A Gelding, a Mare, a Lesson

Does a mare or gelding make a better riding horse? This reader found the right answer.

The author with her AQHA mare, Belle. Denise Robertson

I grew up in a family of horse people. My parents rode endlessly, teaching me the ropes when I was old enough to walk. I got my own horse when I was still in single digits. Though many different horses passed through our little family ranch, all of them had one thing in common. They were all geldings.

Though a lover of all horses, my dad was a firm believer that geldings make better mounts. According to his credo, they were safer and easier to train, plus didn’t come with the “moody baggage,” as he called it.

“With a gelding, you always know which horse you’re taking out of the pasture,” he’d say. “With a mare, you never know.”

As an adult, I heard variations of this wisdom from other horse owners, too. Those with geldings would swear they were better than mares. But mare owners would stick up for their choices, too.

“A mare will take care of you better than a gelding will,” they’d say. They’d admit that, yes, their girls often were moody, but that didn’t change how they felt about them.

Seeking a Gelding

A few years after having to say goodbye to my most beloved friend, a large Quarter Horse gelding named Daily, I found myself looking for another horse. I’d taken the time we horse people need to mend from a loss like that, but now I began perusing the ads with increasing fervency. My desire for another horse became a need, then a craving.

Still, I stayed true to what my father had taught me and steered clear of mares. I test-rode many geldings without finding quite what I was looking for. It was frustrating.

Finally, my resolve began to weaken. Soon I found myself glancing sideways at the mare section of the ads. As I went through the list of available horses there, I actually began seriously considering a mare. Then, on a warm spring morning, I came across an ad that riveted my attention. A 7-year-old Paint mare named Cherokee was staring back at me from a Craigslist ad. Something about her said I needed to go look…even though my dad’s words were reverberating in my head.

“I’m just gonna look,” I told myself. The next day, however, I trailered her home, convinced I’d found the horse for me.

But she wasn’t. After a few expensive trainers and a broken wrist, I faced the fact that this horse and I weren’t a good match. Naturally, the whole “mare thing” was echoing uncomfortably in my mind. Still, I was sure this horse’s issue wasn’t her sex. We just weren’t good together. I was fortunate to find someone she did match better, and went back to searching. This time, though, I planned to stick with what I knew best…geldings. I kept saying the Paint’s mare-ness hadn’t been the problem, but still. I was gun-shy.

Choosing a Mare

Six months later I met and fell in love with my equine soul-mate. Belle is a 16-year-old Quarter Horse mare and an ex-racehorse (another thing my dad said to stay away from). But my beautiful Belle has never done anything wrong. She’s absolutely perfect, if there is such a thing. If I want to ride, we ride. If I want to lope, we lope. If I want to sit in the grass and hold her rope while she grazes, she’s OK with that, too.

Way past our honeymoon period, we’ve become inseparable. I guess I’d say she has the courage and brilliance of a mare and the kind soul of a gelding. Every moment I spend with her, I think how my preconceived ideas could’ve stopped me from finding her.

So, if you’re considering buying a horse, look for one thing and one thing only. Not color, not sex, not size, or even age.

Look for your perfect match.

As Belle and I ride the trails, my dad is looking down from heaven, smiling and shaking his head. He’s happy I found my horse, but he can’t believe I chose a mare. n

Denise Robertson lives with her husband, Jack, in Squaw Valley, California. She enjoys her job as a registered veterinary technician and hospital manager at Fresno Chaffee Zoo, where she gets to work with exotic animals of all species. Denise enjoys her time away from work, as well, doing anything horse-related with her husband and four horses, including Belle.

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