I’m a mare person. My current main riding horse may be a stallion, and he is wonderful and awesome and all the rest of it, but when I’m in default mode, I’m all about the mares.
The standard mythos is of two minds about mares. On the one hand there’s the gentle mare who is suitable for a lady to ride. On the other, there’s the Moody Mare, of whom my all-time favorite example is the Kiowa war mare from Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, whose owner calls her the Hell Bitch.
I believe it, too. We call the mare in the icon Camilla-the-War-Mare. She’s difficult, intermittently dangerous (she has a kick like a mule), and ferociously opinionated. She’s also highly intelligent, extremely sensitive, and wonderful with the babies. When you look up the word opinionated, that’s Camilla.
I love her. She challenges me constantly, stretches my skills in every possible direction, but then she’ll cut me an amazing quantity of slack, as if to say, “Well, humans are slow, but sometimes we have to make allowances.”
That’s a mare. In her world, she rules. She controls the breeding process, determines when and how the stallion approaches her–if she doesn’t want him, she can flatten him with a well-placed kick. His job, aside from cooperating when she is ready to make a baby, is to guard the herd and fend off predators.
The ruler of the herd, in most cases, is not the stallion but the alpha mare. She may not necessarily be the oldest, though seniority counts. She may have a favorite or two, who is allowed a degree of liberty that won’t be tolerated in the rest of the band. The best alpha is the secure-dominant, who maintains order quietly, through the slant of an ear or the shift of a shoulder. She will, if challenged, kick ruddy blue hell out of the challenger, but in general she refrains from physical violence.
An alpha mare can be as, shall we say, interesting to deal with as a stallion. She will insist that you earn her respect, and she will often try to take over, because after all, Mother knows best. Working with a young alpha can be headache-inducing–she is so determined to be the one in charge. Win her over however and she’s totally on your side.
A less dominant mare can be a wonderful partner, as long as you remember that it’s better to ask than to command. The secure-submissive, the mare who sits on the bottom of the herd and is content there, is the classic “gentle mare.” Especially if she’s older and has had a few babies, she’s wonderfully kind and patient, and very tolerant of human awkwardness. Whereas the younger or more opinionated mare will demand that you do everything her way (to the point of reaching around and biting your leg if you get on her nerves), the mother mare will heave a huge sigh and let you be an idiot.
Camilla’s mother is one of those. She’s had a slew of babies, is used being climbed all over and thumped on, and has vast tolerance for the foibles of lesser beings, humans included. She doesn’t challenge within the herd at all; she can’t be bothered. I call ther the Queen of Passive-Aggressive. If she wants that pile of hay, she’ll come and stand out of easy charging distance, and Wait. In italics. With underlining. It doesn’t always work: if the current claimant of the pile is determined to keep it, she’s roundly ignored. But a surprising amount of the time, eventually the horse being whammied shrugs, swishes her tail, and moves elsewhere.
That’s power, when you think about it.