Are mares really more difficult than geldings? Science says no!

Is a mare more difficult under saddle than a gelding? Opinions vary from person to person within the horse industry. Some feel mares can do anything the geldings can do, sometimes better. Others say the estrus cycle of mares makes them not worth the trouble. The Sydney School of Veterinary Science, in Australia, recently did a study to determine if mares are more difficult under saddle than geldings. Here is what they found out.

The Goal of the Study 

Within the horse industry, there are preconceived ideas about a horse’s behavior, temperament, and rideability based on the sex of the horse. Some riding disciplines prefer mares and other disciplines prefer geldings. The study set out to determine if there were grounds for this gender bias.

Do you have a gender bias between mares and geldings min feedback her? Does it affect your relationship with horses of a particular sex? The researchers are concerned that this kind of prejudice can lead to harsher training methods, particularly towards mares. Mares who are perceived as bossy will often time receive an increase in punishment. In addition, different disciplines, like the racing industry, are more likely to send mares with bad attitudes to slaughter when compared to horses with injuries and poor performance. If the study showed no grounds for this gender bias, the researchers wanted to let it be known to the horse industry worldwide.

The Questionnaire

To carry out the study, nine experts in the horse industry developed a questionnaire called the E-BARQ, which stands for the Equine Behavior Assessment Research Questionnaire. The panel consisted of experts in veterinary science, horse training, horse welfare, elite-level competition, equestrian coaching, equitation science, and equine behavior.

Two of the panel members discussed the E-BARQ during the International Society for Equitation Science’s August 2020 virtual meeting. Paul McGreevy, BVSc, Ph.D., FRCVS, MACVS (Animal Welfare), Cert. CABC, Grad Cert Higher Ed, a professor at the University of Sydney, and Kate Fenner, BEqSc (Hons), a Ph.D. candidate, had this to say:“What we’re trying to do with E-BARQ is develop a database that’s large enough to get past respondent bias (a tendency to respond to questions inaccurately) and show which horse management and training traditions stack up and which ones we need to get rid of. In addition to the welfare aspect, the more we understand horse behavior, the safer we can be around them.”    

Taken online, the E-BARQ  has other uses for researchers and horse trainers. This article, written by Kate Fenner for Horse and People, further describes the benefits of the E-BARQ.

The questionnaire can be used by horse owners and trainers to monitor how their horse’s behaviors respond to different training techniques over time. You are encouraged to complete the survey every six months to see how your horse’s behavior is responding. If the response is not favorable, then maybe a different training technique should be considered.