The Thing About Geldings

I’m the sort of horse-person who hears about a castration and pops a cork for a toast all around. I celebrate the gelding, both the verb and the noun. I’ve known some great stallions, but it can be a hard lifestyle in this country. My home barn is filled with a majority of geldings, mine and those belonging to clients. Who better to write a counter-argument for my recent essay explaining and praising mares? It was so well-received that I felt I was cheating on geldings. I must respond as a matter of honor …theirs.

My personal horses have been both mares and geldings. It was always about the individual horse, almost as if they blocked the road and wouldn’t let me pass, but never chosen on basis of sex. If you are new to my writing, you may not have heard me drone on about my Grandfather Horse. In hindsight, I’m most haunted by sweet geldings who have walked on.

When my Grandfather Horse, Spirit, was young we boarded at a ranch that did a limited amount of breeding. We rode early every morning and come spring, it was impossible to not overhear the stallion and mare being handled next door, as we schooled our canter transitions. I remember feeling relieved to not be in that business, relieved to know that this life, it was going to be him and me. We’d be single together with no babies desired from either of us. He carried me through some rough times back then. I was a mess and I doubt a mare would have tolerated me as kindly.

The first thing to know about geldings is that they have had their testicles removed by surgery, leaving them sterile or neutered. Good news for a domestic horse in this over-populated world. Geldings are also said to make steadier riding horses because they don’t have mood swings (heat cycles like mares) and can be more predictable. They might generally be a bit more tolerant of our shortcomings and some of us need that.

Does that mean a gelding is somehow less? The last two few Olympic gold medals came home on the back of a gelding. Geldings have as much success in the show world as they do hanging out with horse-crazy girls in the paddock. They are the good guys.

Geldings can seem like the strong silent type, perfect to co-star with the Lone Ranger. (Silver was a gelding.) Stoic to a fault, the perfect match for Gary Cooper and all the old cowboys who might have been a bit put-off by strong-willed mares or women.

Geldings are the epitome of a workhorse, focused and committed to the task at hand, even hiding pain in favor of partnering with humans. I’ve known geldings with huge hearts who offer more than they are asked, with a lifelong willingness to push on and improve, jumping from one riding discipline to another as their rider asks. Geldings are the sort as happy to work long hours as they are happy to sit on the sofa and watch movies on a rainy day. You could introduce them to your mother, and they’d give her the royal pony-ride treatment. They show us patience and take care of us; a gelding will fill in for us when we get it wrong. Donkeys see that as a serious character flaw.

The long-ears are right, that is the downside of geldings. They are easier to intimidate, easier to dominate and shut down. We call it desensitizing, but we flood them with noise and trap them in a cage of learned helplessness because they choose a flight or freeze response, but almost never to fight. Being stoic comes with a price and many are damaged beyond their limits by being taken advantage of by unscrupulous trainers and owners. We call them push-button or think they’re stupid. Shame on us, we exploit their good and willing natures because it’s easier than living up to their example.

Some geldings appear docile as teddy bears, but it’s an underestimation. They deserve more respect. They won’t get it from mares, famous for toying with the gelding’s schoolboy infatuations, but we need to understand that a stoic horse is not less sensitive, less intelligent, or less vital in any way. We must adjust up the volume of their language, their calming signals. Geldings say more with a neck stretch than a mare says galloping circles with her tail flagged. It’s our job to be better listeners. When geldings whisper, we need to acknowledge them and respond to the small signals as the large and true statements that are intended. It’s all about trusting that they will be heard.

There is a difference between a simple mind and a single mind, one with less distraction that can focus with calm clarity. We would do better to take a cue and still our own busy chatter. Expect less, and be happy with what we have, rewarding all the tiny successes until we are swept away in a tsunami of perfection.

If mares teach us to respect them, then perhaps geldings help us respect ourselves.

