lot, which was fine; no friends, a little outside time–it was perfect.
She then was leased out for about a semester. She had solid walls at this barn as well, but she was introduced to pasture turnout like she hadn’t had before. She had the luxury of spending every day out in a nice pasture. I communicated with her lease family that she wasn’t overly fond of other horses, and they had a smaller field they put her in, separate from their 2 geldings. That was all well and good for a while, until she went into heat for the first time since I’d owned her. Those previously repulsive geldings that she didn’t want to be friends with? Well, now she HAD to meet them. She carried on in her separate field so much that my leasors decided to try putting them together, and they were happy as peas in a pod. I was fine with it. If she was going to be less destructive and could make friends? Great!
Until the geldings became her geldings. Working? No thanks, gotta hang out with the boys. Leaving the geldings? No way, Jose. Being put in a separate field because you’re starting to get too attached? BIG NO-NO. When the leasors realized that The Mare was too attached to the boys, they tried to separate them again in hopes of breaking off the love affair, but it was too late. She was unable to be ridden she was so distraught by leaving them. She busted out of her field by kicking down the post (not the boards) attached to the gate, ignored the open hay shed and found a spot by the geldings to graze in their field. After that, they didn’t lock her in her stall for fear she’d tear that down as well to get out to the geldings.
At this point, The Mare came home to me for some remedial boot camp, supplement trial-and-error for the heat-induced infatuation, and a renewed sense of ‘no friends allowed.’
We went back to Otterbein and our dry lot turnout. Except we were now wild. The weather was colder, and I thought at first she was just fresh. But after a couple weeks of riding her hard every day, six days a week and we still came out and were running around, I was baffled. She started going outside all day and overnight, and nothing changed. Finally, the barn manager suggested giving her friends. One of the boarders was graduating, and her mare went out with some of the school horse mares. She was willing to give it a try, but I stressed to her that The Mare was bossy, and I didn’t want her to get rude or too attached. I reluctantly agreed to try it.
At this point in the year, the horses were started on grass, and being a little pony, The Mare sports a lovely grazing muzzle. So the two school horse mares went out, and we released The Mare with them as her goofy grazing muzzle bobbled around on her nose. The other two mares quickly grouped together and cantered away, leaving my horse trailing after them looking pretty dejected. They spent about two weeks running away from my horse, which was especially amusing since they are considerably larger than my little horse. Following that, they became inseparable although through some unspoken agreement The Mare became the ring leader. If she stepped towards the hay feeder, the others backed off. I never saw her actually do anything to either of the other mares (and she couldn’t bite them with her muzzle on), but it was clear they were lower on the totem pole.
One of the mares, Maggie, started having lameness issues and was pulled from turnout, so The Mare became even more bonded with Highlight, an older schoolmaster (I secretly hoped that Highlight’s wonderful talents and demeanor would rub off a little onto The Mare). However, she never developed the same crazy attachment she had with the geldings. Another school horse, Ariel, was added into their field, and although it was clear The Mare didn’t care for this horse as much as her BFF Highlight, Ariel also quickly fell into the pecking order. The Mare was still The Boss although The Mare can get Ariel to romp and play with her a little easier than Highlight. Highlight was retired from the lesson program recently, so now it’s down to The Mare and Ariel, who are slowly becoming more bonded. The barn manager is talking about adding another one of the school horse mares into their duo, and I have no doubt this new mare will also learn the ranks quickly. I’m interested to know what The Mare is telling these other horses exactly.
I’m ecstatic that she’s been able to make some friends, but it is clearly quite a selective process. There have been instances in trying to increase her circle of friends, with not-so-great results. She ended up in an open-bar stall at one point next to a gelding when we were having a clinic and moved some of the horses around and it was only about five minutes before she had to be moved back to a solid-walled stall because she was trying to bite his face through the bars, carrying on and kicking the wall hard. Recently, when the staff was cleaning stalls, I had to throw The Mare in an empty stall while hers was getting finished. I put her in an open-bar stall next to her old field-mate Maggie, figuring it would be just fine; they used to friends, right? NO. BIG NO. Squealing and body slamming the wall in about a half a second. Back to the solid-walled stall it is. The horse that lives next to her, a great big Irish Sport Horse gelding who is a little too curious, likes to reach his head around the wall and stick his nose through the grain hole on my horse’s stall. This infuriates her and she kicks the wall and/or tries to bite his nose each time he does it.
There is one exception when it comes to geldings. There is a school horse named Ted, a big paint Irish Sport Horse that my roommate rides and competes. We’ve had about a million lessons together and, for whatever reason, they seem to enjoy each other very much. The Mare doesn’t squeal when Ted nuzzles her, and Ted (a pretty lazy individual), will follow her anywhere. When I mean anywhere, I mean my roommate and I warmed up one lesson with The Mare in front and Ted behind with no contact on the rein. We walked, trotted, cantered, did figure 8’s, circles and Ted followed The Mare in whatever gait and whatever direction we went.
I’d love to know the reasoning behind her bond with these select few horses, and her intense hatred for just about anything else equine (but not other animals and people).
I guess we’re a little similar in the fact that we are both strong, independent ladies and keep a pretty selective group of close friends. My only conclusion is this:
I guess it’s hard to make friends when you are a Mare.