In Praise of Older Mares

As I write this, we’re celebrating the birthday of our senior horse on the farm, a grand matriarch who has just turned 24. This is about the life expectancy of a horse–they can live into their thirties and a record-breaking few have made it up toward 50, but 24 or 25 is considered to be a good run.

This lady is a little stiff in the mornings, but she was like that when she came here at the age of 10–old stifle injury, healed well enough but that’s a tricky joint in horses. (The human equivalent is the knee.) She’s had seven foals, decided against number eight, let us know she was done, thank you. She spent a few years in a hill pasture, taking care of another older, human lady and a mob of Arabians, before the human lady died and she came back here.

At which point she decided it was time for a new career: finding her own personal human life mate and settling into the job of teaching that human to ride.

Older mares are the elders of the herd. They’re the great ones. They teach the young, rule and guide the herd, and keep the males in line. In a domesticated herd, all of those duties include the human element, if the humans are intelligent enough to understand.

Young mares can be flighty. They’re opinionated. They don’t like being messed around with. Their bodies are theirs, dammit–a view that changes right good and fast when the foals start coming, or those foals don’t make it. They’re big on the entitlement, not so big on the part where they have to earn it. Training a young mare can be a challenge, because she was born to rule the universe and she knows it. And she doesn’t see why she has to do what any inferior being says.

But give her time and seasoning, especially if that seasoning includes a foal or two, and she starts to see the world a little differently. She still rules–but she does it with a bit more subtlety. Her opinions are just as firm but somewhat quieter. If she’s spent her middle years raising babies, by the time she’s ready to retire from that, she’ll often welcome a new career as a riding or driving horse.

Even a mare who wasn’t trained in youth–since making babies was her job, and especially on a large breeding farm, there were no resources or time to spare for getting the broodmares trained–can settle in quite well to it in her late teens and early twenties. If she’s sound and healthy, she makes a great riding partner. She’s had babies climbing all over her, so a rider doesn’t faze her much at all, and having been a mother, she has that patient and nurturing thing going–though after a while she might decide, as mothers do, that enough is about enough, and try to take charge. When Mom is done, Mom is done, she’ll say, and we’re going home now, thank you.

Older mares can make great therapy horses and amazing instructors for beginning or returning riders. While the middle-aged, bombproof gelding is the gold standard for beginner or rental mounts, and a mare is still a mare and she may still have hormones though she’s no longer doing anything about them, it really is difficult to beat a nice, calm older lady with a solid sense of responsibility and a world’s worth of patience.

We love our older ladies. We have another 24-year-old here, and one who will be 23 in a few weeks. They’re both solid citizens, but the older one can still drive the stallion out of his tiny little mind, and the younger one is one spicy meatball if you’re an experienced rider. If you’re not, she’s the best teacher in the world, endlessly patient and kind.

And now they’ve got a younger lady to bring along: at 18 the merest sprout, but with six babies under her ample belt, she’s ready to get back to work as a riding horse. She sasses off the kids (aged from 6 to 12) and leaves them in the dust in the evening races, and lets us all know that age is entirely relative.

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In Praise of Older Mares — 7 Comments

  1. Shaughnessy would like to invite Carma and Gabriella north for a couple of days, to help her put the young upstart gelding Star in his place. He cannot seem to follow the Program in which SHE is boss Mare!