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Feisty Mare and gelding

Hi Franklin

Love your website and am hoping for help.

My wife has always wanted a horse of her own, and I finally got her a 7 year old Appaloosa/Thoroughbred Mare. When we first looked at her, she was calm as could be, let my wife, me, and each of our two boys ride her freely. My wife is an "advanced beginner", and the boys and I are all raw recruits. She responded well to all of us and was just as friendly and responsive as could be. And because I wanted to ride with my wife, we bought a 15 year old Quarterhorse Gelding from the same farm that is "bombproof". We brought them to a nearby farm three days ago and they share the nicest barn with a 7 year old TB gelding, two steers and assorted chickens and cats. The 7 year old gelding has been very (is possessive the right word?) toward our new mare, even tried to cover her once. For the first two days we just spent time with them and walked them some with a saddle on and leading them by a halter. The older gelding just takes it all in, has been a treat from the get -go, and I rode him today and he walked, trotted and cantered easily enough, responded well to everything, and was just a dream...stood still for getting the saddle/bridle on, etc etc. The Mare was another story... resisted at every step...didn't much like getting her bridle and saddle on (brand new saddle and bridle, but inspected, sized and adjusted by the previous owner), walked when lead easily enough and went right after apple treats to the point of trying to get in my wife's pocket for more. When walking out to the pasture she acted like she wanted to go back to the barn, where the 7 year old gelding was pitching a fit. That gelding actually got loose and galloped straight at my wife and the mare, stopped short and lunged and thrashed his forelegs out and whipped his head all around and whinnying like crazy. We got him back inside and walked the mare over to a completely different pasture. She would have nothing to do with my wife mounting her, pushed and shoved at both of us trying to walk her...wanted her own way to the point my wife gave up trying to ride her even when she could get on, and started walking her back in. On the way she stepped on my wife's foot and broke her toe, although that was an accident and not malicious by the horse, I think. Back at the barn I was brushing off my quarterhorse's right side with the mare to the left, both of them feeding. Suddenly she jumped to her left, tee'd me up like a softball and gave me a kick that sent me backside over teakettle. So tonight my side looks like I've been kicked in the guts (because I have), my wife has her foot up in ice, and we're both wondering how such a wonderful horse at their farm turned into such a hellion in just over a week.

Any ideas?

Bruised in Boonsboro
Dale and Sharon

Hi Dale and Sharon,

Quite a tale you have related. Here are several thoughts concerning your situation as related. Even the best horse in the world will sour without appropriate leadership from the handler. If you or your wife are not able to confidently and appropriately set boundries and make specific requests of the horse in ways the horse understands and must comply with, the horse will fend for itself and exhibit behavior you will not want. Mares occasionally can be more of a challenge than geldings. Perhaps getting another gelding rather than keeping the mare may be a good solution for you unless you can up your level of horsemanship quickly. Being the great leader for a horse is not about being dominent or alpha. It is about 'leading the dance of the relationship with the horse' evey instant you are with the horse. It is about never assuming anything with the horse. It is about constant vigilence of the horse's responses to everything happening around it all t he time and the ability to keep the horse's attention on you as the leader of the dance. It is not abusive nor hurtful. It is more like understanding the horse is looking for leadership every instant and will make its own rules unless you are able to set the rules and provide consequences (as opposed to punishment) when the rules are broken. What I am speaking of is a level of horsemanship you have not yet attained.

Consider some training aids like DVD's that will give you some insight as to how to handle situations like this that come up. I have several available as do a lot of other trainers. Knowledge is what is needed and as you do not have the experience yet over time, get some education through training tapes, books, etc. Beware if riding instructors who say they are horse whisperers and horse trainers. Mostly they can teach riding quite well but know little of the horse itself beyond maintenance and riding. You need knowledge about horse behavior and how to deal with variations in that behavior. I cannot give you courses in horsemanship and training in a simple email. I can offer you telephone coaching that is very effective and will give you immediate tools to deal with the situation. Again, training tapes and DVD's, while a small investment, will help you along the way considerably.

Thanks a lot for your question and good luck.

Sincerely, Franklin


Thank you SO much for your quick turnaround and advice. While you have found a very delicate way of saying we may be in over our heads with the mare, Sharon is not ready to give up on her, and the 'small investment' for the DVDs is small indeed when compared to the emotional cost of having Sharon's dream horse (and birthday present) just not work out. Those DVDs will be ordered from your site today! While we're horse "rookies" we share your view on positive leadership vs dominance with all of the various animals around our place in the last 16 years.

One other piece, and a slight update from our original tale... Since the other day, the 7 year old TB gelding that was already at the barn and our mare seem to be bonding and displaying many of the affection behaviors you have described elsewhere on your site (mutual grooming of each other, rubbing necks, standing face-face with necks touching, etc). Also, how much might the fact that this younger gelding had been in the barn alone for several years, and how aggressive he was when we took the mare out, be impacting this situation. I'm wondering if the mare's behavior is also being influenced by his presence/behavior in addition to our inexperience?

Thanks again!

Dale and Sharon

Hi Dale and Sharon,

Horses want to live in community and a horse alone is a sorry critter indeed. Once a companion is found and they get to know each other they can bond and become quite attached (herd bound) to each other. The way to deal with this is for the human to have the knowledge and skills to become the good leader for both, so that whether or not one is removed they both understand who is the leader and who can be trusted. This creates confidence within the horse that it is safe because of the presence of the leader (or it is at the leader's or the herd's home base). So, in answer to your question, yes the mare's behavior is being affected by the other horse and by your level of experience (or inexperience) also. Both are a factor. If your level of knowledge, experience and skill comes up, everything will go better. Thats the nature of it. Such is life.

Blessings, Franklin

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