Are mares more difficult to train than geldings? Equine behaviour study says no.

Occasionally asked if I’ve perceived a “gender bias” in competitive riding, I chuckle – while I wouldn’t say that guys get more breaks than women, or vice versa, I do think mares tend to get a bad rap!
 Yep, the “As long as it’s not a chestnut mare” syndrome is alive and well.
Yet,  I’ve worked with enough grumpy geldings and mild mannered mares to debunk the gender bias – at least for myself.  Delighted to see this study level the playing field (or the show pen).

We keep believing mares are different, and we go into the horse-human relationship with these preconceived notions, and we can then jump to conclusions about her not behaving the way we want her to. But what we’ve found is that mares are no different under saddle from geldings.” Kate Fenner, PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.

Here are some highlights from the article, but it’s worth reading the whole thing…

 Fenner and her fellow researchers analyzed data about riding and horse gender from 1,233 riders…Because riders were responding to about 300 questions about themselves and their horses on a wide variety of topics, they weren’t aware that researchers would be making connections between their horse’s sex and their descriptions of issues under saddle, Fenner said….

They found that most questions had a less-than-5% difference in overall scoring between mares and geldings, Fenner said. In the few situations in which the difference was more significant, the geldings often had higher scores for unwanted behaviors. In particular, geldings were 20% more likely to chew their ropes when tied, 12% more likely to chew their rugs/saddle pads, 12% more likely to not hold still while getting their faces clipped, and 10% more likely to push handlers when offered food, she said. Mares, however, were 10% more likely to move away when being caught.

“We did find a few sex-related differences in behavior, but these were all related to nonridden situations,” said Fenner. “And contrary to popular ideas, it wasn’t the mares who were more complicated in these cases, except for getting caught in the paddock.”

Debunking stereotypes about mares doesn’t just clarify misunderstandings about their sex.  More importantly, it can lead to better welfare for mares.

“If you go into a riding session with this type of bias, you’re not going to be a proactive rider but a reactive one.”

I always remind the riders I coach to ride the horse you have today. He or she. “Bad mood” or “good mood”. Distracted or focused. Communicating clearly and shelving your “shoulds” can override barn based gender bias and improve your ride overall!