Energy, Thoroughbred, Mare

Some Thoroughbreds leaving the track are all harsh angles: straight lines, ninety degree turns, and stiff necks. They take months of suppling and stronger leg muscles than most of us can ever aspire to, just to teach them to loosen up, turn their spines, arch their necks, soften their jaws to hold the bit gently, turn their ears from the horizon and the ever-missing starting gate, like a hole in their line of vision, and back to our gentle words.

Bon Appeal on longe

She expresses her worry through rounding

Some Thoroughbreds are just the opposite, coming off the racetrack round and elastic and vibrating with energy like a plucked bow-string. They hold the bit like a burr in their mouths, drooling pools of foam around it, for all the world like a Grand Prix dressage horse. Indeed, their trot is more like a piaffe; their canter an exercise in collection. The reins are electric, alive; your fingers but quiver to evoke a passionate response – your legs on their sides are quiet and still lest you send them leaping into the atmosphere. Barely restrained power and nervous energy, these Thoroughbreds require a very confident, gentle rider.

I find this more often in mares than geldings. What is the saying – Tell a gelding, ask a mare? Too few people know to ask their mares. Or their fillies. And so you find these quivering, explosive ladies, their hearts pounding, their mouths dripping, waiting to be told, waiting to be told so that they can be angry, so that they have an excuse for all this upset, so it isn’t her it’s you. Mares, mares, mares, you are just women after all. I see something of myself in you.

Which is why it’s easier to ride geldings, of course. Even with all those hard angles and straight lines. Because they can be easily fixed, with just a little muscle and determination. The metaphors are endless.

Riding Bon Appeal was simply the opposite of riding Final Call. Final Call expresses frustration by sticking his nose out and gaping his mouth against the bit and flash noseband. Bon Appeal expresses frustration by tucking her nose to her knee, rounding, and performing a piaffe. To relax Final Call before a training session, one gives him a good long trot and gallop to help him round out. To relax Bon Appeal before a training session, one must walk, and walk, and walk, to help her unwind.

When you see her tongue appear, you’re starting to get through to her. Bonnie’s tongue appears when she is relaxed. She loosens the tension in her jaw, and out it rolls. They say that this is a deduction in dressage. If this is still the case, then dressage judges are exercising out and out prejudice against retired racehorses. Most of the horses that go to post have their tongues tied. Tie a tongue enough, and the nerves just don’t recover. And when the horse relaxes, and softens against the bit… there goes the tongue…!



Filed under Bon Appeal, Dressage, Final Call, Stereotypes, Training Diary, Training Theory

11 responses to “Energy, Thoroughbred, Mare

  1. Way to hit that nail on the head. I never really thought about those tendencies in terms of gender, but as I think back over the various OTTBs mares and geldings I’ve ridden or known, they totally fit the bill. The funny thing is, my TB gelding who never went to the track totally fits this mold as well. I wonder how much of it is an ex-racehorse thing versus a breed thing.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Thank you, Jackie! Since most of my experience is with TBs, I can’t speak for ex-racehorse versus breed. I could blame some of it on training techniques, like too much galloping in draw reins. If she was terribly nervous, the bit that was used to keep her in check, with the wide spoons on the tongue, could have resulted in the nose-to-knee head carriage. It gives the horse something to do and calms them, but unfortunately also can result in the over-bent frame.

  2. I think Gabe is a cross-dresser. He is sensitive and responsive, soft and round.

    I often wonder if Gabe’s tongue was tied when he raced, simply because he lolls that thing around like he’s never had the chance to play with it on the bit before.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      But Gabe is Mr. Mouthy anyway, right? I think it’s a safe assumption that he had his tongue tied at some point. It’s pretty much standard operating procedure now. Oh Gabe, so sensitive -the poetic type?

  3. And this is why I always go with stallions are for racing, geldings are for riding, mares are for making baby horses. 😉 I do not get along with mares as a general rule as I do have an iron leg and I do tend to, at best, ask nicely, then tell, then we’re having a serious discussion if I have to ask AGAIN. Geldings respond to me much the way mine have always responded to mares they’re turned out with–“Yes, ma’am.” (My old horse, Bold McKinnon, was a rank brat if you put him in with another gelding, but a mare? He’d tag along like a meek little puppy.)

    Which is why Trudy (a redheaded TWH) hates me right now, as I do not care if she is barn sour or at times has been allowed to get away with things because children are on her back. If I or the BO’s daughter am up, she’s going forward like it or no. Though I sort of sympathize–she nearly popped me into the saddle horn stopping because I was not letting her swerve to the middle of the ring and if she had stepped forward she would have had to step in horse poop. I’d be even MORE sympathetic if I didn’t know darn well who’d left that pile right there. (Lucky was the only other horse in the ring that morning and he didn’t make any deposits. He saves that for the crossties.)

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I can’t help but agree with your opening sentence! I love mares on the ground. I love breeding farms and working with broodmares. But when it comes to starting babies or even riding mature horses, I really don’t enjoy fillies and mares. It definitely takes a particular personality and those people that love and prefer mares have my total respect.

      That being said, there’s really an amazing feeling of intelligence and free will with most mares that I don’t feel in quite the same way in a gelding. It’s just a bit too much free will 😉 Mares really astonish me in a way that I can’t put into words.

      • Gabe is actually my first gelding…I prefer mares and always have had mares. We seem to get along very well. Because when you click with a mare they give 110% and it’s AMAZING. I’m a very quiet rider and tend to ask nicely rather than tell…it’s been a little bit of a learning curve with Gabe as he just does as he’s asked (most of the time!) and there is really no “discussion” involved.

        And yes, he’s Mr. Mouthy to the hilt! If it’s near his mouth, it’s most likely going to end up IN his mouth.

  4. Kat

    The tongue rolls out every time I ride. It’s hilarious and cute. I know I’ll get docked when (and I mean WHEN) I show her dressage, but I don’t care, I’ll smile and be proud of completing a quality test on a quality horse – tongue and all.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      The most fun thing about the tongue is that it’s totally dead when it’s hanging out. You can poke it and she won’t even notice. Wrong, I know. My old friend Debbie used to put coffee on it to wake her up.

  5. thatkyragirl

    HELP! I have this amazing thoroughbred i rescued, 18 year mare. She is awesome. However, we have been having an issue with her going out with other horses… As soon as we leave the farm, on a trail ride, she wants to bolt. At first, i let her, because my friend also has a retired racehorse and we of course wanted to see who would win. Mine did, not only that, but she dusted the other mare from behind. Now, she is ripping to go, when i am with other horses, and i am a bit nervous as to what bit would be the best. Currently I am using a full cheek snaffle, suggestions include kimberwick snaffle with both reins. I am interested in your experience and suggestions. Thanks,

    • Kyra.. my thought is, initially, that you need to take her into an arena and teach her solid voice commands. “Walk. Trot. Whoa.” You can bit her up with a double bridle, but all she’s going to do is jog in place with her head up in the air. You’ll essentially be riding a Paso Fino. Why don’t you email me at with as much info as you would like to share about how she goes, what you do with her, what you’d like to do, etc., and we’ll make a blog post out of it to get everyone’s input. Then we’ll sort through the input and come up with a solid plan.

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