“A mare? Really? Are you sure you want to go look at a mare?”
The first time I went to meet The Mare at her rescue barn, my trainer was unavailable, so I begged my reluctant mother to come with me. She agreed, but maintained a steady, skeptical dialogue on her opinion of mares. At the time, I did have to agree with her on some points. I grew up with a barn of mainly gelding school horses; solid saints of citizens, whose tolerance for rookie mistakes were exceptionally high. My mom’s favorite horse that I lessoned on was a gelding, and her least favorite was a mare.
My mother will also be the first to admit that she was very wrong about The Black Mare.
Frequently, I think that equestrians fall into two classes: ‘mare people,’ and ‘gelding people.’ This isn’t to say that these individuals are exclusive to one group of the other…I liken it to ‘dog people’ and ‘cat people’…you can definitely be both as well. Gelding people are quick to point out that mares are stubborn, opinionated, can be high-maintenance, you have to deal with heat cycles, they can be unfriendly, the list I have heard could go on and on.
And they aren’t wrong. I have had lessons where I fight with The Mare for 45 minutes to have one long side of the arena with a nice trot. Lessons where I tell her to do something and she blatantly refuses or has a fit and throws a tantrum. Days where I go to her stall and instead of greeting me over the door, she looks at me with a hairy eyeball and harumphs in the back of her stall. If she sees me coming for her in her field wearing breeches, she quickly makes a break for the back corner of the field. When she hits a heat cycle, I spend about four days attempting to not offend her (luckily, she is not a gross mare when she is in heat, she just gets quite sulky). She is particular about what other horses she likes. The first time I tried to load her, she planted her feet at the bottom of the ramp and flat-out refused to get on; no fear, just took a look at the back of the vehicle and decided not to get on. She then worked out of this problem relatively easily, loaded perfectly for almost three years, and then decided after a weekend of being a model citizen at our last show to pull the same move…
I am sure that if she could talk, her list of complaints would be extensive and detailed (in fact, they were, according to the animal communicator). And I am sure during our lessons and hacks that her vernacular would not always be a PG dialogue.
If you tell a gelding ‘jump,’ they’re the solid citizens who will snap to attention with a ‘yes ma’m, how high?’ You do the same with a mare, and you will end up negotiating for five times as long as it would’ve taken to do whatever it was you were trying to do in the first place.
So why is it, that when you meet a ‘mare person’ that they are so devoted to their sassy steeds?
I think that if you can win over a mare’s heart, their level of devotion back to their rider is unmatched. I’ve learned to to ask rather than demand, to give and take, to compromise, and to be creative. I’ve learned to listen, and have found more nuance in riding a mare than I ever did before.
Her heart is so immediately apparent to those who see us together, and my heart swells every time someone compliments us on being a good pair. Schooling for our last show, my coach mentioned — almost in passing — about how high we were jumping, and that she was doing it because it is me. “Ivie jumps 3’6″…for Danielle…I don’t know if she’d do that for someone else.” My mother, who was petrified when I started jumping, came to watch me show The Black Mare in the 3’0″ jumpers — the largest she’s ever seen me jump. She commented afterwards that she wasn’t nervous because she knew that The Mare would take care of me.
I don’t let my mare walk all over me, but I try my best to listen to her as much as I expect her to listen to me. And when we can achieve that in-sync-ness, we are unstoppable. The level of loyalty I have received from my mare is like nothing I have experienced with any other horse I have worked with before.
Don’t get me wrong; geldings are great. But if you are looking for a horse that is willing to walk through hellfire and back for you without batting an eye, chances are you’ll be looking at a mare.