'Ware! Chestnut Mare!


I have just started taking lessons on a chestnut mare! I have been thinking of her as “sorrel,” because she is a western-trained horse and she has a flaxen mane. She is also sweet, and does not seem at all mare-ish.

But technically she is still a chestnut mare!


How can I, a lower-level onetime dressage student, teach an aged chestnut-in-sorrel-clothing mare anything at all about dressage? She and my trainer are teaching me some western aids, and I ride her in a plain single-joint snaffle.

What can I do to make her happy with me on her back?

Saddle fit, girth fit, quiet aids, give her time to warm up, dont pick at her too much.


Agree with scribbler. Mares are honest and don’t appreciate roughness. Listen to them. Believe them. Always assume pain first.

I adore mares.


I am owned by two chestnut mares, and they really couldn’t be much more different. They are both really sweet, but one is thin-skinned (QHxTB) and can be a little hot and spooky at times, but really tries to please. The other one (WB) is much more thick-skinned and tends to push back into pressure and act kind of belligerent if she doesn’t understand or want to do what is being asked. With both of them, I think time spent out of the saddle to build a relationship is time well spent. Really no different than any other horse - make your requests clear and fair, and be quick and generous with praise.


LOVE my red girls - a mother and daughter! Very sensitive, intelligent and can be drama queens but sweet and nice to handle. Special and here to stay!


Forget about her color.

She was Western trained for some amount of time and now you are using a whole set of new aids. She continues to be Western trained as you say your trainer is teaching you some Western aids. I suspect she is in her teens. It is difficult to retrain aids at this age. You CAN, but it will take time and creative riding.

You can make her more happy by using the aids she is used to and saying “that’s nice that you respond to leg this way, but now I’d like you to be more forward” and giving her the chance to understand what you want now. And “this is a leg yield and this is a shoulder-in” and giving her the chance to grasp how to move her body in a different way. You’re working against her former training and really be kind to that. She likely thinks she’s being good by adhering to the former training and you should be really kind in setting new boundaries. “That’s nice but now we’re going to try something different” should be your motto.

Forget her color. Mares are hormonally intact and you really have to be fair with them. They get it.

Good luck!


Geldings can be stuck in permanent boyhood and do things like play bitey face with each other and equivalent with their owners. Or they can be super chill eunuchs that don’t worry about much. Or residual studly. Or many other things of course.

Mares do not play fight. They want a relationship. They mostly want to please you and know they have pleased you unless they think you are being mean. They are like ten year old girls. Except once a month they go into heat and then they are like 13 year old girls who just discovered boys but don’t really know what to do about it.

I love mares.


I love mares as well. I owned and competed a few. Geldings as well. Some mares want to be dominant and you have to exert dominance over them.

I still say “forget about her color”.


With mares (and in general), be quick to find “good” and give a release. I’ve found that keeping pressure on for too long without giving that “YES” moment doesn’t serve mares well. Some geldings too, of course, but mares in particular. Don’t be looking for “perfect”. Look for progress.

My late mare, even if she was being a total butthead, if I just got over my arrogance and gave a release even if she “didn’t deserve it” the whole tone of the ride could change. She learned that the pressure wasn’t forever and would relax and rethink instead of continuing to amp up looking for the answer.

I also judge people who “don’t like mares.” They don’t like mares because they want to be dominant over everything. You don’t need to dominate a mare. You need to be a good rider, win them over with consistency, and be fair. Otherwise, yeah, they’re going to make your life hell.


I have had a number of chestnut mares, all of them wonderful in their own ways. I love mares, am happy to work with geldings, but would prefer not to have to train stallions at this point in my life. I am currently retraining a barrel horse in dressage, and he’s quite rewarding. As in every part of training horses, regardless of sex, colour, or breeding, time and patience make all things possible.


Sorrel is actually a western term for chestnut and it’s mostly the quarter horse folks who like to use that term. Sometimes draft horse folk use “sorrel” too. But in general most horsemen use the word chestnut.

I’ve known a lot of chestnuts, mares and geldings and I’ve never noticed that their color had anything to do with their dispositions or personalities. . . .


The thing to remember with any horse is that riding is 99% pressure and release training, ie “negative reinforcement.” The intrinsic reward is the release. If you apply an aid, horse responds, release or quit that aid immediately. That teaches them what the aid means.


Respect her for what she knows. Think about the times you’ve made a lateral job shift or had a new manager come in. Don’t be the jerk manager that wants everyone to change to their way of doing things within the first hour.

I have a theory that the old adage of chestnuts being fiery arose from some combination of bays being considered the “ideal” color for a lady’s horse & that they seem more prone (in my anecdotal observations) to hives/skin allergies/irritations than other color horses. The rest of it is just a self-fulfilling prophesy projected onto them by humans. You get back the energy you send out.


Right, what I’m saying is to be faster with that release, in the sense that you aren’t looking for “perfect” with a mare as they (in my anecdotal experience) will get more wired and amped than (most) geldings when searching for the answer (aka, the release). Almost like it needs to be broken down more.

And if what you’re doing isn’t working, release anyways. Sometimes the moment to take a breath and think, and not be trapped searching, is what it takes. But that’s hard for some (me too!) to do - to offer the release when there is no progress towards the answer. With the hotter ones though, it works to just release for a second and go again.

Again, all of the above is my personal experience.

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You say you just started taking lessons on this horse. Is this a horse you own? One you lease? A schoolie owned by the barn trainer?

You say the trainer is teaching you some western aids. You say you are onetime dressage student. Is the trainer a dressage trainer? Western trainer? English pleasure?

You ask how you can help horse be happy with you on her back. Is horse showing signs of unhappiness?

I ask all those questions bc it makes a difference. A fairly big difference.

You’ve received some excellent advice already regarding timing of the release (paramount in any horse activity) so I won’t repeat all that goodness.


With a mare there’s so much ‘there’ there. I have a couple who will attempt to engage in an argument and i just don’t play into it. If you do anything to react to their bait, then it’s all over, you’ve given them an excuse to misbehave. Never ever take the bait. That’s my advice on mares.


Agree with this. You pick up the sword, and she’s grinning. Ignore it and move on.

Sometimes what you feel from the saddle is much less of a big deal when seen from the ground… can someone video you?

Oh, wow, talk about no one getting the point! And I thought that, on COTH of all places, in the Dressage forum of all places, people would get the humor of my post about a chestnut mare.

Well, that fell flat.

So, seriously, right now I’m sitting here recalling all the chestnut mares I have loved in my life, including the ones who seemed to love me back.

Guess my humor was too subtle this time for this group.

A mare would have gotten it. Because – ya know – subtlety.


I refer to that as rewarding “a mistake in the right direction”. You acknowledge their try, and let them know they are on the right track.


I came across a chestnut mare FB group the other day and lost another hour of my life just gazing at the pictures of all the beautiful well-loved chestnut mares in the world. Highly recommend.

Sincerely yours,
Owned by a chestnut mare, registered sorrel