Mares not behaving badly

My “alpha mare” is strong-willed and opinionated---just like me. We’re a perfect team.
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I hadn’t planned on getting another horse, at least not right away. My wish-come-true horse, Tilly, had just passed away, and I was still grieving. A month or so later, I was with a dear friend when, before I knew it, she’d made a call and set up a look-see for me the following weekend.

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RW’s Rocksanne had been a halter champion, worked on a cattle ranch for almost a decade and then been at a breeding farm for several years. I was, of course, immediately struck by her roan Appaloosa markings, solid Quarter Horse features and unusually large eyes that looked right at me. When I visited again, she led the herd of mares and foals up to the fence, leaned over and stood with her forehead touching mine for several minutes. Needless to say, the deal was done.

Because she was an “alpha” mare, I was told by many horsefolk---mostly men---that she’d be stubborn, strong-willed, bossy, moody, opinionated, “too smart for her own good,” etc. However, as a woman who worked in a male-dominated field, I also heard many of those things said about myself, so I really didn’t see any problem. And I was right.

Rocks and I are both retirees, and we share a relaxed, mellow spirit. So although we have had our moments, she has a forever home and I have a loving teacher of life lessons.

Her intelligence constantly surprises. While working on “Not Running to the Gate When She Thinks We’re Done,” I stationed myself at the gate while she was diagonally across from me in the ring. I turned away, as if I wasn’t watching. Slowly she inched her way down the long side of the ring. When she got to the corner, she stopped. Finally she very slowly walked half the distance toward me, dropped, rolled, stood up and shook off. As she took one more step toward the gate, I turned and yelled, “HEY!” She whirled and tore off back to the far corner. A stamp of her foot and a headshake, and I could almost hear her say, “Darn! I nearly made it!” As I sauntered to the center of the ring, trying not to laugh, she walked to me very nicely, dropped her head and stood still.

Rocks has taught me to be present---right now---to everything around us. Not just the usual alertness needed around horses, but a total immersion in the moment. With one ear turned back to me and the other scanning our environment, she showed me how to be aware of every sound and movement. When we are together, there is no room for what happened yesterday or what may happen tomorrow. Just us, now.

She has also taught me patience and perseverance. When something isn’t working, I’ve learned to step back, take a breath and consider another approach to the problem. Sometimes, I set it aside, work on something else and come back to it later. I’ve realized that Rocks won’t ever learn my language, so I need to learn hers---what works and what doesn’t---and to keep trying.

Someone once told me, “People say a lot of things about Appaloosas, but they will always bring you home.” Rocks and I have become a team: She trusts me not to ask her to do anything that will endanger either of us, and I trust her to bring us both safely back to the barn. She will always have a home with security, treats and plenty of love. My only hope is that we will have many more years together, so I can learn everything she needs to teach me.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #452, May 2015.

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