"Geldings preferred" - nearly everyone has heard the phrase at some point. It's an idiom that graces many ISO listings in the horse buying market and makes very clear the fact that riders can be wary of mares. Undoubtedly mares are a polarizing gender, and assumptions about their disposition have lead some people to avoid purchasing female horses. However, there's a growing number of riders who swear by mares. One such rider and trainer is Rebecca Rigdon-Blake.
The San Diego-based trainer says, "I don't care about the sex of the horse, their personality and how much heart they have is the bottom line. You can have people who say 'oh this mare is mareish or witchy', and I've had more geldings than mares that act like that."
Rigdon-Blake undoubtedly has the magic touch when it comes to mares, having experienced a slew of success with her late Grand Prix horse, Solei. Today, Ridgon-Blake's streak is continuing as she and the newest girl to the her group, La Fariah, are already turning heads. However, Rigdon-Blake promises her spellbinding report with mares really comes down to one thing - establishing a relationship with the horses.
"The main reason that I'm 150% behind mares is that they will give you 150% in return once they trust you. I think they will work harder for you, because once they learn to trust you they develop a bond with you that's completely unlike any other bond with any other rider. You become their person."
"There are a lot of riders that need a confident horse to draw their own confidence from. Mares aren't always an amateur-friendly horse because the amateurs don't always have the education and tact to teach the mares how to be confident and to trust them, all while not taking advantage of them. Many riders often misread their mare's negative behavior and take it personally, which is the biggest mistake you can make with a mare; or any horse."
Riders will usually discover that mares possesses a level of sensitivity that can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the skill of the rider. Rigdon-Blake also claims that the mind of a mare often operates like a time capsule, etching into memory each experience for better or for worse.
"They are not 'dumb boys'" Rigdon Blake jokes. "And that's why people don't get along with them. They don't forget! If you do something that's really special for them and praise them, then they work harder for you, but if you take them for granted in anyway - they're just like women - they don't forget!"
Rigdon-Blake believes that by taking the time to understand a mare's mentality and building a connection with them through impactful, positive, experiences riders are able to elicit the best performance out of their horses. Furthermore, she emphasizes how important it is for people to be empathetic towards mares when in season, a time when heightened sensitivity can earn some mares the unfair reputation of being testy.
"I think some people have a terrible time with mares when they go into season. People have to appreciate that some women have a terrible time when they're menstruating. It's the same thing. That's why it boggles my mind when women are so short with mares during that time. They should be calling their vet finding out how to best manage their symptoms, not be hard on them. It's life and reproduction, and I think it's really important to recognize that and appreciate that."
Rigdon-Blake isn't the only rider though who has learned to appreciate mares for all they offer. She believes that many riders are realizing the value of mares in dressage and other equestrian sports instead of overlooking them for their male counterparts.
"In the last twenty years I think the whole world has seen a big shift in the amount of mares used in sport. There's been a lot of mares like Brentina and Grand Prix jumpers, and racehorses that are at the top of their sport. It is really increasing dramatically."
" I think the stigma of geldings being the first choice, therefore the most expensive (aside from stallions) at one point in time was the case."
According to Rigdon-Blake even the strategy behind sporthorse breeding is evolving to greater appreciate the contribution of mares to the genetics of their foals.
"When I was working for the Holsteiner Verband I would go around to numerous breeders and the mares were always kept for breeding purposes of a specific line, and if at some time they needed to be sold then they were sold for a little bit less, but that is absolutely changing, and I think that's changing in the U.S. as well."
Even the breeders who have long worshiped the lineage of stallions are seeing the matronly light, valuing mares for their own qualities- temperament, conformation, and rideablitiy. No longer is a broodmare's notoriety based solely on the reputation of her sires and grandsires, but also her own abilities. Today, there's a new awareness for the fact that horses are inheriting MORE from their dams, as a result of both genetics and the mother's role in shaping a foal's first experiences in the world.
"We're certainly doing a lot better which means we are no longer breeding unrideable mares that are psychotic! Not considering the mare's temperament and personality when we're going to breed them is the most backward thinking possible."
"It's becoming more equal between mares and geldings. Mares do still carry a little bit of a discounted price tag, but I think the Europeans are very smart and savvy business people and I think that they discount it because the quarantine is more expensive for a mare then a gelding so they take that into account. Most of the time I typically have between twelve and fifteen horses in training and at least ten of those are mares so it's definitely becoming more (commonplace). Granted, people know me for how much I love mares!"
In addition to enjoying the work ethic of mares, Rigdon-Blake also cites the ability to carry on her relationship with these special horses by having their foals as "the second reason I love mares!". While competition has always been a priority for Rigdon-Blake, she's bred many of her horses after retirement or through embyro transfer.
"I make a clear distinction between a broodmare and a sporthorse. They're either a broodmare or a competition horse, unless you do an embryo transfer and that's a completely different story."
The ability to preserve her horses' through their foals has been just as sentimental as it has been practical for Rigdon-Blake.
"I've had three mares now that have had life (and career) ending accidents," she explains."The first mare flipped over in the cross-ties as a three year old and shattered her withers and was never rideable. But she was suitable as a broodmare and I bred six foals from her. She literally paid my way through college and help me put the money down on my first house!"
Tragically, the second and third horses were not lucky enough to keep their lives. The most recent accident occurred when Solei took a misstep in the pasture, shattering her leg beyond repair. However, Rigdon-Blake's heartbreak was eased a little when she learned that another mare was able to become pregnant with one of Solei's foals.
"We were successful in harvesting her ovaries and the baby is still alive!"
Rigdon-Blake is looking forward to the birth of Solei's posthumous foal, considering it a miracle that Solei has gifted her with months after her passing.
Ridgon-Blake exclaims, " I'm so excited!"