Are mares really worth it?

I have a crabby mare. She sees me walk up to her stall and pins her ears at me and then looks for me when I walk away. She has no health issues, no ulcers, no saddle fit issues, is treated like the Queen that she is…and I had her ovaries removed because she was cycling while on a hefty dose of Regumate. Is she just crabby? Is this how she is going to be? She’s in full training with an excellent GP dressage trainer and we have exhausted pretty much anything that could be bothering her physically. Anyone with this same issue?

I have a gelding that does the same thing, but only in the stall. When I bought him, I was told he’ll pin his ears at you, but doesn’t do anything. I’ve had him for 14 years (he’s 28). He has two faces: “mare face” (ears pinned and threatening) when you approach his stall, and “cookie face” (ears up and all cute) when he thinks you have a treat for him. It’s just his personality, I’ve taken to calling him Grumpy Old Man.


I agree with @yaya. I have no mares, just three geldings. I get the “mare face” now and then —the young gelding always does “mare face” when I put on his saddle --even though he seems to enjoy the daily exercise. The older gelding generally looks at me like he’d like to spit on me, no matter what --bringing him feed, saddling, unsaddling, rubs, hugs, brushes --always the same side-eye look —BUT he’s mister in-your-pocket, love you to pieces to my 14 year old barn girl. I have had this horse for 14 years and he still looks at me with contempt. Last gelding is sweet as can be unless he’s asked to work, then he’s crabby for a few strides before he settles in.

FYI all three are highly trained with well-documented records in “intellectual” horse activities --cutting/sorting/roping --where horses have to think for themselves. All three work equally well un-bridled as they do with bridles --reining patterns, etc.

I have long suspected the “mare-face” is because they are smarter than I am --I mean, I couldn’t cut a cow out of a herd --but they can --I suspect they don’t even need a rider to do it.

I read one time that a horse spends its whole life plotting and planning how to move up in the “herd” --if you are “boss mare” the horse is always watching you to see if there is any weakness --that mare-face may be a non-verbal challenge to your status. I know my boys spend a lot of time deciding who goes through the gate first when they are turned out --and it is always the young horse first --but weather it is the second gelding or the third varies . . .


I took a mare from weanling to grand prix (and still own her and ride her). Under saddle, she is forward and never says no, but often takes over. In the stall, she is a wall kicker when she is not happy about something and a serial squealer. I keep her on regumate because she has hind shoes on and I don’t want her to hurt my geldings. I also had a mare that I showed A circuit hunters when I was young. She was super hot and never said no, but again, she often took over control. Because of all that, I won’t have another mare. I think you are a mare person and find that stuff amusing, or you’re not. I’m not. I don’t want to breed, so there is no reason to have a mare. I don’t want a stallion either.


Try calling your mare out on it. Then, get on and keep her busy, encouraging her to achieve more. Afterwards, praise specifically what you saw in the last ride. She could be hooked in no time. Some are just characters, strong and definite. I have had 2 boss geldings, so it isn’t just mares. There have been plenty of generous and kind mares in my life.


How is she when you ride her? I have known 1 gelding and 1 mare who were ugly to anyone who came near their stall. Pinned ears, very ugly face, shaking their head, etc. But both were great to ride and were successful show horses.


The Horse has quite a few articles on this topic, but here’s a good summary:

"Don’t Call Me Mareish
Mares in estrus use a particular body language toward select stallions, showing their interest by following them around, urinating in front of them, and “winking” the vulva. But far too often mares get a reputation of being “marish” because of unpleasant behavior with humans, says Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, certified applied animal behaviorist and founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square.

“Our behavior lab gets a lot of cases of ‘problem mares,’ where the issues are attributed to her hormones, but that’s almost never the actual problem,” she says. “Most of the time, she’s got some sort of underlying pain that’s just getting overlooked because people assume it’s because of her cycles. And that becomes a serious welfare issue.”

Mares can have adhesions or lipomas (fatty tumors) pulling on the reproductive organs, which can become even more painful during certain phases of the reproductive cycle, McDonnell says. She’s seen mares with anal tears, anovaginal fistula (an abnormal opening connecting the vagina to the rectum), and genetic sex disorders, to name a few.

“The bottom line is, don’t ignore your mare’s body language just because she’s a mare,” McDonnell says. “Chances are she’s got a real issue that needs your attention, and she’s giving you all the right signs that should never just be chalked up to her hormones.”

Females can’t get a break, even if you are a horse.

