Thursday, January 7, 2010

Good Mare, Bad Mare

Strangely, and not by choice, I have only owned mares. Here are the stories of the first and the worst...

The first mare I really bonded with was Shadow. She was orphaned and bottle fed after her mother was killed in a barn fire. Perhaps that is why she was so amazingly sweet. She was a bay Appaloosa that came from my dad's friend's back yard to occupy me for the summer and we loved her so much, we never gave her back. I arrived at my dad's farm in Vermont to spend the summer and was welcomed by what would become my perfect companion. I had been riding for years, but this was the first time I wasn't under the watchful eye of a trainer with a horse I could do whatever I wanted with. So the first morning after I arrived my dad rose early and anxiously awaited for me to wake so we could go out and feed the horses, but after waiting for about an hour he decided to go ahead and go feed them without me. When he got out to the barn he found me already into my second hour of grooming! Are you kidding, sleep in when there is a horse on the way! I rode hundreds of miles on her that summer. We went everywhere and did everything together, I probably rode her 4-5 hours a day, and groomed and bathed her for several more. We went swimming together, rode through the forests together, played high jump, went to horse shows, and to pony club camp. The topper was we competed in a 3-phase event that first summer and won! I had no idea what I was doing (coming from the hunter/jumper world), but I studied my dressage test over and over and came out first, then I figured it was a breeze after that. I knew nothing about time allowed so I plowed through the cross country course as fast as Shadow's legs would take me, through the water, sailing over jumps and ditches, and well within the time allowed. No trainer, just me and my dad. She truly was a saint. I had no fear, and neither did she. And neither of us had ever even been on a cross country course before. The stadium phase was at least familiar to me, as it most resembled the only kind of showing I had done before. She was fast and clean and we took home the blue ribbon! I remember talking to a few girls at the awards presentation and they asked me where I trained, they weren't too happy to hear I was winging it and beat them, when they had been training all year for this event. Ignorance is bliss. She was probably the kindest horse I have ever ridden. Never once did she say "no", her response was always "OK, let's give it a go". She just forgave all my mistakes and kept on being a nice mare despite everything I did wrong. That was the first of many fun years we had together!
My dad bred Shadow and still has her baby, Summer, who is now in her 20's and a happy trail horse living on my dad's farm with the same wonderful temperament as Shadow. Shadow lived into her 30's and is buried on my dad's farm.

A really nice mare is as good as you will get. But a really bad mare may be as bad as it gets.

Evil...enter Stevie. I saw her and just had to have her. I thought she was beautiful! Dead green, but great breeding (sire: Hall of Fame) so there was potential...right? She was a six-year-old broodmare, but I thought I could make her into something great. My other mare, Kylie, was pregnant, so I was looking for something to keep me riding while Kylie was out of commission. It was a bad idea from the moment she stepped off the trailer, feet planted and wouldn't move. She was big, 17 hands, and strong, and opinionated. The fitter she got the more she bulked up and the stronger she got. It was exhausting to tack her up, she was deathly afraid of clippers or the vacuum, hated her legs touched, and she constantly reared up and broke out of her halter taking off at a full gallop. She had no regard for human life. I was determined so I rode her everyday, two steps forward, one step back. Each day was a struggle, and many of them included a dirt sample. I remember the first horse show I brought her to, it took three people to hold her still while I tried to get her saddle on. She was leaping into the air, fighting the whole idea of behaving nicely. I almost gave up at that point wondering how I would ever get on her, but somehow I made it on and did not get off until I was done showing for the day.For two years I tried to make it work, one trainer I had her at rode her beautifully, jumped her around 3'6" with ease, which made me keep her even longer trying to make it work, but she was the only one who could do that. The last of the three trainers I brought her to (to be sold) finally told me that she was just too dangerous and no one wanted to handle her. She is now doing what she is best at - mothering. Not every horse is meant to be a show horse, and she just had too many of her own ideas.

I have not lost my faith in mares. I have two. I know not everyone is a fan. I know people who only want geldings because they believe they are more reliable. They point out that geldings do not have serious mood changes or interpret things differently from day to day because of hormone swings. So they have got a bit of logic to back up their prejudices. I guess the thing with mares is they decide whether they are going to pay any attention to you at all.

Old time horse trainers know there are only two ways you can argue with a mare and neither one works.


allhorsestuff said...

Oh Tara! Sounds so was like reliving my childhood too, reading from you! I loved hearing of your adventures falling in love with your Shadow mare!
I do too love mares...Wa is my first horse and though she is not too cuddly or even dependable..she is mine and we have made strides together. And my next...will be another mare!
Thanks for this [ was great to hear from you and some favorites memories too... Loved the pics!
Happy New Year sweet,

Shelly's Stuff Jewelry said...

I found your post so interesting. I always like to hear the opinions and stories of the "horsey" group as I am truly a novice. My neighbor's cutting mare is very sweet tempered and she's actually the one I was taking lessons on (she's pregnant and due in March, so I'm taking a break). However, Ceasar, her AQHA palomino gelding was the first horse I ever rode and he was the best. I always refer to him as the gentle giant. Very kind and bombproof...the perfect horse for me. Unfortunately, he's no longer able to be ridden (he's well over 25). Then there's Doc, her gelding she uses for reining. He can be handful...acts like a stallion when there over other horses around! Too much horse for me, but he's the one I try to be around the most on the ground to try to overcome some of my fears. Have a great weekend!

Jennifer MacNeill-Traylor said...

My first horse was a bottle fed, orphaned Appaloosa too. Took him in my first horse show and won a bunch of ribbons without ever having a lesson. How funny is that? Says something about Appaloosas - they're so smart.

fernvalley01 said...

Your first mare sounds so much like my old Appy Mare, "never said no"
The second, well we need horses like that I guess in our lives to remind us they are flawed and can be ever so determined

Anonymous said...

Most, but not all, of my horses have been mares. I had a wonderful mare when I was a teen, her name was Snow, and she would do anything - jump, sliding stops, trail rides, pleasure classes, you name it we did it. My mare Promise, who I only had for a year and who then fractured a leg in turnout, was also a wonderful horse - smart, commanding and competent. My two mares now are a work in process, and both present serious challenges to my abilities, even without taking account of the fact that I'm getting older. But then there's my sweet Noble, who's the best gelding anyone could ever have.

But ultimately I'm a mare person, I think - they're special to me.

Springfield Stables said...

I remember Shadow and remember how much you loved her. You and Shadow had such great times together!

Great article!

Breathe said...

Horses are such individuals. I was told to stay away from mares, and yet our horse, Lily, is an incredible horse. She'll test you if she hasn't been worked regularly, but she is by far the best horse we've had.

And, interestingly, she wasn't much of a mom. Hmm.

Thanks for coming by to visit my blog - I'm looking forward to reading more!

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