We all know that horse riding is something that has been around for years but do horses actually like to be ridden? I did some research to find out the answer, here what I discovered…
Horses and humans have had a close connection for over 6000 years when these incredible animals started becoming domesticated.
As horsemanship has evolved, we have learned a great deal about horses, their nature, and what they enjoy including how they react to being ridden.
Do Horses Like to Be Ridden?
The good news is that horses, for the most part, enjoy being ridden and take pleasure in their partnership with their rider.
This enjoyment appears to be derived from a number of things including the trusted relationship built between a horse and rider to the comfort of being cared for and fed.
Much of a horse’s enjoyment from being ridden can be interpreted from its body language from being willingly obeying a rider’s commands (as a positive sign) to putting their ears back and bucking when being ridden (as a negative sign).
What is important is that humans pay attention to these signs to understand why a horse may or may not take pleasure from having a rider on their back.
How can riders ensure the best riding experience for a horse?
There are a number of steps a rider can take to ensure that the riding experience for a horse is as positive and as enjoyable as possible. These steps include:
- Ensuring a horse is in good physical health and is not displaying any signs of pain or discomfort
- Using the correct bit and a professionally fitted saddle
- Avoiding the use of punishment or inflicting pain to correct behavior
- Maintaining their own physical fitness and riding a horse suited to their skill level and weight
- Always training a horse with the aid of a qualified instructor to guide them from the ground
Are horses meant to be ridden?
While many of us may have ridden horses for years and taken for granted that this is what horses were intended for, we may have never taken a minute to stop and consider whether horses were always in fact meant to be ridden.
Before being domesticated, horses grazed over open landscapes, walked, trotted, or cantered in search of water and avoided the ambush of predators.
Many such herds of completely wild and untamed horses can be found across the world.
However, certain natural characteristics of horses highlighted the opportunity for a greater purpose than roaming and multiplying.
How and when horses became domesticated remains in dispute but historical rock art depicts horses being ridden as early as 2000 BCE in Eurasia (the combined continent of Europe and Asia).
Instead of being viewed as only a source of food, horses became useful as a means of transport, used in agricultural activities, and used in warfare.
Over many years, this practical use of horses developed into recreational and sporting use.
Why do horses let us ride them?
The answer to this question may not be what you expect. Horses do not let us ride them because of a natural or intuitive affinity for being ridden.
Instead, it is because they have been trained to be ridden. As they become tamed and accustomed to being handled over time, trust is developed between horse and rider, and a relationship is built.
That being said, should a horse have a negative experience or be mistreated, they may not let a person ride them (at least for very long).
Horses are still wild animals and any association with pain or a bad experience may mean the horse reacts aggressively or adopts a flight approach when it comes to being ridden.
How are horses backed for the first time?
The process of backing a horse refers to teaching them and desensitizing them to firstly having a saddle on their back and, secondly, to carry the weight of a human.
To fully back a horse and get their acceptance of this new experience, it may take weeks, or more commonly, a few months.
This process usually takes place from when a horse is 2 years old and is strong enough to carry additional weight.
The starting point of backing a horse requires the handler to spend time with the horse on the ground, talking to the horse and building a connection.
While keeping the horse on a long rein (commonly known as lunging), the next step is to teach them the walk, trot and canter commands through using the handler’s voice followed by introducing light materials such as a blanket to a horse’s back and to let them get used to it just being on its back while it moves.
Once the horse becomes more comfortable, a lightweight rider can be introduced to slowly lie on the horses back only.
Once the horse becomes comfortable with this weight on their back, the rider should use slow and fluid movement to swing their leg over and sit on the horse.
Professional horse backers say that this process, from start to finish, takes 3 months.
Is horseback riding cruel?
There are many varied views on whether or not horse riding is cruel.
Looking at horses and their overall wellbeing, although they require exercise for optimal health, horses do not need to be ridden. One of the biggest considerations in the potential cruelty of horse riding is the ease with which a horse’s back and vertebrate can be damaged.
Typically, horses are backed and ridden from the age of two years but the type of exercise or discipline they engage in should only intensify from the age of four years.
Their bones require this time to grow and develop to be strong enough to withstand regular horse riding.
Do horses feel pain when ridden?
When ridden correctly and by a considerate rider, a horse should not feel pain when being ridden.
Horses who are in pain when being ridden may often conceal this pain and suffer in silence, often making it challenging to know when they may be experiencing pain.
That being said, there are some signs which a horse may display when experiencing pain or discomfort.
These include being difficult to catch when in the field (avoiding being ridden), bolts or bucks when being ridden, or showing signs of being agitated when being tacked up.
A horse’s back, just like a human’s, can be damaged with excessive pressure and incorrect use over long periods of time.
Although horses have been domesticated for 6000 years, having a rider on their back was not their primary function. Back pain is one of the most common causes of pain in horses who are frequently ridden.
This can be prevented by ensuring that the horse is being ridden in tack which fits correctly.
Horses have many pressure points and it is crucial that the saddle, which is essentially the cushion between a horse’s back and it’s rider, fits correctly.
The shape of every horse’s back and where they need support most from the saddle will differ from horse to horse.
Professional horse riders who compete in showjumping and eventing will have their saddles fitted by a professional and also ensure their horses have sessions with a chiropractor to ensure no damage is done to the horse’s back through riding.
What are the signs a horse is enjoying being ridden?
There is one main indication that a horse enjoys being ridden that many riders pay attention to.
A relaxed and happy horse will snort and sigh, blowing air out of their nostrils while under the saddle.
This gesture is a sign of a horse that is at ease and enjoying what they are doing.
Some riders and horse behaviorists also consider a horse who stretches out their neck towards the ground as a happy horse and a sign it enjoys being ridden.
There are four additional signs to look out for when it comes to gauging a horse’s overall happiness and wellbeing. Keep an eye on:
- Their nostrils: these should be relaxed and round. An unhappy horse will have tightly pulled nostrils
- Their tails: these should hang straight down and move freely when they move or are out grazing or in their stable
- Their lip line: a relaxed and happy horse will have a soft lip line often accompanied by a hanging lower lip
- Stable vices: a happy horse will typically not pace up and down their stable or bite their stable door in frustration. Horses typically only display stable vices when they are stressed
Trust plays a large role in a horse’s experience when they are being ridden and how they feel.
One way to build trust with a horse is not when physically riding but in the day to day handling of a horse from the ground.
Grooming a horse, taking them for long walks on a lead rein, and just spending time with them on foot goes a long way towards developing the bond between a horse and a rider.
This bond translates to a better experience for both the horse and rider and will undoubtedly improve a horse’s enjoyment while being ridden.