A Gelding, a Mare, a Lesson
HorseandRider.com April 2017
Does a mare or gelding make a better riding horse? This reader found the right answer.
By 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.
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.
WELLLL…..IT IS A MARE FOR ME. AS A YOUNG GUY COMING TO SASKATOON, WESTERN CANADA AT AGE 18, I WANTED A HORSE WITH ALL ITS HORMONES. YES I WAS YOUNG AND A VERY GOOD RIDER. I LEARNED TO RIDE BARE-BACK THE FIRST YEAR IN CANADA; SECOND YEAR I WAS TRICK-RIDING. I COULD DO EVERYTHING BARE BACK— GALLOP, UP AND DOWN HILLS; 50% OF MY RIDING WAS BARE-BACK. I BOUGHT A THOROUGHBRED MARE, 6 YEARS OLD, SUPER GOOD LOOKS, SORREL, AND HAD A BEAUTIFUL NATURE, AND THE SAME ANY DAY OF THE YEAR. THE PLACE I WORKED FOR PART-TIME, HAD OTHER MARES, RODE THEM ALL, AND THEY ALSO WERE THE SAME DAY AFTER DAY ALL YEAR. SO I NEVER EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT THIS “MARE QUESTION” AT ALL. MY TRICK-RIDING HORSE TURNED OUT TO BE ONE OF THE MARES AT THIS STABLE, AS DEPENDABLE EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR AS YOU COULD HOPE FOR; SHE WAS THE OWNER’S ROPING HORSE ALSO; TRICKSY WAS HER NAME, A BAY ABOUT 15 HANDS. MY GOLDIE IS THE SAME EVERY DAY ALL YEAR LONG, BUT SHE IS CERTAINLY NOT FOR EVERYONE, SHE LOVES TO GALLOP, AND LET’S YOU KNOW IT BY HER BODY LANGUAGE. SO YES A HORSE LIKE GOLDIE WOULD BE FOR VERY EXPERIENCED RIDERS. THEN AT MOOSE HILL RANCH, WE HAVE SOME MARES THAT SOME OF THE LADIES HAVE WHO ARE JUST SUPER FOR THE MUCH LESS EXPERIENCED RIDERS. YES IT IS FINDING THE RIGHT HORSE FOR YOU; BE IT MARE OR GELDING - Keith Hunt
Keep a Fresh, Clean Barn
What's that sweet smell? With a little planning and ongoing effort, it can be the inside of your barn.
A clean, fresh-smelling barn is pleasant and healthful for your horse—and for you.
These commercial products are designed to help eliminate ammonia and keep stalls—and your whole barn—sweeter-smelling.
Sweet PDZ: A popular clay/zeolite product available in granular or powder form. Non-hazardous and non-toxic. Captures, neutralizes, eliminates ammonia and odors (sweetpdz.com).
Odor-No-More: A flaky powder consisting of micro-nutrient salts and fine, kiln-dried fiber. Blended to control moisture and odor (odornomore.com).
Stall Dry Plus: Granules of diatomaceous earth and clay plus antimicrobial ingredients. Provides ammonia control and deodorization; helps absorb moisture (absorbentproductsltd.com).
Bye Bye Odor: A non-toxic microbial liquid available as spray or concentrate. Formulated to reduce ammonia levels (spatding-labs.com).
A clean, sweet-smelling barn makes for happier horses-healthier, too, as muck that causes bad smells can, over the long term, also damage equine respiratory systems and hooves. Here's what you need to consider to ensure you're maintaining your barn in as fresh a condition as possible.
Regular cleaning. When left overlong in your horse's stall, the naturally occurring ammonia and other substances in urine and manure can irritate his lungs, contributing to respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia and heaves. It can also weaken his hooves. So muck stalls out at least daily, and when you do, dig for urine spots, using a broad shovel to scrape out all wet bedding. Rubber stall mats will enable you to economize on bedding while still keeping your barn nice and clean. (Just be sure mats are installed properly, so urine can't collect underneath them.)
Adequate drainage. Stalls and pens that drain well ease the cleaning process and reduce mud in wet weather. How your barn is positioned on your property can negatively affect drainage and cause mud problems; in that event, well-placed gutters and downspouts can help to
divert runoff and keep mud from accumulating near barn entrances or in stall runs.
