Stallion or mare?

Bennie van Es - Tizian fan Ass Selectie WK Jonge Dressuurpaarden 2021 © DigiShots

In the ring stallions are real eyecatchers. But there are more and more high-quality mares who can hold their own in the sport. Which sex do you prefer? And how to deal with the physical and mental differences between stallions and mares?

Surprisingly enough, professional lady riders Kenna Bakker, Ingeborg Klooster and Isabelle Vroomans need a moment to mull over the question about their preference for either a stallion or a mare in the sport. ‘In terms of riding there is no difference for me between stallions and mares. But when it comes to the overall image and presence in the ring I think I prefer stallions’, Kenna Bakker says. This lady runs her own training stable for Friesians and Warmblood horses in Parrega. In the past she also used to ride the selected Friesian stallions in the Central Examination. ‘Usually a stallion has stronger musculature and a beautiful crest on its neck and front. When you enter the ring with a stallion you really make a statement.’

Mares on the increase

Dressage rider Isabelle Vroomans from Bax Stables in Leende used to believe that it takes a stallion to stand out in the competition ring. ‘But since I started riding the mare Vajen I know that mares absolutely measure up to the stallions.’ In 2019 Vroomans became European Champion with Vajen (Tymon 456) and meanwhile she starts her mare at level Z1. ‘Sure, stallions have slightly more of the ‘cool’ factor, but Vajen has naturally large movement by herself. That certainly helps. A good-quality mare with strong movement is just as much of a head-turner in the ring.’ And there definitely are mares that fit the bill. Kenna Bakker too sees the number of Friesian mares in the sport peak, considering the number of mares she rides for their owners. ‘A Sport predicate really adds something to a mare line, breeders are very much aware of that.’

Stallions more easily distracted

Dressage rider Ingeborg Klooster from Mariënheem mostly rides stallions, but in terms of quality Ingeborg Klooster has no specific preference for a stallion or a mare. ‘Of course a stallion has a more imposing appearance, but I cannot detect any physical difference between mares and stallions when looking at the technical aspect of the training. I do however, prefer either a stallion or a mare over geldings. I know exactly what I can expect from them, whereas geldings tend to be a bit more fickle when it really comes down to it in the ring.’ Ingeborg does however, point out that it is important for riders to make sure they always keep their stallion well under control. ‘I often take young stallions to unfamiliar territory to prepare them for competitions.’ The focus is a key ingredient in Ingeborg’s training. ‘When my stallion shows a reaction when he sees an attractive mare being walked past the arena on the way to the field, then I step up the work. Things like riding a small circle or a bit of leg-yielding. In any case, something that makes him shift his attention back to me.’ It’s not a good idea to counter unwanted behaviour with punishment. ‘You want to makes sure the horse stays cooperative. Stallions accept it when you give them clear boundaries and that is what you need to do. If not, he will certainly get the better of you at some stage when out competing.’

Getting a mare to work for you

With mares this is all slightly different, the lady riders point out. ‘Don’t make the boundaries too strong for a mare or enter into a confrontation. Then she will lock within herself and no longer work for you’, Kenna Bakker explains. ‘With a mare the rider sometimes has to a bit complaisant to get a result. On the flip side, I often find them to be just that little bit more focused when on the job. When you’re in a good flow with a mare then you can ask for a little more in an exercise and then she will give you that little bit extra. At moments like that a stallion usually loses his concentration a fraction earlier.’
One of the ‘disadvantages’ of good-quality mares is that breeding and sport can bite each other. Combining top sports with a pregnancy is very difficult. According to Ingeborg, the sport can keep a gestating mare fit up to a certain point. ‘But I definitely don’t compete pregnant mares too far into the pregnancy, also considering the potential transfer of viruses. Then I calmly continue the training at home.’
Most mares (as well as geldings) have to make do with less muscling in neck and body. That’s no problem at all for their movement, but Kenna pays attention to always ride her mares with sufficient length in the neck. ‘The optical effect is that mares seem to get behind the vertical because they have a lighter neck. Stallions may just as well get behind the vertical but their strongly-muscled necks tend to mask it a bit more.’
How can you make sure that mares can hold their own among male competitors in terms of presentation? Isabelle Vroomans tries to trump the stallions by riding her mares with lots of guts and a close-to-perfection technical presentation. I’m convinced that technically correct and friendly presentations always win from show.’




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