I’m glad I came across this thread. It’s such an interesting topic to me, especially now that I have more time to observe and be curious about the psychology of the horses living here with us.
We evented them for years and that was our primary drive; to keep them safe, healthy, fit, mentally content and hopefully as prepared as they could be for each competition. Currently they are mostly retired and I find myself delving deeper into studying how they prefer to conduct their ‘day in the life’ so to speak. To the point where I’ve moved away from feeling a sense of ownership and liken it more to a coexistence, where the sphere of their needs is met in such a manner that they can lead their best quality of life without the proprietorial factor. I’m not sure if this mindset makes a difference but the question of ‘would they desire to be ridden if given a choice’ becomes all the more intriguing.
Using one of our (not at all elderly - sound as a bell) retired eventers as an example, I’ll speculate that he feels the same towards being ridden as I do about exercise. Expressly that I’m a big walk in the woods or hike through the hills kind of person and not so keen on anything repetitious such as scheduled running or gym work. At this point I’d have to be paid a lot of money to participate in the last two but eagerly and enthusiastically engage in the former.
This gelding has always been a business in the front and party in the back type of character and willingly and with an absolute no nonsense attitude participated in years of event training, conditioning and competing. He consistently tried his hardest and did well at events. Not to mention over a decade of Pony Club. And yet … now that he has the run of acres of mixed terrain to amuse himself in and can make his own choices as to how to spend his day and who to spend it with, I’ll venture that he doesn’t miss the extensive under saddle work, the racing pulse, and the extreme focus required to get himself and his young rider safely around x-country.
All his competitive life he performed like a professional because he was trained to and it was requested of him and I’m sure there were moments of heady exhilaration while under saddle, such as those countdown moments in the start box when he’s aquiver at the prospect of addressing the challenges ahead. But overall, given space to decide, I believe he would say no thank you to the countless lessons in dressage and jumps and the methodical fitness training.
On the other hand, he now gives every indication that he very much enjoys an occasional light hack or trail ride and seems to (as someone else described) look for small logs and such to hop over. All I really have to go on is his enthusiastic body language when he senses this style of outing, as opposed to his ‘all business’ demeanor of old when worked regularly.
Conclusions? Well perhaps horses that are more confined might choose to be ridden (assuming soundness, comfort etc.) as opposed to not if it means an adventure of sorts outside of their living area. But in my opinion less likely if their life consists of engaging in their chosen activities with their own mates in interesting environs. And I’ll theorize that the style of ride would be imperative to their decision, much like me and repetitive exercise vs me and a nice hike.
Sorry for all the words. I love thinking about this stuff lol!