Does your horse like to be ridden?

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!


Very well written, thanks for taking the time to spell all that out.

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Another place to look for input is from horses who aren’t getting ridden. Many horses are happier and more settled if they have a job. Some horses get pretty angry if they aren’t ridden!

And school horses live longer if kept in work and seem to die quicker when retired.

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I live in fear that the same will be true of me.


Worse may happen, like living too long, past acceptable quality of life.

I would not worry, if that was not meant in jest, just keep on trucking. :upside_down_face:

I think this is more about the “if you don’t use it you lose it” principle.

I’ve tried to retire my Old Man twice, and he fell apart both times. He’s in light work 3-4 days a week now, and seems to be holding up better because of it.

But by the look on his face as I’m tacking up to do arena work, he’s not thrilled with the concept anymore, haha. He’s been with me for 19 years now though, so I’d guess he’s sick of my $h!t. He’s still “excited” to go on trail rides (doesn’t pull his nostrils in absolute disgust), and he doesn’t run from me when going to catch him in the pasture.

He is and always will be “not sound” though, so a 30 minute workout where he doesn’t even sweat 3-4x a week is all he gets. He will never again be sound for more.

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I think that absolutely depends on what kind of options they are given. Horses that are stalled 12+ hours a day may need to be ridden for their own comfort. Most horses that are out 24/7 on sizeable acreage do not. Those that are out in a comfortable herd with ample food…may never mind not being ridden.

My retired horses are out 24/7. They get angry if they are stalled for an hour or more. LOL.

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Both of the horses that I’ve owned as an adult seem to like to be ridden. I’m sure that part of the “liking” is that it breaks up the day, is interesting to do stuff and just to exercise (like going to the gym). Trail rides seem to be inherently rewarding, especially if done with other horses.

But an additional issue that I haven’t seen anyone address yet is that horses seem to like routine. If riding is part of the routine, then being ridden just lets the horse know that the earth is still spinning, their expectations of what’s going to happen are on track with what’s actually happening, and they can be secure in their belief that they will get fed come evening.


My first horse would strike up a canter in the middle of the field and take a tour of the pasture doing one-tempis. Regularly. I don’t know what he thought about being ridden but he clearly felt that flying changes were fun.

We were having a related conversation at the gym the other day regarding a weight training exercise most of us found difficult but that I was starting to enjoy- it’s not that, given the choice between 10 reps of Iron Cross and an ice cream cone, most of us would choose Iron Cross. On the other hand, it does feel good to do something with your body that you couldn’t do last week, or that makes you feel powerful, or that gives you an adrenaline rush. I am certain my dog feels this way when she’s running wind sprints in the backyard, and my horse feels this way when he’s jumping.

I think the takeaway from this thread is that since we don’t know what they think about being ridden, we serve them best by paying attention to their body language about what they enjoy, and doing our best to do more of that. Within reason. My horse enjoys carrots but he’d founder if I gave him as many as he wanted. Doesn’t stop him from trying to acquire them. :slight_smile:


Honestly? It’s probably way down the list of things that they like. Somewhere below eating, a relaxing snooze in the sun with their buddies, attention in general, and just above things like the vet or farrier.

The type of ride could be ranked as well. A rip around the track when they’re feeling fresh, or a relaxing hack with other horses in familiar territory would probably be enjoyable.
Anything stressful? Not so much.
And stress could be as simple as being ridden alone, or a chair being in the “wrong” place, or the weather being too hot or too windy…because ya know, horses :wink:

And while my horses are all honest and willing over fences, I don’t know how much they actually like it. If I free lunge them it’s not like they start jumping for fun on their own.

It’s like with kids or dogs. Let them enjoy treats and attention in moderation. And make them do things like exercise and work for their own good.

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Like most everything else, I think “it depends.”

I know my own horses well enough to know that they like certain kinds of rides - relaxed, brisk work in open fields is popular - and that other kinds of work need to be finessed a bit. Neither, for example, is going to be very happy if I drill the same crap in the same arena for a solid hour - and I can hardly blame them for that, since I hate that kind of thing myself.

It’s important to me that my guys stay cooperative and cheery, so I always try to change it up within each ride, making sure that not-so-fun stuff doesn’t drag on too long, and that they get to do what they like for some part of each ride.

