I’ve been told before that you don’t choose a mare, a mare chooses you. That’s certainly been my experience, as I’m the person that Nikki chose back in 2006.
I’ve blogged about our experiences before, so you may be familiar with our story: Nikki took me from the junior hunters up through the grand prixs, all while trying to keep me in line and feeding her treats. Now, at 19, she’s still happily doing her job.
I got some requests for a post about her quirks, similar to the “Behind the Stall Door” series, so here is the Nikki version. Hers is pretty long because she’s definitely a character!
● If Nikki had nicknames for me and for my mom, we’re quite sure that mine would be “Stupid Puppy” because Nikki makes it really clear that she thinks I’m dumb, but she loves me anyway. My mom’s nickname? “Cookie Jar.”
● Nikki’s favorite thing to do when she’s turned out is to roll, and then bounce off all four feet at the same time while striking out with one front leg. She’ll alternate which leg she strikes out with, and will do this down the length of the pasture. She also can mimic a springbok pronking really well. I’m very glad that she’s never tried either of these maneuvers while I’m sitting on her, as I’d be a goner.
● Nikki doesn’t like other horses much at all. She’s in a stall where she can’t reach her neighbors…because she bites them. She can do the “mare glare” better than any other horse I’ve met. At shows, we end up treating her like a stallion and blocking her view of her neighbors so she’ll eat her hay and not the horse who has the misfortune to be next to her.
She gets along better with mares than with geldings, but I can think of a few geldings who she merely ignored instead of trying to maul. I guess they were her friends. She’s perfectly friendly when she’s working.
● She does like other animals, especially dogs. She’s befriended a cat at Elzabeth’s farm, named “Otis,” and will cuddle with him and lick him when he comes down the aisle to see her.
● Elzabeth has a mini-donkey named Harley, who terrified Nikki for much of the time that she was in Minnesota. Toward the end of the summer, Nikki decided that Harley wasn’t going to eat her, and now is quite friendly with her.
● Nikki has a lot of nicknames, but the two we use most often are “Wondermare” and “The Princess.” She is such a diva, and wants to be treated like royalty, which is where her royal moniker came from. We always say that she wouldn’t want to be a queen because queens have so many responsibilities. She’d rather be a princess!
● Befitting a princess, Nikki has her own saddle with a nameplate that says Wondermare. It has custom cutouts to accommodate her huge shoulders.
● Her absolute favorite treat is a pack of brown sugar cinnamon PopTarts. She loves that flavor of PopTart and will lick anyone within range after she gets a pack!
● She doesn’t like apples or apple-flavored treats, and will be quite offended if you offer her one.
● Nikki is very gentle when taking treats. You could feed her holding the treat between your thumb and your index finger, if you so desired, and she would make sure not to nip you by accident.
Nikki politely waiting for her PopTart.
● If I’m eating something, Nikki has to try it. If she doesn’t like it, she’ll try it a few more times, and then will grab whatever it is out of my hand and drop it on the floor. Apparently if it’s not good enough for her, I shouldn’t eat it either.
Along the same lines, food always tastes better if she steals it from me. She once took a bagel that I was eating (cinnamon crunch from Panera, for those who would like to know) and ate the whole thing. I brought her a bagel of her own the next morning, but she didn’t want that one—she just wanted the one that I was eating, which was the same type of bagel. Maybe she just doesn’t want me to eat anything…
● Nikki loves to go for trail rides, and spends at least part of every ride out of the ring. She loves to explore in the woods, as long as she doesn’t have to walk through any puddles! Much of her fitness work is done on a steep uphill trail in the woods.
● If I ride Nikki out where there are bunch of raised cavaletti rails, and I tell her to “go play” while holding the reins on the buckle, she’ll come up with her own courses, which include hand gallops, odd inside turns, and even halts. It can be really interesting to see what she comes up with, but I have to be prepared because sometimes she turns very sharply!
● When we do gallop sets, after a particularly hard run, Nikki will whinny once. It’s like she’s announcing that she won the race!
● Nikki really likes her privacy; she will not pee if the stall door is open or if someone is in there. She got drug tested once and it took forever to get a urine sample from her because whenever the tester would go in, she would just glare at him until he left! Even at home, she waits until the door is closed and no one is looking at her.
● Going along with liking her privacy, Nikki doesn’t seem to like having her picture taken if she’s not on course. She’ll pin her ears or make weird faces if someone is trying to take her photo. I think she doesn’t like the sound of the shutter.
● Nikki is very attuned to her routine, particularly at horse shows. She goes with caulks in behind, and once they’re in on one foot, she’ll have the other one up and waiting for me or my mom to put the caulks in. She does the same thing for the farrier. She knows the difference between tan and white breeches; she gets very amped up when she sees that I’m in whites.
● She loves horse shows because she gets so much food; she gets breakfast, lunch, and dinner, whereas at home, she gets breakfast and dinner (along with free-choice hay all the time, regardless of whether we’re on the road or not). Her lunch at shows is a quart of a high performance sweet feed. At shows where we have night classes, we joke that she gets breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner because we’ll split her dinner into a small feeding around 4 p.m. and another small feeding an hour or so after her class.
● For as much as Nikki likes treats, she won’t take any in the in-gate when she’s waiting to go in the ring—she’ll actually take them and spit them out if someone keeps trying to feed her. However, once she’s done, she’s hunting for treats, and specifically searches out my mom because she always has a big bag of cookies!
● Nikki falls asleep when she’s getting a massage or when she’s wearing her Equissage machine.
● I think Nikki is a nudist at heart. Her least favorite thing is having blankets put on. She’ll snap in my general direction, but it’s all for show. My mom sometimes calls Nikki “Alligator Lady” because of the ugly faces that she makes while she’s being blanketed. She has no intention of biting me, and on the rare occasion where she has accidentally caught me, she’s been very upset. She’ll also make grumpy faces if I hug her around the neck – but she likes having her face hugged when she’s in the mood for it.
● Now and then, Nikki will decide that she needs to reorganize my trunk. She’ll carefully take things out and place them on the floor before putting them back in the trunk in a different spot. If I put something back in the trunk while she’s doing that, she’ll pick it up, look at me with her ears back, and put it down on the floor.
● Nikki will sometimes randomly overjump while we’re on course, which has earned her the nickname of “Nikki Boing Boing.” I never know when she’s going to do it. There’s no consistency when it comes to color, style of jump, or distance—she’ll just randomly explode off the ground and be over the standards. She sometimes jumps me out of the tack doing this, and while I’ve gotten better at keeping that from happening, it can make for some embarrassing pictures where she looks great and I’m hanging on for dear life!
Hanging on for dear life!
Emily Pope, 24, started her relationship with Seize The Moment, an off-the-track Thoroughbred and a chestnut mare, in 2006 and they began in the junior hunters. Emily quickly realized “Nikki’s” talents lay in the jumper ranks, and they worked their way from the junior jumpers to the grand prix. She rides with Kip Rosenthal and Elzabeth Lampert.
Emily graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2013 with a B.S. in animal science, spent a semester studying aboard in Madagascar, and now works in cancer research. Read Emily’s introductory blog, “Taming My Inner Gecko.”