I hesitated writing this column in fear of insulting the mare owners out there, but I think this is a good topic for thought. So let me apologize to anyone I offend, or to all of you that own perfectly wonderful mares. I know they are out there because I have owned and worked with some.
My thoughts are that if you are a first time horse owner, or do not have much horsemanship under your belt, you may be better off with a gelding! Due to the simple fact of herd dynamics, mares are many times more to handle than a gelding. Some become so moody when it is that time for them, that they would just as soon kick you as look at you. In the herd the mare is always the leader. They tell the group when and where to move for food, and water. This may surprise some folks, a lot of people believe the stallion is in charge of the herd. Not so, his job is basically to try keep other stallions away from his band, be the only one that breeds, and to look good doing it!
Mares have hormones to deal with much the same as a stallion. Who out there would buy a stallion for their first horse? I bet not many of us! I know I wouldn’t have! So back to herd dynamics, a mare will always be the leader, she perceives you as part of her herd when you are with her. If you do not step up and take the lead role, guess who will. Yup, you can bet your booty it will be the mare. Not only will you have to assert your dominance, you may have to do it on a regular basis. I am not saying all mares are extremely difficult, but most times they will be harder to deal with than a gelding. I have known some mares that over time have gotten so head strong that they will literally try to take you out if you ask them to do something, or go out to throw them hay. Absolutely unacceptable! But if you don’t know how to fix it, or catch it when it starts, it usually just gets worse with time. Then you have a horse on your hands that is pretty much an expensive lawn ornament! The more afraid you become, the more the mare will exhibit her dominance.
Some mares can actually have a harder time with a farrier during trimming or shoeing. They can have enlarged ovaries that will bother them when their leg is lifted too high, or placed in certain positions. Unless you know this and can explain to your farrier why she may be acting up, you both may think she is just “being a MARE.” Hence the saying MAREISH!
I bought a mare that had not been touched for 3 years. Let me tell you, she told me on a daily basis who she thought was in charge, until I convinced her otherwise. She was the type of mare that would charge you for food, rear when she got spooked, or if she decided she had had enough of whatever you thought the daily exercise plan should be. She would not stand to be groomed, she would toss her head and move her feet almost constantly, which a bit of groundwork took care of. But as I said if you are not sure of yourself, or willing to be the leader, maybe a gelding would be a wiser choice.
That being said, I also have to tell you that this mare, after some consistent training, turned out to be one of the best lesson horses I have ever owned! One thing I know is that once you bond with a mare it is a stronger bond than with most geldings. Maybe because, like us, they have maternal instincts and view you as a member of the family, I cannot say for sure, but this mare was phenomenal. She always took great care of her riders, young or old. I had a woman riding one time, while she was cantering, lost her stirrup and was becoming unbalanced in her seat. The mare suddenly stopped. The woman looked at me and said, “I didn’t ask her to do that.” I told her she is taking care of you. We both couldn’t help but smile.
She also learned when her hour lesson was up after a while. I would always have the rider go over to the light switches to turn the lights off when the lesson was over. At first I didn’t figure it out. When she did the same thing a few times I finally caught on. When she got to the side of the arena where the light switches were she would stop. The first few times I told the rider just give her a leg and get her going. Then one day when she did it, I looked at my watch and to my surprise the hour was just about up. I thought it had to be a coincidence, so whenever she did it I made sure to check the time. Believe it or not, she knew that it was time for the lesson to be over, or very close to it!
So I am not saying don’t buy a mare. All I am saying is know what you may be getting into. Do some reading on how to exert your dominance, learn some natural horsemanship, or at least have someone who knows horses and is willing to help you learn!
Donna Mori is a certified instructor/natural horsemanship trainer. Contact her at email@example.com for more information.