I am always careful to only pick a battle that I can win. Lizzie has repeatedly tested my tried and true methods by having days when she just decides she doesn’t want a thing to do with me. Or the fly spray. Or the hay I bought her. She is the first mare I have owned, and the fact she was female was a very small factor in my decision-making process. I mean, if I were a horse I would be a mare, so how much can I hold against her?
We spent the first five months of our relationship having good days, and bad days, and really bad days, and I attributed it more to her age and greenness than to her gender. In March we had just come back to Virginia from a month in Aiken, during which she had matured into a fully functional beginner novice horse that had mostly good days. I attributed this improvement to age and training.
I had my vet check her out on my return and (after she sent a hoof his way for touching her hip) he asked how she was with her heats. “Fine!” I proudly exclaimed, thinking the rest of the horse world was overly dramatic in the way they exaggerate the hormonal dilemma. Much like when I was 12 and thought all the older girls just wanted attention when they cried from cramps. I was wrong on both assumptions.
A mere two weeks later I was tacking up Lizzie and I went to brush her back left leg. A hoof zoomed by my head and I took a step back, gasped, and said, “You tried to KICK ME?!” She glared at me with her crazy eye. I stiffened, put the brush back on the leg, and dodged the even more aggressive hoof the second time around. I then got really annoyed at the level of her teenage-esque disrespect, and popped her one in the butt with my dressage whip. Without even a second’s hesitation, she kicked so defiantly that her back hoof made contact with my huge tack trunk and sent it flying through the aisle and out the barn. I sat with my mouth agape, and I swear she smirked. I called my vet immediately and said, “I need some hormones for her. And strong ones.”
After we got over that heat and had her on a regular hormone shot schedule, we became fast friends again. Every day seemed to be filled with progress and laughter, and me happily brushing the bits of dirt off her back left leg. I sometimes questioned if all the money for the hormones shots were worth it, as perhaps she would just have one bad heat a year, and I need not do all this extra management.
A few weeks ago we were signed up to run a training-level cross country course at a local schooling event. I walked the course and thought it seemed inviting and doable, and that Waredaca was much harder and she zoomed around it just fine. She’s a cross-country horse, so this will be a great day! I warmed up, made small talk with the volunteers, and then set off on course. The first few jumps were lovely, and after fence 4 she really settled into a gallop. Wind in my hair, early summer morning, oh the joy of our sport!
Then suddenly her thundering hooves came to a total halt. We were six strides away from a trakehner, and standing. Confused, I kicked her on with my legs. No movement. I bent over and checked all her legs and feet—everything seems fine. Lizzie? Nudge, nudge. No movement.
I then wonder if this is raw rebellion that came out of nowhere, so kick really hard. She pins her ears and glares at me. Like literally turns her head to face me and sneers. I then realize she is not taking me seriously, so I take my crop and smack her on the bum to show I mean business. No movement. I lift my hand to crop her again while furiously shifting my body about to encourage any kind of hoof to life, when her tail swings around and I feel it hit my hand. Then I look down, and my crop is missing!! I can’t find it on the ground, then I see it in her tail. HER TAIL STOLE IT OUT OF MY HAND. She smirked, I swear.
I left the course defeated (but I did get her over that jump!) and concerned. Why would my lovely cross-country horse quit suddenly with no warning? Was she sick? Did she tie up? Does she never want to jump again? Had she pulled a muscle? It being a Sunday, I called my vet first thing Monday morning in a panic, and he came right over. As I went to jog her a gelding walked by and as her feet planted and tail lifted, it then dawned on me—she was in heat. She had overridden her hormones! My trunk-kicking mare was back with a vengeance.
We made some adjustments to her hormone plan, and I got informed that sometimes they just override them. I asked about removing her uterus, but got a disapproving look from my vet. What about tying her tubes? He shook his head.
And four days later my princess was back. She was a frolicking horse of happiness and back to being a jumping bean. I felt like an unexpected tornado had touched down in our relationship, torn the trust asunder, then dissipated suddenly. I was expected to pretend like the weekend didn’t happen, to forget that I was forced to walk off a cross-country course worse than I walked on it for the first time ever. Sigh.
I had already sent in the entry for her first recognized training-level event. It was also when she would be back in heat if the new hormones didn’t work, and I don’t think I could handle all my friends seeing me stranded in the middle of a field on a horse that refused to move. The morning of the show I walked up to her stall and was thrilled to see her ears forward, and no sign of any plans to take my head off at the first opportunity. I walked her by a gelding and got no reaction. In case he wasn’t her type, I walked her by another—no reaction. OK, we can do this!
And my wonderful Lizzie-lizard came in full force. She won the dressage by a sizeable margin and put in a great show-jump round to stay in first place. I tacked up for cross-country a little apprehensive. She snuggled with me, a nice reminder that we do have a great partnership even if “hormonal Lizzie” hates me.
The cross country was GREAT! We worked out the baggage from our last time out early on, and by fence 4 she was back on fire. The only hiccup came when she was spooked by a ditch and went full gallop to standing statue, but this time when I kicked she lurched forward and cleared it. The coffin? No problem! Drop into water? A breeze! We finished the course with her feeling the best she ever has.
My friends that have upper-level mares, even the hormonal ones, say that they try harder than a gelding ever will. I am not one for gender stereotypes, but I can say that when Lizzie wants to work, she will work harder than any horse you will ever sit on. My trainer Skyeler loves when Lizzie and I have disagreements, saying while giggling, “You are both beautiful, talented, and VERY opinionated. You deserve each other!
Lizzie is a class act, and truly comes in a ring and competes. She is teaching me a lot about patience and compassion (I know Lizz…cramps hurt), and that some days it is best to get off, go home, have a drink, and laugh about it. Just don’t forget to get the crop out of her tail first!
Kristin Carpenter juggles her riding with running her own company, Linder Educational Coaching, running the shows and events at Morningside Training Farm in The Plains, Va., and riding her two horses, In A Trance and Lizzie. She grew up in Louisiana and bought "Trance," a green off-the-track Thoroughbred, as a teenager. Together, they ended up competing at the North American Junior & Young Riders Championships and the Bromont CCI**. She's now bringing another OTTB, Lizzie, up through the ranks.