Obviously, comparing the sexes and saying that one is better than the other is not possible – there are advantages to each, and any comparisons are fairly general anyway because every horse is an individual. But mare vs gelding is an interesting discussion, so let’s have it!
In the wild, the mares are the leaders of the herd. It may seem like it is the flashy stallion, but in reality it is the sensible, dominant mare who leads the herd to food, water and safety. In a domesticated horse herd, if there is a gelding or an unsure mare who is in charge, the herd can be edgy and unruly.
That may make you think that a mare is the obvious choice when you are looking for your next best friend, but mares have a reputation for being more difficult. It is an interesting topic to compare mare vs gelding, so let’s have a look at some of their differences.
Mares, like human females, have a reproductive cycle that is run by hormones. These hormones can cause all sort of mood swings in mares as well as women! If your girl is having an off day – laying her ears back at you, refusing to be caught or even lashing out, have a look at the calendar and try to work out if it’s her cycle that is causing the problem.
If this is the case, you will know to be more sensitive to her around “that” time of the month. You can also buy supplements to add to her feed to make her less hormonal and more able to regulate her actions.
Geldings, on the other hand, have no such cycle, so tend to be of a more steady, easygoing nature most of the time. Of course, everyone has off days, so don’t be surprised if your gelding occasionally has a day or several where he doesn’t feel like cooperating!
You will also find the odd gelding who exhibits more stallion-type behaviour; these may be the ones who were gelded later in life or a “rig” – a gelding who still has some testicular tissue and thus still has the stallion temperament.
Mares are generally cleaner than geldings. That’s not to say that they will pile their droppings neatly up in one corner of the stable, or pick up every bit of dropped hay! But they do seem to have a way of maintaining cleanliness, and you may find that you have to spend fewer hours grooming a mare than a gelding.
Geldings don’t seem to care as much if they are dripping in mud from every hair, or if they’ve kicked their water bucket all over the floor. I’m trying not to be too sexist here, but can you see any relation to the men and women in your human life?!
Many people say that mares form stronger bonds with their riders, and therefore make more rewarding companions. It is true that mares do seem to try to look after you in the saddle if you have been together a long time and have a good strong bond. Mares can be more standoffish and aloof in the beginning, but once a relationship is formed it will be there for life.
Geldings are far less picky about who they want to spend their time with. They will love you, of course, and many geldings are happier to be cuddled and fussed over than mares, but you may not find the same intensity of the connection with a gelding.
There are schools of thought out there that say that mares can be more intelligent than geldings. Whether or not this is true, you still have to approach the sexes differently when training. A mare will need more coaxing – the popular horse quote goes “You can tell a gelding, but you have to ask a mare”! But you will find that once you have asked her to do something – gently, kindly and clearly – she will be perfectly willing to do it, and to do it well.
Geldings are generally far more forgiving of riding mistakes. They seem to be less likely to take offence and more willing to tolerate things you ask them to do, whatever you ask – this may seem like a good thing, but imagine you have asked him to trail ride over some dangerous ground. He will do his best to do it for you, but possibly at the risk of both your safety. The most important thing, whichever sex of horse you ride, is to be safe, sane and sensible at all times!
It is impossible to determine whether a gelding or a mare makes the best jumper/racer/trail rider – there’s just too much variation between each individual horse to put such a label on whether one is better than the other. That being said, you will probably find that a mare is more cautious and careful -for example she is more likely to make sure she doesn’t drop a pole, or rush headlong at a jump with no thought of actually clearing it.
The majority of geldings are bigger than mares, and can be stronger, and they are certainly more reckless. They are also more likely to trust their rider, and to give their all whatever they are being asked. Because of this larger size and headlong ability you might find a higher proportion of gelding excelling at hunting, or taking the cross country world by storm, for example.
Everyone will have an opinion in the mare vs gelding debate. These opinions are generally fuelled by experience – if you’ve only ever owned and loved geldings you may be sceptical about moving onto the fairer sex, and vice versa. But as you can see, there are advantages to both, and hopefully now you will feel more able to decide which side you will back in an argument!