Proper ventilation. An adequate airflow within your barn minimizes ammonia buildup (plus reduces eye and lung irritation from accumulated dust and hay/ bedding particles). If you're constructing a new barn, work with a farm-building contractor to choose a design that offers sufficient ventilation while avoiding drafts; strategically placed vents and exhaust fans will help. To make do with the barn you already have, keep doors and windows open as much as weather permits, even blanketing your horse if need be to keep him warm in winter in a setup with good cross ventilation.
Handy helpers. What if you keep your barn clean, dry, and well ventilated, but want to go that extra mile for the freshest possible effect? Consider one of the many products available to further reduce ammonia and moisture in stalls and other areas of your barn. Barrn lime (calcium carbonate, or ground-up limestone) is a less expensive option, though modern products specially designed for use in horse stalls are safer overall and less dusty. (Calcium hydroxide—"hydrated lime"—is caustic and should never be used.)
"Seven Steps to Better, Easier Stall Mucking."
HorseandRider.com April 2017
Cloverleaf Over Poles Use this pattern to practice pole work for trail and enhance your horse's guide and self-carriage for any riding purpose.
Will and Elizabeth Knabenshue
April 2017 HorseandRider.com
Begin by jogging around the box you made with the poles. Work at a forward, rhythmic jog to encourage cadence and self-carriage. This circle around the box is "neutral." Anytime your horse loses collection or gets frustrated, return to circling around the box until his mind is focused and his body is in position to work over the poles. In this example, the rider circles to the left around the box, and she'll make left turns every time she exits the box. Be sure to work to the right, too, so you can avoid one-sidedness in your horse. We do find it important to work in one direction all the way through the drill before working the other direction. Once your horse is handy with it, you can change directions as you go along to keep his interest and test his collection.
Plan your entry into the box so that you approach the first pole with your horse straight and in the middle of the pole. Successful overall execution comes from the approach more than anywhere else in the exercise. The same applies when you're working an obstacle in a trail class. If you're straight going in, you'll be straight coming out the other side. As you approach the first pole, look 4 inches on the other side of the pole, inside the box. If you look directly at the pole, that's where your horse's foot will land—and he'll hit the pole.
Ideally, your horse's first step over the pole, lands the same distance in front of the pole, as that foot was away from the pole before he made the step. Your horse's impulsion and cadence are key as he makes his first step into the box. Drive him forward with your legs and seat; don't let him get lazy as he enters the box.
When trotting through this box, your horse should take four steps between the two poles, inside the box (two if loping). Use your legs to drive him forward and keep him straight as he travels to the second pole. Don't allow yourself or your horse to anticipate the left turn that comes after you cross the pole. Again, look 4 inches beyond the pole to drive your horse's first step over without hitting a pole.
You can see how this exercise rounds your horse's back. Keep driving forward and straight at this point. If your horse dives left or right or loses cadence, he'll hit the pole with his last foot. A straight exit from this obstacle sets up a precise approach to the next one when completing a trail course, so it's good practice at home. Once your horse clears the pole, trot forward two strides, then turn to the left to make the first "leaf" in the clover pattern, and approach the box from the second side. Be sure to achieve that same straightness and cadence when you ride up to the pole. If your horse leans, ducks, or loses collection, go back to "neutral" and circle the box until he's back on track. Then try again. Repeat these steps to complete each of the clover's leaves, and exit on a straight path when complete.
Challenge exercise: Start in neutral to achieve cadence and collection, then enter the box closer to one of the sides (instead of centered) to trot a circle inside the box. It gives you a feel for your horse's stride so you can tell when you need to push him to step a little farther or scale back his stride to cover less ground.
Will and Elizabeth Knabenshue, Whitesboro, Texas, grew up showing horses on opposite coasts—Will in Virginia and Elizabeth in California. The two now train all-around horses and coach amateur and youth riders. Will is an AQHA and NSBA judge. Elizabeth is an AQHA World Champion and multiple All American Quarter Horse Congress champion. The couple has trained and coached numerous amateur and
youth world champions.
(BOB AVILA'S winning insights)
April 2017 HorseandRider.com
The Biggest Mistakes Nonpro Riders Make
If you want to be a successful non-pro or amateur competitor, avoid making these seven mistakes, including ignoring your trainer when he's coaching you.
Being a non-pro/amateur rider is challenging. But it can be easier if you avoid making these seven common mistakes.
By Bob Avila,
If you're a non-pro or amateur competitor, horses are most likely your hobby. You enjoy the preparation and showing experience, but you also thrive on improving, learning, and competing. It's a pretty great way to spend your free time.