And that, for me, is the best part of being an old lady and a totally boring backyarder: I can now do whatever I and my horses want, whenever we want, and I don’t have to conform to anybody else’s lesson plan or schedule. I never thought I’d hear myself say that I liked being a backyarder, but it’s actually turned out to be true.



This has been an interesting topic and thread to read.

My first inclination when reading the title was that yes, my horse likes to be ridden. My evidence? He never shows any outward signs that he doesn’t like being ridden, his ears are up most of the time when I ride him, and he never runs from me in the pasture and even comes to me most of the time.

But if I’m honest, food and treats are a big reason he’s so keen to see me, and truthfully, the riding part of our relationship is just 30 minutes to an hour a few times a week whereas I spend time each and every day stuffing cookies into his mouth, feeding him warm alfalfa pellet mash, hand grazing him (while the pastures are down), grooming him (while stuffing cookies in his mouth every few minutes), massaging him, and just basically telling him he’s wonderful. When we’re done with all of that, he goes back out int he pasture, gets a drink of water, and is like, “K, bye,” and saunters off to be a horse again with his buddies.

I started and trained my horse myself 10 years ago, so we know each other very well. He’s always been an agreeable fellow, even as a 2-year old. No buck. No rear. No bolt. Never anything dirty. He’s a very honest horse. If he disliked being ridden, he’d tell me. He wouldn’t be ugly about it, but he’d let me know. He’s been in some pretty severe pain over the past year with back issues, and even then, his “protests” were mild enough that a less in-tune person would have missed them or thought he was just “being bad”. He doesn’t do that. If he’s misbehaving or being tense or pinning his ears, something is hurting. Period.

I think of it the way another poster said…it’s more like working out than working a job for my horse. It’s exercising. His job is definitely to let me ride him, but my job is to help him learn how to make his job easier. It gets easier when he becomes more fit for the task at hand and learns how to carry himself and me correctly. So, I try to make every ride beneficial to him. I want him to feel better coming back into the barn after a ride than he did leaving the barn to be ridden. As long as I do that, he seems happy to oblige. When that isn’t happening, I’m not doing my job and I risk him becoming resentful of his job.

All that to say…I have no idea if he “likes” it. He went three years without me ever being on his back before moving to our new barn. With the exception of that period of back pain (poor fitting saddle, being pushed too quickly to get back into work, bad farrier work, etc), he has been absolutely fine with getting back into riding and seems genuinely content and happy. His ears are always up, my smiley horse. :slight_smile:


@RhythmNCruise If I come back as I horse I know where I’m going to live :four_leaf_clover: :slightly_smiling_face:


Does my horse like to be ridden?

I don’t know. He loves to come to me and whinnies to me…but I have carrots. He loves loves loves to be groomed with no treats involved. He loves to be saddled because he used to freak out if moved and felt the saddle move…now he drops his penis for the upcoming saddled carrot stretched. I then walk him around the arena, including his scary spots, and he gets to check things out with his nose (important to him). He drops his head when I put the reins over and is usually good when I mount.

To some degree, I think he really enjoys his brain being engaged and in that respect, enjoys the riding. He’s very smart and likes to be mentally engaged. He does new things. He wants to infuse HIS undersaddle ways which I can object to, and I don’t think he enjoys that. But he seems really happy when he gets praise and figures out new things. When he figures out new things undersaddle and listens to my aids, I usually immediately stop the work, walk him out and/or dismount and I can tell by his ears and eyes (softness) that he knows he “did good” and the work stopped. The soft ears and eyes suggest he is content with what he did. I really watch this when I dismount. That said, he is prone to giving 90% and can be very amenable when you say “oh no, 100% please”.

That said, he gets free longed or worked harder when he’s not paying attention so understands that work ends sooner when he pays attention and works as asked. I hand-graze him when he’s good (there isn’t cold weather grass in his pasture) to reward him.

All that said, does he enjoy being ridden? Probably not, because that is work. He enjoys interacting with people and being thoroughly groomed and fed carrots. He enjoys different scenery from the arena. He enjoys praise/interaction and he gets that when he really works (on the ground/under saddle). He very obviously enjoys when he mentally “gets” something and will repeat that thing/those things when he is searching for what to do even if you didn’t ask for it. He learned something simple that I call his “Hellen Keller” moment and he will offer this often if he can. Of course, the rider has to discriminate between when he is really reaching for the right answer or offering what he thinks is the right answer so Ho-Hum, here ya go.

