When it comes to mares, their reputations precede them. From often-touted clichés to humorous tee-shirts, it is clear that they are known for being touchy, moody and just generally difficult. Yet there are a number of stunningly successful mares on today’s show circuit, proving that these complicated creatures can still go on to great success. Some even believe that a good mare has the potential to be an even better show horse than a gelding or stallion, if you are able to bring out the best in them – something that takes patience, cooperation and a willingness to listen and learn.
Mary Orr, trainer at High Caliber Stables in Greensboro, North Carolina, knows mares better than most. From World’s Grand Champion CH Our Charming Lady to CH Moonlight Memories, Jaunty Janette, Riva Diva, CH Meadowlark Jubilee, Susie McGee, Our Sunflower, CH Betty Grable and Cameo's Carte Blanche, she has trained a number of special mares to World and National Championships, each one with her own special quirks.
Our Charming Lady, perhaps the most prominent of these mares, is kind and quiet in the stall, but when it came to training and showing, Mary knew enough to “do it her way.”
“When asked what is ‘her way,’ the answer is simple: if she does not like something you will know by her behavior,” Mary said. “When she is happy she is on fire, and there is no question she is pleased with the program.”
She has passed this trait on to many of her offspring, who have been equally fun to work with.
“We have learned to be patient and let them think that it is their idea,” Mary said. “That plan has worked well and allowed them to progress and be happy with their job, but only on their terms!”
Mary has found the old adage, “You tell a gelding, ask a mare and discuss it with a stallion,” to be accurate, but has her own addition to it.
“Sometimes, however, you might ask as much as you want, but you still might not get the answer you want,” she said.
Instead of fighting in these situations, Mary often chooses to make some concessions. Though Jaunty Janette was a game mare in the show ring, in her stall she was shy, and would only allow her caretaker, Beto, to clip, bridle or brace her. Riva Diva had many opinions as well.
“Quite frankly she knew she was the best and expected to be treated as such,” Mary said. “There was no question who was in charge.”
Though Mary describes Moonlight Memories as “a pure joy to work with,” even “Evie” has a two quirks – she kicks in her stall if anyone cracks a whip during training sessions, and she will only wear a half brace on her tail.
“I dare someone to try to put a full brace on her,” Mary said. “When she says no she means no.”
Mary believes that the key to working successfully with a mare is to pay attention and listen.
“We have found that if you take the time to learn the personality of the mare you will find out when to stand strong in a tense situation and when to back off,” Mary said. “It is all about picking your battles. The goal is to become a team, and that is more important than being the ‘winner.’”
And you never want to take away a mare’s spark.
“Their attitude is what makes them special, if you can send it in the right direction,” Mary said.
Bret and Susi Day, trainers at Grey Ridge Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, take this same approach, though Susi stresses that these are simply good training techniques for any horse.
“I don’t think Bret or I would generalize that mares are totally different,” Susi said. “You do things differently for each horse, mare or gelding. With a mare, especially if they’re ‘mare-ish,’ – I hate stereotypes – you try to find a way to do things their way, but I think that’s the case in general, too. It’s not about submission on any level. You try and find ways to make them happy and comfortable.”
Still, Susi agrees that there are certain qualities that are more prevalent in mares, including sensitivity.