Do Horses Like When We Ride Them?
It’s an age-old question all horseback riders have wondered a time or two: do horses like to be ridden?
Good equestrians don’t just love to ride horses, they also truly love and care about the wellbeing of the animal. Therefore, we can only hope that horses don’t hate being ridden. I sure hope my horse doesn’t see me coming with the saddle and think, “Oh no, oh no, oh no!” But I have met a number of horses that have this hoof-jerk reaction to the very site of riding tack.
Then, there are other horses that can be ridden bareback, with no bridle over large fences with ease and grace. Instantly the incredibly talented and gentle rider Alycia Burton comes to mind. It’s clear watching the body language of her horse that he is enjoying himself and at ease.
Horses don’t hate people riding atop their backs; horses and humans make great friends and this friendship is further expanded when sharing the magic of galloping together as one. Horses happily allow humans to climb on their back, it’s how people ride that makes some horses resist the practice. If everyone rode like Alycia, all horses would love being ridden.
If horses hated being ridden they would find some way to tell us. …And they do. Horses buck, resist the bit, rear and bolt in protest of many things their riders force them to succumb to. Even professional riders winning big awards in the equestrian industry have unhappy horses out in the show ring. Unfortunately, most are too in awe of their abilities to notice.
Horses hate when inexperienced riders use spurs, jabbing them harshly and at unfair moments. They hate being slammed with a whip, tugged tight on the month, and harshly bounced upon.
In the wild, horses use gentle measures to communicate amongst the heard and only resort to physical force as a last resort. Horses are sensitive creatures; they feel everything and will learn to respond to the slightest of commands. Horses trained and handled with a heavy hand develop vices, like a hard mouth that resist even the harshest (evilest) of bits.
On the other hand, a horse trained with gentle aids doesn’t require their rider to carry a whip on a regular basis. There are many levels of force you can apply to a horse without ever resorting to hitting them with a crop. Clucking, a gentle tap, a squeeze, a grander motion of your legs prior to squeezing, a repetitive tap… and so on.
In other words, it benefits you and your horse to use gentle aids. Your horse will feel more comfortable while training in the arena or out on the trails, and you will enjoy a more responsive horse.
If you purchase a horse that is used to firm aids, you’re in an entirely different arena, and it’s very hard to reverse the damage done. Not all hope is lost; I’ve seen many trainers work miracles on horses that have been handled with a heavy hand.
So, do horses enjoy being ridden? I say they most certainly do, if they have a respectful and steady rider. I believe horses learn to tolerate poor riding and harsh discipline, because what other choice they do really have, but I don’t think they enjoy it. Just like any living creature, horses do best with more praise than punishment.