If behavior is cyclical, it may be related to hormones. If there are no ovaries, I don’t see how it could be related to being female. Otherwise, it may be due to pain, or just bad behavior that can be addressed as it would be in a gelding.

There isn’t one sour faced mare at our barn out of 40+ horses. Mine is pleasant. My personal opinion is that there is a lot of confirmation bias going on with mare behavior. That’s not to say that is what is happening with your mare, but the assumption that all bad behavior is related to her sex is not an uncommon one.

and some horses are just crabby. I am. But so is my brother.


**[quote=“Hippolyta, post:7, topic:755420, full:true”]
… But far too often mares get a reputation of being “marish” … My personal opinion is that there is a lot of confirmation bias going on with mare behavior.

100% agree. I lnow people who won’t have a mare even though they have never had a mare. Reputation is enough.

There are no moody mares where I’m riding at the moment because all the horses are treated fairly and consistently. Bad behaviour is not expected or anticipated. Changes in behaviour are investigated to find the root cause.

Then, with that bias against females, add coat colour into the prejudice. Chestnut mare anyone?


Seriously! I have a chestnut mare who is just a darling - I can’t tell you how many geldings or non-chestnut mares at our barn are far worse to deal with, but one little spook from mine and everyone’s all “Oh, chestnut mares, at it again!” while she’s otherwise one of the sweetest, most cuddly horses at the barn.

OP, you only mention the ears issue, which could honestly be trained away. I would use clicker training (or other positive reinforcement training) to teach her to put her ears forward on a cue. She’ll probably then soon realize that good things happen when she does (i.e., she gets a treat) and start to offer the behavior more frequently on her own.

However, if you got her ovaries removed, there’s probably more than just the ears that’s bothering you. Other posters had good ideas, and I would agree that it may be one of two things (or a combination) - it’s a learned behavior, or she’s still in discomfort somewhere.


There’s some truth to that.


Maybe it’s because my first horse was a mare, maybe it’s because i’m a lesbian? Don’t know exactly why, but i have a strong preference toward mares. I have 8 mares and not one single one of them has mannerisms that i find objectionable. One little mustang mare will walk directly up to me with her head down and her ears back. If i put my head down to her level, she lowers it further…i’ve bent down almost to the ground to see what she would do and she had her nose on the ground. She’s a funny little thing. And sweet as pie. But her ears are almost always back, even when we are cuddling. I’m not offended by that.

My dressage lesson horse is a proud uppity mare. She’s flashy… knows she is beautiful and loves being told so. The smallest cue elicits a big response. She gives 110% to everything she does. I find this to be how most of my mares are…That they give everything they’ve got. I do not have one lazy mare. Nor one mean one.


They’re horses. Each to be taken as an individual. The crabbiest, most jerk of a horse I handle right now is a gelding - hands down, no question.

I feel like anyone who says “I won’t ever buy a mare” or “I won’t ever buy a mare again” is someone who wanted to dominate their mount - to tell them what to do and how to do it. Most mares I’ve ridden don’t take kindly to that. If you take even a minute to figure out and consider what they want out of the relationship, they will walk through fire for you. Everyone has a right to a preference, but when someone says “I’m not a mare person” they get downgraded in my mind.

And, bonus, once you figure out that skill of asking the horse what they want out of the relationship, you can more consistently get stellar performance out the geldings, too.


One of my mares is such a “mare” on the ground, unless she thinks I have treats. I think it’s funny. The other is a total love bug.

Some people have a large personal space bubble too. Plenty of people aren’t “huggers” and I think a lot of “mareish” mares just don’t like to be fawned over. It’s ok and I respect that about my girl. Why force her into something she isn’t because that’s the Disney idea of the relationship you have with your horse?

Under saddle, she is a delight to ride and very workmanlike. If she’s “naughty” under saddle there’s something amiss. Way better than some geldings I’ve had, who get carried away with the “joy ride” and buck out of exuberance. My mare’s got none of that up her sleeve for which I am thankful!


This is my horse EXACTLY!

Thanks all for your input! This really helps.


I tell my gelding when he is being cranky “You don’t have a hormone defense!” I agree that people are too quick to jump to the “mare” response when dealing with behavior.

If this mare’s only issue is that she pins her ears when in her stall I wouldn’t have a big issue with it. I know a number of horses (mares and geldings) that seemed compelled to “defend” their stall this way. You might make progress by offering treats when you approach and her ears are up but you might also make a treat hound! I feel like they are entitled to a grumpy face as long as they are alone in their stall and there is no lunging or snapping teeth.

