You can’t judge a good book by its cover. The same goes for horses, especially when considering gender. A woman e-mailed me the other day about two mares I have for sale. “I’m an advanced beginner and want something to build my confidence,” she wrote. “Would either of these horses work for me?”
Either would be perfect for her. They are pretty, good-sized, great-brained and as safe as you can ever expect. We exchanged locations, and it turns out she’s less than an hour’s drive. “Come on up and try them!” I told her. “If you have any other questions, feel free to call or e-mail.” A day or so went by and she finally replied, “I have decided to look exclusively for a gelding this time. Thank you!”
I really just CAN’T handle the bad reps mares get these days! Yes, you occasionally do find the mare who turns into the wicked witch when she’s in heat, but those are NOT the norm! I grew up riding a mare, a mustang mare, nonetheless, and I love her. She was never unrideable during her heat cycle, and even though she was definitely the most dominant mare in the field (and not afraid to prove it to anyone), I couldn’t ask for a better teacher or friend than her.
I think people forget all the havoc geldings can wreak, or maybe I’ve just encountered a difficult string on my farm, but don’t let claims of gender neutrality fool you! I’ve had two geldings in training who had to be gelded twice, and each had behavioral problems. One “couldn’t be turned out with other horses!” And the other, whom I’ve had for a while, can be turned out with mares or geldings… separately.
When in a field with mares and geldings, he will herd the mares and chase the geldings away. He has no problem leaving gashes from teeth or trying to pin the gelding in a corner, and if the other gelding is fearful enough to run/climb the fence to the other side, so be it. This gelding, Hank, used to hold rank as second-in-command, and under supervision of Max, acted much more amicably when introducing new horses to the herd. Now that Max has found a new home, Hank has no problem showing dominance more viciously. And yes, he’s been gelded, twice!
Max came to me as a 10yo, supposed to be a 5yo, gelding, and while he did rule the farm peacefully, he would scream for mares and turn out with them very well, until they came into heat and he became a rapist. Maybe not quite a rapist, but he did like it rough, and left a bite mark on a mare’s neck in flagrante. He behaved well with all the horses, behaved like a perfect gentleman under saddle, and never got worked up unless a mare was in heat. He went to a little girl where he would be boarded at her trainer’s and get turned out alone. The perfect situation for him.
I grew up watching “proud cut” geldings cover mares in 60 acre fields, and other than possible female health worries, don’t particularly care. Currently on my farm, I have two geldings who will try to cover mares. Coincidentally, or not, these two have more “attitude” under saddle. My other two geldings are the epitome of geldings: they get along with everyone and might have quirks under saddle, but not stemming from lingering testosterone. I sold an older gelding as a pleasure/trail horses, and he turned into a fire-breathing, screaming, breeding, pacing dragon at his new home… where he immediately went back up for sale. I only had geldings at the time I had him, and never would have imagined that kind, old soul would ever behave that way.
Now, for the paint gelding I had in training. I never saw him field breed a mare, but he would become so enamored with a mare he lived with, he would bust cross-ties in a screaming rage, just so he could look at her eating idly in the field… without him! At this point in time, I was helping his rider transition back to riding him full-time, and he acted like she didn’t exist. He would have trampled over her in a heartbeat if she would have let him and I hadn’t coached her through it. A good learning experience for the owner, yes, but needless to say, that gelding went back out with the boys after our ride that day.
So yes, maybe if mares didn’t exist, geldings would be the saints we always claim they are. But in all honesty, aside from scratching and breaking boards doing so, mares have not been the difficult ones to manage on my farm. Some horses are more difficult than others, some are saints, regardless of whether they have balls, have had them chopped off, or never started out with any.
I e-mailed the woman back and told her, “You’re more than welcome to come and give my mares a try, no strings attached, or never respond to me, but give mares a chance… SOME geldings can be even worse – they don’t have heat cycles that last a few days.” I doubt she’ll come to her senses, but we’ll see. Agh, women!