How To Train Your
5 top tips on getting the best from your Mare by Amelia Bowring
Having always found myself in situations with stables full of mares, I have learnt many valuable lessons along the way. While mares can be just that little more difficult than a gracious gelding, I love working with mares because I find that, if you get the bond just right, they give just that little bit more (that could make the big difference).
While these assertions may be slightly tongue-in-cheek & stereotypical, they may just give you something else to think of when facing your mare (or in fact, your sassy gelding)!
- The art of persuasion
The number 1 golden rule with a mare is very simple but extremely important. Take a husband and wife relationship, there is always one that consistently believes they are right when quite blatantly, they both know he is wrong.
Mares can be convinced that they know exactly what they are doing and can be extremely offended if you try to argue otherwise. Once you see a disagreement as an argument you have already lost. You have lost both your opportunity to achieve your training goal but also, more importantly, you will have lost your mare’s respect. This is extremely important with a strong-willed mare.
You will get a better reaction from your mare if you use the art of persuasion to ‘show’ them your way is better and eventually allow them to believe it was their own decision all along.
Horses are trained via tension and this is not to be underestimated when trying to please a mare. I often ride mares that get a bit tense when they feel I have control, so I try to release tension through a rein by giving them a pat every few strides. I find this relaxes the mare both through the pat but also by giving them a few milliseconds where they think they have just that bit of control.
Many riders can get frustrated if a particular goal takes a while to achieve but patience is key as impatience can ruin a relationship with a mare. This approach may mean working very slowly towards a goal and taking several sessions to achieve it; but it is better to train in a way that keeps your mare’s respect, builds a bond and foundation for your relationship. Remember, winning over a woman is a feat for anyone so take each step as a win!
Mares are sensitive in different ways and it will make a big difference to work out when and how your mare is sensitive.Some mares are particularly sensitive to having their tack tight. Particularly with stronger horses it is tempting to tighten their noseband and flash; however, sometimes this can be counter-productive and the restriction can produce tension in a mare making her stronger.
Keeping a diary of your mare’s seasons is a great way to predict when your mare might be particularly sensitive so you can make provisions for her. Each mare is different but some may prefer a deeper bed, more warm-up time or having their belly avoided.
Little acts taking into account a mare’s sensitivity will get your mare’s gratuity from the beginning and will only make for a more positive training environment.
Having a bond with your mare is the best way to gain their trust and, most importantly, respect. I find this is often more difficult to gain with a strong-willed mare; do not underestimate the power of groundwork to achieve this.Working with your mare on the ground is a great way to establish a bond from a reasonable (sometimes more safe) distance. Groundwork such as lunging, long reining, loose jumping and free schooling are all good ways to gain respect (and control) without much pressure on the mare (and without her realising it).
Linking in with sensitivity, lunging before riding can be helpful both for getting a mare warm and feeling good, but it is also useful for a rider to assess a mare’s mood for the day. Many riders note their mares are different people each day and having the opportunity to watch them move before riding is great to assess how to approach the mare before riding them. This can give you a game plan for when you dare to jump on!
A goal for any horse should always be to achieve their respect, but more so with a mare, I certainly feel accomplished when that respect is mutual, as it seems to matter more with a mare.
Respect can start from when you first walk on to the yard. If you walk onto a yard full of mares all guns blazing you’re guaranteed to have some attitude thrown right back at you.
I usually tend to approach mares in an open manner, hands behind my back, and give them an opportunity to inspect me first. This breaks down any apprehension they may feel when you walk over a bit too aggressively, it makes them feel a sense of some kind of control and as a result, gives you the opportunity to start that art of persuasion!
- Good old-fashioned bribery
Just like winning over a woman with a box of chocolates, mares aren’t too far away from this concept. Going onto the yard armed with treats can only be a positive way to start your day with a mare, even if you just want to treat them for their mere existence they will be sure to love you for it!
There is also absolutely nothing wrong with positive reinforcement. Show jumper and natural horseman, Luca Maria Moneta, was seen winning the puissance at Olympia after giving his mare carrots while in the ring.
These are only a few tips of many I have learnt along the way, but I hope they give you food for thought for the next time you approach your mare. While mares can be tricky, the most important thing to remember is that a mare has a huge heart. Mares can make the best partners in crime; it is definitely worth the trials and tribulations!