Barn Aisle Chats: Mares vs. Geldings vs. Stallions with Payton

This week we speak with Payton, a Master’s student at Sul Ross State University, about the eternal debate. And we can all be a part of the discussion… by taking a survey!

Amanda: Tell us a little about yourself.

Payton: I developed an interest in horses at a young age and was given my first horse to train at the age of 10. Since then, horses have continued to be my passion; I have strived to learn everything I can and gain as much experience as I can get. Participating in 4-H through high school in hippology and horse judging competitions, I learned a great deal about the equine industry and all it can offer. These experiences convinced me to pursue an Animal Science degree at Tarleton State University where I studied different aspects of the field and upon graduating attained a certificate in Equine Studies. The Equine Certificate has allowed me to delve deeper into the field I love and study everything from nutrition, and reproduction to equine enterprise management.

I have also worked for several ranches as a horse handler/caretaker. My first position, in my teens, was at a local ranch near my hometown of San Angelo, TX, to help train the weanlings, take care of the animals, and assist in coaching our show team. We competed in everything from equitation, western pleasure, horsemanship, showmanship, roping, reining, and hunter under saddle. Post bachelor’s degree, I worked as an assistant horse trainer at a full-service show ranch, where we hauled horses to events in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Florida. I then was offered a position as an equine vet tech and rehab tech, which I continued for two years as I examined options for graduate school. My responsibilities ranged from swimming horses, to running fluids, giving oral and/or intravenous medication, trotting for lameness exams and scrubbing wounds. Long story short, following my Masters, I plan on obtaining a PhD and pursuing a career in higher education teaching and research.

A: Mares vs. geldings is almost as contentious as cats vs. dogs. Tell us about what first drew your interest to this subject as a field of study.

P: I have spent time as both a student and teacher in multiple regions and equine disciplines around the United States, which has prompted my interest in investigating the impact of stereotypic gender bias in the equine industry. It was first proposed to me by Dr. Laura Patterson, an Equine Science faculty member at Long Island University, who is currently running a similar survey in Brazil. Both the Brazilian project and my research project in the United States were grounded in a study completed in Australia 2019.

Gelding vs. Mare

A: And what do you think will be the implications of the study? Are you hoping to change hearts and minds or do you think this research could potentially lead into different management and training techniques?

P: An over-arching goal of the research project is to determine differences in attitudes and perceptions across different segments and regions of the equine industry. I do hope and believe this study will create opportunities for people within the U.S. equine industry to reflect upon viewpoints and values related to equine gender and the associated roles for specific horses. By completing this research and disseminating the results, we have a great opportunity to communicate to the equine industry and to the general public how implicit bias may limit not only ourselves and other humans, but horses as well!

A: What do you say when you’re faced with the old sayings such as “a good mare will never let you down” or “a gelding is always honest.”

P: I typically respond that everyone has their own opinion (bias) and suggest they do some research into the matter to ensure that opinion has some factual bias. In my thesis literature review, I include an article “Physiological Stress Responses and Horse-Rider Interactions in Horses Ridden by Male and Female Riders.” These researchers discovered no fundamental differences in the physical effort, cortisol response, and seat from male to female rider and in the response of the horses to male and female riders. (Ille, et al. 2024)

A: While doing research for this article, I noticed that the more negative anecdotes tended to describe mares as “bossy,” “moody,” and “hormonal.” The worst I could find about geldings is an article that described them as “too workmanlike.”

P: Yes, mares are often referred to as “bossy” or “moody” mostly due to the fact that they have an estrous cycle. A mare’s natural instinct is to not let male horses (stallions or geldings) near them until they are in estrus (heat). They have this instinct to protect not only themselves, but also their foals. Even though geldings get the reputation for being “gentle” and “angels,” one cannot assume all geldings are as such. I personally have dealt with numerous geldings that have or intended to cause me or someone else harm.

The author’s mare clearly showing how she feels about working while the gelding is napping.

A: Do you think any of these descriptors can be attributed to sexism or prejudice in the human world?

P: I absolutely believe that these positive/negative descriptors can be attributed to preconceived stereotypic gender bias in the equine industry. My research is based on an original study conducted in Australia in 2019. The Australian researchers reported that 94% of the owners were female and held preconceived stereotypic bias towards horse’s gender (Fenner, et al. 2019). The researchers also reported that what people claim to be important in their choice of horse to rider did not align with their actual answer to the questions (Fenner, et al. 2019). I have also known many trainers who, when their client is in the market for a new horse, will only allow them to look at a mare or gelding, depending on the trainer’s implicit bias. One can even hypothesize that as the horse industry used to be male dominated, certain prejudices still linger on today as a result.

A: Your study also includes stallions, which have probably the worst reputation. Many boarding stables and events do not even allow them on the premises. Why did you decide to include them in the “great debate” of mares versus geldings.

P: The original Australian study included stallions. I chose to include stallions because, like mares, they often have an unsubstantiated bad reputation. One of the most popular descriptors of stallions is that they are “dangerous.” I personally hold the belief that training and handling have [sic] a lot to do with their mannerism. I have dealt with quite a few studs (stallions) in my time as an assistant horse trainer and as an equine vet tech. I handled some that were difficult and needed a firm hand to control but I have also handed quite a few who were just “big teddy bears.”

A: Thank you so much for talking with us, Payton! And everyone, be sure and help out by participating in the study found here.

Fenner, K., Caspar, G., Hyde, M., Henshall, C., Dhand, N., Probyn-Rapsey, F., Dashper, K., & Mcgreevy, P. (2019). It’s all about the sex: preconceived ideas about horse temperament based on human gender and horse sex. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 29, 150.

Ille, N., Aurich, C., Erber, R., Wulf, M., Palme, R., Aurich, J., & von Lewinski, M. (2014). Physiological stress responses and horse rider interactions in horses ridden by male and female riders. Comparative Exercise Physiology, 10(2), 131–138.

Go riding.

Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @amanda_uechi_ronan.