Melissa Kite

Real life: the taming of a shrewish mare

Real life: the taming of a shrewish mare
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One of my favourite things to do is to visit the field where Tara, my bad-tempered chestnut hunter is retired because there, I know, I will find like-minded company. We are two obstreperous mares together. Never happy to concede defeat on the smallest of issues where a long, arduous battle might get us absolutely nowhere, we are two of a kind.

When I bought her more than ten years ago, the friend who spotted her in Horse and Hound and went with me to try her out warned me: ‘You’re quite alike. I’m not sure if that will always be a good thing.’

She was right. Tara could handstand with her back legs so high in the air that her tail flicked over my head and brushed my face. Various practitioners of horse physiotherapy were brought in, along with vets who did blood tests, but the conclusion was always the same. There was nothing wrong with her physically. She just liked to make things difficult.

Once I got the hang of the bucking, we got along just fine because if there is one thing I understand it’s picking a fight with the world. She is the closest thing I have found to a soul mate and I think she feels the same way about me. It was always going to be difficult for one of us when the other found a man. It happened like this.

Being a dominant mare, Tara runs a paddock with a rod of iron, like the top dog in a category-A prison. When she retired, it was difficult to find a companion mare robust enough to withstand her appetite for confrontation and, as it is received wisdom to always put mares with mares, I had not even thought of a gelding.

But a few months ago, I moved her to a beautiful field full of verdant spring grass. Next door, in the adjoining paddock, was a lonesome brown and white cob called Dandy. Tara and Dandy had been grazing alone either side of a strip of electric tape for some weeks when his owner suggested we might put them in together. I explained Tara’s violent eccentricities, not to mention her hormonal rages, at their height in spring, but she insisted. Dandy had been with mares before and had calmed worse ones than Tara. ‘Great!’ I said. ‘Here goes nothing,’ I thought, preparing myself for Dandy’s vet bills.

We took a section of tape out to make a gap wide enough for them to go through and waited.

I drove past countless times that day, the vet’s emergency number at the ready, but both were still in their own sections until, after about five hours,  I drove by and saw the miracle. Whether romantically, bravely, or just insanely, Dandy had gone to Tara’s side. And they were grazing happily, a few feet apart.

Later that evening, I drove by again and the two of them were in the field shelter together. The next morning they were still there. It occurred to me that maybe Tara had Dandy pinned against the wall, but, no, on closer inspection they really were just blissfully snoozing side by side, like an old married couple. All they needed were four slippers each, maybe some knitting for Tara and a crossword puzzle for Dandy.

When they were still in the shelter an hour later, I went in and tried to rouse her. ‘I’ve never seen you like this,’ I told her. ‘Is this it? Are you finally settling down?’ She let out a big sigh and swished her tail.

Later that day I went by again and as I approached the fence she galloped to see me. Then, when Dandy came over too, she flicked a back hoof at his face. Uh-oh. Here we go. But it was fine, because the big, placid cob turned his bottom around and showed her both back hooves in return. And she meekly conceded.

‘I can’t believe it. I never thought you would find a man who could handle you. Before I did,’ I added, a twinge of envy in my voice. Tara is the only horse I know who can raise her eyebrows. She gave me an arch look, before turning her back on me to walk off with Dandy.

A few days ago, however, Dandy’s owner texted me in a panic. The pair of them had grown so fat on the spring grass that she had decided to move Dandy to a small fenced-off starvation paddock next door to the main field to stop him getting laminitis. But Tara was calling to him desperately over the fence.

I reflected on Tara’s expanding midriff before agreeing that she be moved too. So the silver hoofers are now doing horsey WeightWatchers together. That’s true love for you.