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Do horses enjoy being ridden?

From: Erin

Hello Jessica,

I am VERY new to horseback riding. I have only had a few lessons and have had fun so far but I am a little worried about the horses. Do they particularly like people jumping on their back and riding them around? I am a total animal lover and want to make sure that I am doing something that is not harming the horse. I would also hope that maybe they enjoy it, but it doesn't seem the case since I am a new rider and make quite a few mistakes.

In any case, I was just hoping you could shed some light on whether horseback riding goes against a horses' nature. Is there anything I can do to make it more enjoyable for them? I'm sure being a better rider would help!!

Thanks so much, Erin

Hi Erin! Good for you - you may be very new to horseback riding, but you're already thinking like a horsewoman. That's a very good question. The answer is that horses CAN and SHOULD enjoy being ridden - and whether they enjoy it or not, and how much they enjoy it, depends for the most part on their riders.

Horseback riding goes against a horse's nature in some ways, yes. That's why some people object to the term "natural horsemanship", because for a horse, there is nothing natural about carrying a rider. Horses aren't really designed to carry humans, and having something on its back goes against a horse's basic instinct of self-protection. In nature, the only thing that's going to leap onto a horse's back is a predator that's trying to kill and eat the horse.

Horses have to be taught to accept and carry a rider, but one of the lovely things about horses is that they are such willing and companionable animals that they can and do learn this easily, provided that they are taught by someone who makes the experience pleasant for them. A horse that is trained and developed so that it becomes strong and flexible and coordinated and responsive, easily able to carry a rider, and that is taught to understand the language of the aids and is then ridden by a kind, considerate, thoughtful rider who makes the horse's physical and mental comfort top priorities - THAT horse will definitely enjoy being ridden, and will typically trot up to meet its rider at the pasture gate. Another horse, with the same physical potential but a different trainer, might be forced into submission, ridden with equipment that causes pain, and jerked around by a harsh, ignorant, and thoughtless rider - THAT horse would quickly come to fear and loathe being ridden, and would try to keep as much distance between itself and humans as it possibly could.

Being a better rider does help, of course, but your attitude and behaviour towards horses are extremely important, so you may as well begin there. If you accept, from the very beginning of your first lessons, that the horse's physical and mental comfort are YOUR responsibility, you'll be on your way to becoming the sort of responsible rider that horses appreciate. If you treat horses kindly and well, handle them gently, talk to them, never make fast or sudden movements when you are on them or around them, they will like you. If you always encourage your horses to do what you want them to do, always give them time to respond when you ask them to do something, and always praise and reward them for trying, you'll be the kind of rider horses accept and enjoy. Over time, if you havce good lessons and you become a technically proficient rider, someone with good riding skills and a good understanding of physiology and psychology and biomechanics and balance, you will be able to communicate with your horses in a way that is both clear and subtle, and the horses will enjoy you even more.

Don't worry about your lack of skills right now. Every rider has to start somewhere, and you're working to acquire both skills and understanding - that's what good riding lessons are all about! One of the nicest things about horses is that they are very forgiving, and as long as your mistakes come from clumsiness and lack of skill, the horses will be extremely tolerant. A violent and angry rider is far more frightening to a horse than a rider who simply hasn't yet become balanced and coordinated, so relax - focus on learning, and make it a point to be nice to your horses at all times. If you do that, then they will always enjoy your company, even if your current skill level leaves something to be desired.

Since you obviously already have a kind heart and a good attitude, I'd say that you're already on your way! Let me know how you progress.


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