For me, geldings are personal, a matter of the heart. Quirky, smart, and wildly challenging, they have danced with me on my good days and stood by me on the bad. I am the product of geldings. On my own, I can be mare-ish, opinionated and headstrong. I can jump to conclusions and hold a grudge. Geldings gifted me with confidence from accomplishing hard challenges, character by witnessing their strength, and a sense of acceptance that I didn’t find elsewhere. Kindness and empathy can be learned in the shadow of geldings, who give us a sense of humanity in our inhuman world. With a grateful nod, I owe a debt to all geldings, and especially my Grandfather Horse, who taught me the greatest strength is vulnerability. From my memoir, Stable Relation:

“Sometimes I see a father playing with his child, tossing her in the air and catching her, holding her tight to his chest. Then my heartbeat feels tight in my own chest and I think of Spirit. He did that toss and catch with me.”

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm

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Working with riders of any discipline and horses of any breed, Anna believes dressage training principals build a relaxed & forward foundation that crosses over all riding disciplines in the same way that the understanding Calming Signals benefits all equine communication.

Anna Blake

46 thoughts on “The Thing About Geldings”

  1. Again with the tears….I don’t know how you do it! But thank you for reminding me the specifics of how my Ali was. How much I loved him and how he protected me and made me feel brave.

  2. Wow, Anna-you hit the nail on the head with this one! As I think about my former horse, a mare, an opinionated, stubborn stinker, and my current horse, a wonderful, calm, easy-going gelding, I am so happy I made the difficult decision to sell her and buy him. I’ve had both mares & geldings over the years, some good and some not-so-good, but in the end, I think it’s about getting the right match. Having my wonderful gelding has made it enjoyable to ride again and I look forward to each time spent on his back & just hanging out with him. Thanks for posting this blog.

  3. My first “real” horse that was mine was a gelding. He was mistreated young but he learned to trust and would do whatever I asked of him. Helped a young girl grow up. My sister also had a gelding mild was not in his vocabulary but that may be to his being a Saddlebred and retired racehorse. But we tested them both many times and they both brought it all each time.

  4. Many many thanks – mares are great – but my boy was beyond great – not because of what we did together, but because of what and who he was. Tears here too!

  5. Reading The Thing About Mares, I learned a lot. Thank you, all!
    Reading The Thing About Geldings, I remembered a lot and saw in my mind’s eye all of the geldings who shared and share in my life. All rescues in order of appearance: Hershey. Dover. Cappy. Sherlock. Gully. PokeyMo. Hank. Bo Dee Bo. Loopy. 😉
    Thank you, Anna, for “playing” the flip side!

  6. Glad to see this corresponding testament to the gelding! I commented about my wonderful mare, Promise, on your last post. Well, I had the incredible opportunity to love and ride her son, Snickers. While he is a fabulous horse in his own right, the fact that he was her boy made it even better. Snickers is very smart, has opinions and lots of personality, yet he is all the things good geldings are said to be: forgiving, kind, calm, the perfect dance partner who made me feel like a better rider than I actually was. It was an exciting partnership that brought much needed confidence and opened the doors to much growth for me, both as a rider and a person. He has the great mind of both his parents and his steadier-Eddie mindset allowed the transition from the beginning rider his mother raised to great strides in my becoming a better partner for him and other horses. I believe and often tell people – whether they understand it or not – that I was raised by horses, even though I began my horse journey as an older adult. It’s never too late to grow up! Here’s to all the gelding horse-heroes!

  7. My current gelding has been teaching me about self-control. The (pony!) mare I began my re-riding career on, had the herculean task of reminding me about the importance of listening lol. He is generally quite patient. She was ALWAYS right. Great post as usual. 🙂

  8. “he did that toss and catch with me…” reading this description is the icing on the cake for a beautiful morning riding my current gelding, with whom I am unabashedly in love.

  9. Lovely sentiment and so well put.
    Tears well up to think of my own grandfather horse as he kindly carries me daily without complaint. We both are slowing down a bit but will continue in this partnership as long as love lasts. Love never truly goes away does it….

