Mares And Stallions?they're Not For Everyone

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Everybody wants to ride a gelding?at least it seems that way if you're trying to sell horses. Often it seems impossible to entice prospective buyers to try mares! But I know that some people must buy mares, because half the horses in training at our barn are mares.

Many riders consider mares?and stallions?too difficult, and some people (even some trainers) avoid them like the bubonic plague. I don't think the bad reputation either gender labors under is fair, especially for mares, and Here's why.

My experience is that mares really need to ?do a job? and that they become devoted to that job, whether it's being a broodmare or being a competitive horse. Their intensity to do their job right far outranks all but a smaller percentage of male horses.

But tHere's a huge caveat to that?and it's why some people dislike mares: With few exceptions, you can't really tell a mare what to do. You have to teach her, direct her and work with her, often accommodating her idiosyncrasies. I call my method being ?quietly insistent.?? You don't fight, but you do keep insisting, often asking her in different ways, until she gives you the right answer. And then you have to congratulate her on her success.

Basically, you have to earn her trust, by working with her, by helping her figure out how to do things, by riding her in a way that helps her feel confident and proud. I like to say that once a mare believes in you, she'll jump through fire for you?as my mares always have.

Rarely would I advise a student not to ride or buy a mare. that's not true of stallions, though. Not because they're all wild or aggressive, but because a stallion brings with him a huge set of responsibilities. I've trained four very different stallions in the last several years, and I've learned a great deal from them.

Yes, the range of behavior among stallions runs the entire spectrum, and it depends on breed, age, temperament and training experiences. But, only very rarely, are they just geldings with the original equipment. Especially when they're young, their hormones can cause them to react extremely to situations that wouldn?t faze a gelding or a mare. And, if you don't know what you're doing, that's when horses and people can get hurt.

Here are two examples: Loose horses and shipping in a trailer. For most stallions, loose horses (or horses not under saddle) have an exciting or arousing effect. I think loose geldings cause their primal instinct to protect their herd from other males to kick in, and loose mares cause an obvious reaction. In a trailer, you have to take precautions so that a stallion can't mount the horse beside him?a primal urge for dominance. That usually means having a stud wall or always putting him in the front stall of a slant-load trailer.

I find riding stallions somewhat similar to riding mares: You have to let them become proud by figuring things out and earn their trust in you.? The difference, though, is that you must always insist on their complete obedience. So sometimes you must have a fight with them, and you better be sure that you can win. You can't afford to lose.

The biggest limitation to riding stallions is that you need to have years of riding and training experience to do it well, but that by the time you know enough, you may no longer be strong enough or brave enough to do it. that's not true of mares.

John Strassburger, Performance Editor