But there are mistakes I see amateur riders make that hold back your enjoyment and hinder your competitive success. Keep these seven common errors in mind to ensure that you get the most out of every ride.
Mistake #1: Not Riding Enough.
I've said it many times: The non-pros who ride are the non-pros who win. Granted, there are factors that you can't control such as the weather, health issues with you or your horse, family emergencies, or work problems. But if you can't put in at least three days a week in the saddle, then you can't be disappointed when you don't mark the highest scores or see your name at the top of the judge's card.
Putting in saddle time at home and in lessons enhances your connection with your horse, so you have a better idea of where he excels and where you might need to help him. It also teaches you to stay out of his way, allows you to learn how much cue he needs for a maneuver, and just plain makes you a better rider.
Mistake #2: Not Focusing in the Saddle.
I understand that riding for you is a social event. You probably have friends at the barn and shows who you enjoy spending time with, and you should! This is your hobby and should be fun. But if you come to the barn for an hour and spend 20 minutes catching up with friends, be sure that those 40 minutes in the saddle are completely focused on your horse and your trainer, if you're having a lesson. If you have an extra-chatty friend, let her know that you'll have time to visit after your lesson, but your horse is your priority when you're riding.
And leave your phone in the truck or tack room. You can live without your text messages, emails, phone calls, and social-media posts for 40 minutes.
Mistake #3: Self-Sabotage.
If your horse is tougher to change leads, for example, you might be inclined to ride into the arena hoping you can get your lead change. If that's your thought process, you can be sure you'll have problems. Worrying about the negative instead of focusing on the positive sets you up to fail. It's called a "self-fulfilling prophecy." If you think a bad situation is going to happen, it probably will.
Instead, project in your mind the best run you can realistically have. If your horse usually marks around a 71 in a reining pattern, visualize the best 71 you can achieve. Focus on the positive rather than the negative, and you'll have a better chance of success.
Mistake #4: Ignoring Your Trainer.
You pay an instructor hard-earned money to teach you to ride, train your horse, and compete. Why would you throw that money in the garbage by ignoring the person you pay to educate you? Sometimes it's not blatantly ignoring—maybe you're distracted by your phone or your friends. Or maybe you're loping around the arena in La La Land, thinking about what you're going to order for dinner. Either way, pay attention to what your trainer tells you. He's not speaking (or yelling) to hear his own voice; he's doing it so you can get the most out of your experience and be successful.
Mistake #5: Succumbing to High Highs and Low Lows.
There can be a lot of up and down in horse showing. Amateur riders and pros alike have to learn to take the good with the bad. Part of winning is learning to lose. Part of making great decisions in clutch situations is making mistakes.
When you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. Don't let it haunt you into your next ride. Put it behind you and try again, with more knowledge to draw from. On the opposite side, don't hang onto your latest win too long, either. Remember the hard work it took to get there, and then put in that much effort, plus more, to exceed your achievement.
Mistake #6: Blacking Out in the Pen.
I ask each of my non-pros to tell me about their run when they come out of the pen. If it's a cow horse class, I ask about boxing, going down the fence, circling up—even what color the cow was. You'd be surprised how many of them black out in the pen and have amnesia when I ask them to recall their performance. When you can focus enough to recall every step in the show pen, then you can learn from each run and start thinking when you're in the moment of competition. Thinking in the show pen is how you become a winner.
Mistake #7: Missing Learning Opportunities.
You can learn from things going on right in front of you every time you're at the barn, at a horse show, taking a lesson—virtually any time you're around your horse. I know that horses are your rest and relaxation, so I'm not saying you need to treat all of your barn time like a classroom, but be observant.
Competition has highs and lows. Appreciating your successes and earning from mistakes keeps you on track and positive about your riding.
When you walk into your horse's stall, pay attention to his demeanor. When grooming, look for scabs or other indicators that he might Ve caught himself on something. While riding, feel his cadence, watch his ears, and look for his response to your cues. You can learn so much about your horse in each of these situations.
Furthermore, watch your trainer ride, sit with him as he observes the warm-up pen, ask questions. It's a great opportunity to understand why he does something or why a horse reacts in a certain way. Capitalize on learning opportunities to push yourself to the next level. □
A multiple AOHA world champion, Avila has also won three NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurities, the NRHA Futurity, and two World's Greatest Horseman titles. He received the AOHA Professional Horseman of the Year honor. His Avila Training Stables, Inc., is in Temecula. California. Learn more at bobavila.net.