You know what they say about mares. We’re moody, we’re unpredictable, we’re difficult to get along with. But I know a little bit about mares, being one myself, and I think mares are just like any other horse, only better about telling you what they like and don’t like!
I bet you’ve got your own list of favorite things, the stuff that makes you excited to go to work and the stuff that makes you smile.
Did you know your horse has favorites, too?
Safety and comfort are always at the top of his list. Food is usually high up there, too.
But every horse is a little different, and not all of them are as talented at blogging as I am, so you’ll need to learn as much as you can to understand what your horse is telling you.
Here are a few of my favorite things:
Favorite Thing #1
First, the obvious. Treats! Feed me lots of yummy snacks to let me know when I guess the right answers. If I know you’re a fun human with a pocket full of cookies, statistically you have a much better chance of catching me in the pasture.
My favorite treats are bananas, Honeycrisp apples (which I turn into slobbery applesauce) and cookies that are not too sugary and easy to chew. Let’s be real, though – I’ve never met a treat I didn’t like.
Your horse might be a little pickier, so take the time to learn his preferences. Make sure the treats you choose are healthy and appropriate for your horse, especially if he has a condition like insulin resistance.
And definitely take the time to learn how to use treats safely, responsibly and effectively. You can get a lot of help with this from trainers who are experienced in positive reinforcement, aka R+. I’m pretty passionate about R+, so I’ll write more about this soon!
Favorite Thing #2
Speaking of trainers, I really dig riders and instructors who plan out their sessions and give me a balanced, interesting workload. Nothing makes a horse dull like doing the same old circles at the same end of the ring, day after day after day. Ugh! Bet you wouldn’t like it much either.
I like it when all I know about the arena is that there’s going to be some exciting new puzzle there. Keep me guessing with new exercises and obstacles, and occasionally take me out of the arena for a change of scenery.
Favorite Thing #3
Hopefully those instructors are helping you get excited about learning, too. Because one of my other favorite things is students who really want to learn what makes a horse tick. I’m a complicated lady with complicated needs, and I like people who respect that.
Hey, good news – if you’re reading this, that might already be you!
I want humans who take the time to learn how to feed me safely, how to cool me out properly, how to tell if I’m injured and what to do about it.
I want riders who try to get inside my brain and see things from my perspective. I really want riders who lead me like they know where they’re going and learn all my favorite itchy places. Horses know if you care!
Favorite Thing #4
United States Pony Club can help you become this kind of student. My Girl got her start there and through USPC we had all kinds of adventures, everything from playing Championship games in big coliseums to jumping cross-country in front of Olympic trainers. I loved everything about it except the 7am formal inspections… I am NOT a morning horse!
Pony Club emphasizes horse management, and you can’t earn certificates or win competitions without knowing your stuff. Luckily, it provides all kinds of amazing educational opportunities at a national and local level. Check it out and see if there’s a club near you. If not, you can still learn a lot from the Pony Club manuals or sign up for an online membership.
Favorite Thing #5
Pony Club also was my introduction to the sport of mounted games, and the Girl and I hit up every games rally in town.
MGAA even invited me to participate in a Breyerfest exhibition, which meant I got to be in the big parade at the Kentucky Horse Park and hang out with a lot of other famous horses. (If you’ve ever heard of a Hall of Fame racehorse named Cigar, he was one of my many boyfriends. True story.)
Both games organizations provide divisions for all ages and skill levels, and according to the Girl, are a very affordable way to compete in the most fun horse sport ever. If there aren’t any games in your area, you can still invite some friends over and challenge them to a game of Speed Weavers or Ball and Cone. (But watch out for a rotten game called Three Mug – those turns cramp my style!)
Favorite Thing #6
I don’t travel to play games anymore. But I still work hard. When my old muscles are tired after a long day of lessons – or some important head tossing in the pasture – there’s nothing I love as much as a good massage. I’m lucky that I get the occasional treatment from my bodyworker friend, Brooke, and that my Girl keeps my hooves and old teeth in tip-top shape.
You might think this is a little bold of me, but I believe that school horses deserve the same care and maintenance as upper level performance horses. We usually work longer hours, and we patiently suffer through all the bouncing, rein tugging, and shifting around that beginners can’t help. The exercises we do every day are usually designed to help those riders – not us!
We more than earn a little therapy and pampering – especially considering how essential we are to the horse industry, and how many lives we touch.
Favorite Thing #7
Which brings me to my final favorite thing: being treated like a horse!
Turn me out, and make sure I have plenty of hay to chew on in the winter. Let me roll in the mud and boss around play with my friends. Give me lots of opportunities to move, along with some downtime to relax and rest.
Remember that I don’t understand much English, and I don’t know what your goals are, so practice communicating with consideration and intention.
There you have it, seven ways to win my heart.
Hopefully some of these ideas will help you win the hearts of your favorite horses, too.
I’m sure they’ll tell you if you make them happy, and if it’s a mare, remember: if she goes all Dragon on you, she probably thinks there’s a pretty good reason!