  10. ….surely it’s the infinity within us that ushers these beloved geldings into our experience. All of them.

  11. So relieved you followed up last week’s tribute to mares with one on geldings ! My first ( at age 9) and never to be equaled horse was a gelding, and I have always sought out geldings when looking for a horse, for whatever reason. A bias I suppose. I have met and encountered enough mares now to overcome that bias to some degree, but the geldings of the past ( Top Man, Spec, and Jackson) and the present ones( Zen Bear and Cash) own my heart and appear regularly in my dreams. So thank you for the gelding salute !

  12. I need to thank Bimbo, the veteran gelding who taught me to ride and won me my first ribbons. Without him, I would never have known what to aspire to. And he got me “spotted”, plucked out of the local riding school by an old Light Horse man (Aussie light cavalry) who kept a few show horses. Mostly mares. When I graduated from Peggy, a pony, to a taller, fancier superb mare Vanity, he bred Peggy, promising “If she has a filly I’ll give her to you.” I got my filly. The mares carry the line, the sentiment. The geldings are the teachers. I don’t dislike them at all, but rather prefer not to run out of horses!
    I somehow caught that old mentor’s bug for mares. He also kept a stallion, way down the back.
    The human world is overloaded with testosterone, we are very lucky the horse world is not. Klaus Hempfling was asked how come he works mainly with stallions. “They seem to be the ones mostly presented with issues.”
    This post makes a nice balance, draw a lot more comment. Inspired writing, as always, thanks Anna.

  13. Good morning Anna;
    I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your lovely article about geldings. The paragraph about geldings being easier to intimidate and shut down really touched my heart. I lost my heart horse 3 years ago, a beautiful Paso Fino gelding named Crescendo. He understood me completely and gave me everything he had to give. My new gelding is equally as magnificent, however he is a sensitive and flighty boy. I struggle on a daily basis to find a happy middle ground somewhere between flooding and desensitization and quieting my mind to listen to his ideas on the situation. I believe I will go out to him today with much more Resolve to be quiet in my mind and present in the moment and listen to what he is trying to teach me. Thank you so much for helping this thought grow in my mind.

    • It’s always starting over with new horses, meaning we know that each horse is different, we just have to experience it anyway… Have a great day at the barn. thanks, Shauna.

  14. Fifty years ago I got my first mare. A sweet three year old Strawberry Roan. Then an older gentle black Morgan mare. Since then I’ve had an Arabian stallion, an ex race horse three year old gelding, an amazing black Tennesee Walker gelding that thought he was a stallion and my current retired old Anglo Arabian mare. My mares have and are the mellowest sweethearts ever. My horsey friends are all gelding people and I’ve ridden and bonded with many while my family rode my sweet Anglo Arabian mare. She’s been a therapy horse and many a little girls first ride. This old mare of mine is my last horse. We’ve grown old together and we both no longer ride. I have had her since she was about two years old and I am the first person to ever be on her back. Together we are one. She has seen me through many hard times. My two children have passed away and I doubt I’d be here if it weren’t for her. If I could still ride, I’d get another mare. I loved my geldings and my stallion too but mares have my heart. My old mare will have me until she passes. My sweet heart horse, my soul mate.

  15. Great piece! Yes, horses are all different individuals and I’ve know some incredibly sweet mares. But you are right about geldings, their kindness and forgiving nature and desire to please. And our responsibility not to take advantage of that. I was always a daddy’s girl and so I choose geldings of course. Adventures together with a generous man!

  16. I was lucky enough to connect with a gracious gelding by the name of Tango, in my first relationship with a horse. He was kind, patient, brave, intelligent, and an infinitely accomplished teacher. He was with me only 3 years. If he hadn’t been such a phenomenal horse; the tragedy of losing him would have turned me away from horses. Here I am 19 years later; having had the honor of knowing a dozen other horses. Thank you Tango!

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