“She’s cute, but she’s kind of a b****.”
That was the first description of the fiery, flaxen-maned, beautiful beast I would soon call my own; my sweet Bee.
You may or may not have heard of the myth that chestnut horses, mares in particular, are hot blooded, hard headed, and an all around challenge. Some swear this myth is true, while others firmly believe it is what it is, simply a myth. While I take pride in the fact my own chestnut mares tend to be more spirited than some, I find myself on the side of the myth is myth, kinda…
Let’s start with some of my own personal background.
In the past my family has owned a number of horses of various breeds and colors. Appaloosas, arabians, thoroughbreds, and quarter horses, with a few other breeds sprinkled throughout. The first horse that I ever really fell in love with would be our family’s second horse, Tia. Tia was a chestnut arabian mare (the problematic trifecta for many people). Tia was amazing. We got her in her later years, she was about 18, but she was still as feisty as ever. I remember one of the first times I met her, it took us an hour to catch her out in the pasture. As time went on however, it became less and less of a problem and eventually stopped (for the most part). Aside from being caught, Tia would do anything you asked of her. We used her for trail riding, barrel racing, and when my half sister wanted to learn jumping, Tia was who she started with.
I think it has been because of this mare I have found myself drawn to these ginger fillies. Since Tia, I have always preferred mares, as, let’s face it, most stallions are dicks, and I find most geldings to be lazy and/or somewhat dopey. Mares to me are that perfect combination of attitude and work ethic. They’ll eventually do what you ask, but only because they WANT to. And I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve not only come across hardworking mares, but smart ones as well.
After making the rounds through my family’s many horses, due to pure luck I would eventually wind up with Bee. Sitting out in my stepmom’s truck, waiting for her friend to meet us outside, we sat facing the pasture with all of her horses who were hanging out by the fence. I looked up, saw Bee with her copper penny coat, big white blaze, and that almost platinum blonde mane and simply stated, “that one is pretty cute.” To which my stepmom replied with the quote above, with the added, “she’s for sale, want to take her for a ride?” Never one to pass up on a chance to ride, I replied, “sure.”
Another girl we knew was interested in Bee as well, but fortunately after our first ride at the Jackson County fairgrounds, Bee would come home with me a few days later. Eventually she’d make it to CA where she’s still stuck with me today. I got very lucky with Bee when you really think about it; I essentially said, “that one’s pretty, let’s get it,” and it actually worked out.
I don’t know where the idea of her being a b**** came from, but I haven’t seen it. I’ve gotten to know Bee and her quirks pretty well these past 13 years. I’ve learned that she perhaps missed her true calling as an endurance horse, as she loves to run, never gets tired, loves trail, and hardly ever spooks. She’s very smart and loves to show off how smart she is, but she gets herself into trouble with all that energy (seemingly randomly deciding NOW is the time to go for a gallop). Admittedly, some of her bad habits are created primarily by me (what can I say, I love galloping on trail too).
She’s definitely become a “one person horse” for the most part because of these habits, but she’s by no means dangerous or “bad.” She’s incredibly sweet and loves to be around people once she gets to know them. She loves her horsey friends, Cricket and now Kitty, and she’s super beta mare, definitely not pushy or aggressive (except with geldings, but they don’t count). She doesn’t bite, kick, rear, or buck, she’s had her moments like any horse, but these are by no means a common occurrence and when they do happen, it’s almost always a result of miscommunication (or brushing in the wrong spot).
Then there’s Kitty. Kitty is another horse I got lucky with. Kitty is an OTTB, who had some good basic training put on her and then sold to a family who was new to the equestrian world. She belonged to a young girl who was a beginner and the two didn’t mesh well. Kitty, possibly due to no real fault of her own would kick out under saddle, duck her head forward at anything beyond a trot, and would get excitable, showing this by bucking. As a result, an inexperienced family resorted to whipping, slapping, and tugging on Kitty’s face. Kitty responded in kind by slowly becoming more aggressive to her owners when they would come out, specifically ear pinning and biting. Eventually frustrated, the girl stopped coming to the barn altogether.
Knowing that Bee will soon be due for retirement, I entertained the possibility of taking on Kitty as a project. When I brought up the offer to the family, they jumped at the chance to give her to a good home, knowing it was for her best interest. From the first day, I was sold on this horse. I took it slow on the first day, simply pulling her out of the stall to turn her out. She went from ears pinned, ready to nip, to excited and eager in this very brief interaction. She knew she didn’t have to be in defense mode. Afterwards, I pulled her out and rinsed her off, and scrubbed her legs. They had been coated in a nasty fungus like build up from lack of proper routine care. The amount of scrubbing I did probably would have earned me a kick to the face from most other horses, but she stood there patiently while I worked without lifting a hoof.
I soon moved onto riding and learned the quirks that had sent the previous owners running. I realized much of this behavior was due to old injuries coupled with lack of exercise (with a dash of realization that if she does this she doesn’t have to work). Being an OTTB my best guess is that she has a stifle issue, which causes some crossfiring and head ducking. She would do this while turned out as well as under saddle. From consistent work and exercise, this has improved significantly. We’re slowly improving our under saddle skills and she’s working really hard to get it right. Kitty turns out, is a smart one as well. She’s not only figured out how to unlock her pasture gate, but does extremely well on trail with other horses, despite only doing trail since I’ve had her (less than a year). She does so well that I put Jordan, who is a beginner, on her when we ride. We are continuing to improve in the arena and learn new skills, as well as how to go on trail alone (her and Bee are incredibly attached now), but given the chance to buy her again, I would in a heartbeat. For the most part, Kitty is an incredibly calm little mare and a far cry from the “crazy” chestnut horse of myth.
Now I’m sure you’re wondering, “where is this part where she ‘kinda’ agrees?”
As far as chestnut or sorrel mares being “crazy” I clearly disagree. All of mine have been kind and smart. However, there is another stereotype that I’m a little more apt to agree with and even be a little proud of. That is, chestnut horses are the swiftest, fastest, most energetic, what have you. Though this is more chestnuts in general, versus chestnut mares specifically. Bee definitely fits this and other chestnuts I’ve known fit this and when you think about it, horses that are typically known for being “hot” like thoroughbreds and arabians are typically chestnut in color, so it doesn’t seem too far fetched for me.
According to a recent-ish study on horse coat colors, which helped scientifically put an end to this hurtful stereotype (just in case a stranger’s own opinions aren’t enough), the idea of chestnuts being crazy (as in classic crazy behaviors, biting, kicking, bucking, rearing, etc.) is debunked, BUT they found that chestnuts tended to show more “bold” behavior, such as approaching unfamiliar objects (see link below, Are Chestnut Horses Crazy). Though it is not clear as to why that is, or if it was simply a fluke (this was based on one study) I found that interesting since all my chestnut girls have been on the smarter, non-spooky side, making them great trail horses.
So whatever you decide to believe, maybe you’ve had the crazy chestnut experience or have been fortunate like me, hopefully you at least enjoyed getting to know me and my horses just a little bit better!
More Information and Cool Quotes About Chestnuts
Red was the color attributed to the full moon, goddess of love and battle. Symbolically it represented summer. The red horses are said to be symbolic of war and bloodshed.
“And there went out another horse that was red; and the power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another; and there was given unto him a great sword.”
“If thou has a dark chestnut, conduct him to the combat, and if thou has only a sorry chestnut, conduct him all the same to combat.”
“The good fortune of hoses is in their chestnut coloring, and the best [swiftest?] of all horses is the chestnut horse.”
-From The Classic Arabian Horse, Judith Forbis