I know my horse really enjoys human interaction, whether with me or bystanders. He LOVES and seeks out interaction with people. He enjoys learning and feeling like he mastered something. I’m pretty sure he’d be happy if I caught him, groomed him (especially all day when he was grazing), and fed him, but I do think he gets bored without mental challenges for days on end. His mental challenges only come from being ridden - his life is otherwise freakishly stable and boring.

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I am not going to say my horse enjoys being ridden, per se. She loves me and loves hanging out with me. She is out of my mare and I did all the work to start and train her and have been the only one to ride and work with her her entire life. She doesn’t come to me in the field, just stares with ears pricked. I believe that is because when she was younger I was riding another horse in her field so she was never sure if I was going for her or someone else. It has been like that on and off through the years but she’s been in a field with horses that are all pasture pets right now so she’s started to come to me a bit.

If I am near but not in her field, she will walk over and stand at the fence near me. She will oftern stare as if to say, “Mom, you are in the wrong field, I’m over here, mom…MOM!” I have a picture of her staring through the bare winter trees at me when I was walking another horse to his field - she was about 1/8th mile away in another field.

She gets jealous and upset if I give other horses in her field treats, especially this one young mare that she just DOES NOT like for some reason. She got very upset with me about giving that horse treats to the point where she ran from me for a good 10min when I went to catch her to ride. THe first time she’s ever run from me and she stopped with her attitude in the following days when I stopped giving that horse treats. She will also pin her ears at other horses when I am near her (changing her attitude from when I am 50 ft away compared to when I am right near her).

She happily goes to work with ears up and does love jumping and enjoys trailer rides and adventures elsewhere and while she can be exhuberant, she has never tried to get me off and she could if she wanted to.

All that being said, if I drove her or did liberty work or something else, I think she would be just as content (thought maybe not driving since she wouldn’t get to jump). I do not have a lot of time in my day so while she does get treats, there is not a lot of extra pampering to leave one wondering if it is the scritches or the riding.

I thought of this thread today when tacking up my mare in her stall. I don’t tie her in the stall. She was eating hay when I came back with the bridle, stood at the door and called her. She came over, still munching her hay, and opened her mouth for the bit.
I think she just enjoys the attention and knows she’ll get carrots afterwards. But still, it makes things so much better to think she actually enjoys her “work” :wink:


I love this thread, I’ve seen this debate several times and I think about it often. I think the biggest sticking point seems to be the semantics of the word ‘like.’

I personally, WANT my horses to enjoy their jobs. Have all of my horses loved being ridden? No, not all, and not all the time. I had one horse that really changed my mind about how horses can enjoy being ridden, however. That horse was like a golden retriever going for a ride in the car about his job. He just LOVED it, exuded enthusiasm. He would stand in the wash stall, untied, waiting to be tacked up. He would gape his mouth open to take a bit as soon as he saw the bridle. He walk around all chuffed with himself pretty much the whole time he was being ridden.

He loved his job so much that when I went to retire him, I had to lease a horse off-property for awhile because if he saw me riding another horse, he would go nuts and start weaving himself into a lather. And it wasn’t that his buddy was leaving - anyone else could take any of his pasture mates for any reason and he didn’t bat an eye. But if I rode another horse, his world collapsed.

I have thought about it a lot and I tend to ride thoroughbreds. Thoroughbreds have been bred for generations to have a job, to have a purpose. Have you ever seen a working dog breed, like an irish setter or a husky or a border collie kept in a small apartment in the city? They often have a lot of health issues stemming from not being able to express their now-inherited instincts. I see working breed horses the same way. They have been selectively bred over the years to want a job, it almost becomes instinctual in a way.


“Insert chew toy here” I own this horse. And for untacking she makes we wait until she is good and done with the bit before she will let me have it. I stand like an idiot holding the bridle by the crown, totally off of her except for she hasn’t finished with the bit yet. “Are you done yet?” nom nom nom “How about now?” phfftht “Thanks.” I’ve trained a couple that would go after the bit to get on with the job, but she’s the first I’ve had that doesn’t want to drop it.