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Mares vs Geldings...Apples vs Oranges?

I was testing out a new, tiny, “action camera” to see if I could learn to use it properly for future video posts. In looking at the footage, my eyes were constantly drawn to the glory of nature that surrounded me as I worked my horses in the round pen. What a smorgasbord of color the world around me was offering up! Blue skies traversed by white fluffy clouds bordering the tips of multi-colored trees. Spectacular.

And, when I finally did look at the other parts of the footage where I was working the horses, I was enjoying the different personalities that my mare and geldings presented to me. And so, I thought I’d wax poetic about how I have experienced the differences between mares and geldings.

Now, I believe it was Julie Goodnight, a wise horsewoman, who once said: “Mares give you 110% 80 percent of the time. Geldings give you 80% one hundred percent of the time.” (Sorry, Julie, if I mangled your words…the meaning should come through, though!) And, I’m pretty sure that most horse people will agree with her. Of course, there will always be exceptions, but the point pretty much is that mares, when they give you their all, give much more than a gelding. It’s just that geldings are much more dependable!

In my case, I would have to agree with Julie. When I was a would-be polo player, I always found that the mares were the lightest, fastest, most responsive mounts. Yet, they could also be unpredictable, quite intimidating, and often independent-minded. I found they were often cold, very business-like, and not my first choice for a relaxing trail ride or stick-and-ball. But even before that, I think I had a preference for geldings for relaxed outings. They may have not been the most powered-up mounts for a competitive polo match, but I found geldings much more stable, even-tempered, and consistent in their behavior, and, thus, a safe place for me to practice becoming a better rider. They also seemed to be more affectionate, appreciative of gentle attention, and unflappable.

But, just because my experience has increased and my confidence risen, I have not attached myself to a specific gender as a rule for riding. Some horses have found me, and others I have sought out. And, in the end, I have found my horse life enriched by having both genders of equines in my stable.

Geldings and mares each bring a different energy and challenge to my life. The geldings I have owned (3 to date) have, with the exception of my as yet unproven colt Txoko, been my steadfast, dependable, fun, sweet, kind, easygoing trail companions. Point and shoot, as it were.

Pegasus (or, Piggy, as we affectionately called him) was a gelding I bought in Tequisquiapan, Mexico as an afterthought for $800. A forlorn, skinny grey, Piggy was a tragic sight when I was first brought to him. I had already bought my first mare, Joya, and she was about to be put up on the trailer to be sent to Mexico City. I suddenly realized I needed another horse to offer someone to ride with me as it would be dangerous to ride alone. (We always repeat to our kids the activities that require company in order to be done safely: horseback-riding, scuba-diving, and hiking! There may be more---feel free to enlighten me!) Joya’s owner mentioned my need to his neighbor, who immediately began espousing the virtues of this wonderful horse his brother just brought in for sale. The seller saddled him up and threw me up on him, and I immediately could feel such kindness underneath me. I pretty much “pointed” and Piggy “shot out” in that direction. What a sweetheart! I got off and asked my 11-year old to sit on him, and the reaction was the same, just a bit more subdued as Piggy realized that the second rider was not as solid as the first. Done deal. I bought him right then and there.

Piggy became my dependable, throw anybody on him horse. He loved to gallop, but could be kind and quiet for my young kids.

My two sons would ride double on him and he went along with all our schemes, asking only for food, shelter, and love. I was so ignorant then! I didn’t know anything about sheath cleaning, for example, and wish I had! He would give a buck, usually right before cantering, and I always felt it was somehow necessary for his well-being; it had no ill intention and never did he buck anyone off. And, looking back, I could kick myself for not knowing that it was probably because of lack of sheath hygiene. Anyway…that lovely boy was so happy to be in our family, and gave us so much joy. We eventually gifted him to another family when my boys outgrew riding. Piggy now is a therapy horse in California…we know he is spreading his love well.

Patxi is the gelding I sought out and bought.

He, like Piggy, is everything a good gelding should be: solid, energetic, dependable, kind, fun, strong, easygoing. Will he be a dressage champion? No. Does he sometimes pretend to not understand? Yes. Has he made me a worse rider because he is just not a fan of lightness? Yes. Does he let my daughter truss him up to drag her friends around on sleds in the snow? Yes. Do I adore him? Yes.

What I find consistent with geldings and myself is this: Geldings ignore my flaws. They give me their trust, even when I might not have deserved it just yet. They live to please. They make me feel safe, good, and loved, which allows me to improve my riding and increase my confidence. They persevere with good humor, and have such an easygoing way about them. They bring out the mother in me.

If this is so, then why bother with mares? Oh, let me please explain!

Mares, and I will go into detail another time about the four amazing ones I have owned, have made me a true horsewoman. They, unlike geldings, POINT OUT MY FLAWS. They make me EARN THEIR TRUST. And, in doing so, they MAKE ME BETTER! Mares know what they need and how to ask for it.

Mares pick up on new experiences and cues very quickly. Mares want your leadership, but require it to be soft and clear, fair and just. Mares are so communicative and so clear in their communication. I didn’t know I could “hear” horses until I owned my own mares. They have told me about problems in the pasture (“We need hay, now!”), urgent cuts/scrapes needing immediate attention (which I wouldn’t have seen until hours later had they not alerted me), that there was no water in their bucket, or that I was over-cueing for a certain movement (“Can’t you see I am responding? Stop cueing!”), just to name a few. Sound crazy? Not to me.

My mares have proven to me time and time again, that they are communicating to me and, if I listen, we develop a magical bond. They begin to trust me. And when they trust me, they give me their all…and that, my friends, is something to behold!

If I had only owned geldings, I’d be a happy, contented horseback-riding woman. But, in owning some splendid mares, I have become a challenged, fulfilled horsewoman, too! In owning both geldings and mares, I have the best of both worlds, and each gender shares one thing in common: they see into my heart and give me theirs!

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