Once I am handling the horse my rule is that the ears have to be not pinned - horse can be grumpy but in no way threatening. I only had one horse that needed this lesson and a combination of swift physical correction and then offering pleasant rubs when behaving soon eliminated it.

There was another horse in the barn (gelding, by the way) that was more aggressive about it. Staff had to get permission to teach him to “stand up”. With the help of a longe whip, he learned to stand facing the person in the far corner of his stall whenever a person entered his stall. This eliminated the lunging at people and, interestingly, he barely pinned his ears while standing there.


I have two chestnut mares and they are both delightful and sweet. One shows her heats a little more and gets distracted, but they both love human attention and company.

I do spend time with my mares doing bodywork, Surefoot pads and in-hand/ground work. I think it goes a long way to just spend time with them that isn’t always riding.


In my life with horses, I’ve had 6 mares and 1 gelding so that should tell you that I have a penchant for them. They are all individuals and only 1 of the 6 had a crabby outlook on life which I attribute to lack of care and understanding from the previous owner. I’ve used regumate on occasion when in serious training to help minimize distractions from inattentiveness but for the most part relied on slow, methodical methods to help them focus on what I was asking. I currently have two mares than are as different as day and night; one is placid and a dream to work with at any time while the other requires consistency and can’t have time off without setbacks. Honestly don’t think I would be the horse person I am without having mares in my life!


I have always been partial to mares but I’ve also learned that sometimes you have to be super humble in how you approach everything with them. Of course all horses are individuals and this doesn’t apply across the board, but with a horse that’s smart and always thinking, it definitely helps to keep an open mind and be willing to compromise.

I’m also a big believer in bribing my animals to love me with food… and this doesn’t mean showering her with undeserved treats all the time, but I tried to teach my redhead mare right from the get go that if she behaves well and does what I ask she gets a treat. I learned a lot about being more empathetic with animals actually after getting really into training my dog, in which you have to be 100% positive and basically can’t ever say “no” because it makes him lose all confidence. Being super rewards-focused has changed the way I interact with horses too because a lot of times we’re taught to “show them who’s boss” but that’s not always very effective.

Also, what’s actually helped a lot is being the person who feeds her at least a couple times a week. I board so normally I’m not the one giving out food and hay, and I think that really does help strengthen a bond with any animal, not just horses. Luckily with my work schedule I’m able to go ride early in the mornings during the week so I feed her 2 or 3 times a week and throw hay for her as well, and I think her learning to expect that from me has helped us form a stronger relationship.


You have A crabby horse who happens to be a mare.

It is ridiculous to go from that to “Are mares really worth it?”

If you had a carbby horse who had a star, would you say “Are horses with a star really worth it?”?


Tons of great responses here. We have a chestnut mare and two geldings. The geldings are, by far, more “emotional” than the mare has ever been in the 12 years she’s been with us. The oldest gelding pins his ears regularly, usually at feeding time…major Cranky Face…but he was starved for years before he came to us, so we understand it as food insecurity. He’s never offered to do anything else. (I also recently brought home a Molly (mare) mule, whom I am still getting to know. She is probably the sweetest creature I’ve ever met.)

The mare will squeal more during her heats but has never given us “mare face,” except for the relaxed, sideways ears, droop lip and an all-over rather blasé expression whenever I try to take a cute picture of her :stuck_out_tongue: She greets anyone and everyone with a nicker. She is also the most consistent of the trio under saddle. I always knew what to expect from her – her behavior on the trail and in the arena, how long it took her to warm up, how she would react to various things. Let her sit for months and months and hop on her, and not a thing would change. Meanwhile, the youngest gelding tends to find a new thing to be anxious about every fortnight and is a handful if he’s even missed a week of work.

I agree with a previous poster about mares suffering a sex bias that we see reflected toward women and, to an even greater extent, toward females in ethological research generally. Take a look into the male researcher biases inherent in the early days of ape research that are only now starting to be unraveled…it’s even rife in wolf pack, horse herd, and bird song studies, to mention a few. For instance, we are now figuring out that many female songbirds sing as well, a discovery that was made by female birdsong researchers! Check this out:

End of the day, every horse is an individual, no matter their reproductive status. Crabbiness is as frequently a sign of pain as it is a matter of personality, but immediately jumping to accusations of “hormones” for a horse (or woman, or whatever) who is not behaving as you would prefer isn’t doing anyone any favors.


I guess it’s just me but, I don’t really consider a bit of ear pinning to be all that crabby. It’s just how they express some emotions, and there’s nothing wrong with them informing you when they don’t like something.

I love mares. My #1 choice.