Do Horses Like To Be Ridden? – Inside the Mind of Your Gentle Giant

I like to think that my horse is overjoyed when she sees me walking through the field to get her, halter in hand, ready to get our ride underway. Sometimes she will come toward me and meet me halfway, ears pricked in interest. Other times she waits for me to walk the length of the field and watches in what seems to be amusement. Horses have been partners with people for centuries, but do horses like to be ridden? 

Do Horses Like to Be Ridden?

All horses have personalities of their own. Whether or not horses like to be ridden can often depend on their temperament. 

There are horses who really love their jobs. For example, have you ever watched a jumper or event horse nearly explode with excitement to start their round? Have you ever seen a dressage horse come alive as they show off their fancy moves? 

Horses have been domesticated for thousands of years. Many breeds of horses have been bred for sport or performance. It is clear from a horse’s expressions and mannerisms that sport or trail horses often do enjoy being ridden when they are treated fairly with love and respect and when they are doing the jobs they were bred to do. 

Many horses have the personality of wanting to please their owners or handlers. When horses are viewed as partners in riding, they can enjoy this special time of trust and bonding with their humans. 

Reasons Why A Horse Doesn’t Like to Be Ridden

Just like humans have different personalities and things they enjoy, horses do as well. Some horses may not like to be ridden or may not enjoy their job. There are several factors that can affect the reasons why a horse is unhappy under the saddle. 

Some reasons why a horse doesn’t like to be ridden include:

  • A rider who is heavy-handed or unkind
  • Overuse of the horse
  • A busy lesson schedule with uneducated riders
  • A rider who gives confusing signals or aids 
  • Tack that doesn’t fit well, pinches, or rubs
  • A rider who doesn’t fit the horse properly
  • Pain or discomfort 

While all of these reasons are legitimate reasons for a horse not to like being ridden, we as the humans in their lives can do our best to make riding as enjoyable as possible for our horses. 

Part of our job as riders is to learn how to be partners with our horse. When our horses can view our relationship as a partnership where they are treated fairly and with respect, they can learn to love being ridden and being with us. 

How To Tell If Your Horse Doesn’t Like to Be Ridden

Horses can’t talk, but most horses don’t hide their emotions well. Like their humans, we probably wouldn’t want them to anyway! There are various ways to tell if your horse doesn’t like to be ridden. Be sure to pay attention to the things they “say” to ensure they are happy and comfortable when being ridden. 

Being in tune with your horse means learning to understand how they communicate. Every horse is different, so as you work with your horse, pay attention to how he or she expresses him or herself in different circumstances on the ground.  Then you can look for similar reactions or messages that he or she sends you while under saddle. 

Signs Your Horse Doesn’t Like to Be Ridden

Horses are very effective communicators. They can give very clear signs that they don’t like being ridden. The following signs may indicate a horse who doesn’t like to be ridden.

  • Pinned ears when tacking up or when asked to move forward under saddle
  • “Sucking back” instead of moving forward when adding leg
  • Traveling with head high in discomfort or pain instead of moving long and low
  • Bucking or bolting 
  • Rearing
  • Dull or listless expression or a sense that the horse is just “going through the motions”

5 Ways to Make Riding Enjoyable for the Horse

As people who love our horses, we want to find ways to make riding an enjoyable experience for them. Here are 5 ways to make riding something your horse looks forward to. 

Think Sensitively

Horses are very sensitive animals. They can feel and react to something as small as a fly when it lands on their skin. When riding, use gentle aids and teach your horse to yield to pressure. Start as gentle as possible and increase until you get the response you want. Then release the pressure immediately. Don’t be heavy-handed with crops, whips, or spurs. 

Make Learning Fun!

Horses respond well to rewards, and we all love to be rewarded for a job well done. Find what your horse loves and responds to and use that as a reward when he gives you what you are asking for. When appropriate, food is always a welcome reward. Under saddle, rewards can be scratches and pats, verbal acknowledgment of good behavior, or being allowed to stretch on a long rein. 

Make Your Horse Comfortable

Make sure your saddle fits well and get it checked and adjusted regularly. The wool flocking in saddles can shift and depress. Horses’ back muscles can develop and change. Regular saddle fitting appointments help keep your horse happy and make riding sessions more enjoyable. Regular appointments with the equine chiropractor can also help your horse stay feeling good. 

Find a Discipline Your Horse Likes

Maybe your horse gets excited about jumping but is less than thrilled with intricate dressage movements. Perhaps being out on the trail is where your horse feels most at home. Just like people, horses can’t always be put into a box and do what we think they should do. Be mindful of your horse’s expressions and mannerisms as they try different things. Finding a riding discipline they like will help ensure they are happy and like to be ridden. 

Educate Yourself

No matter how long you have been riding, horses always have things to teach us. Work with a trainer, read books, research online, do whatever it takes to learn how you can become the best partner you can be with your horse. If your horse expresses displeasure while being ridden, do your best to figure out what is causing his unhappiness. Be ready to experiment with new approaches to your riding to help your horse learn that being ridden can be fun! 

In Conclusion

If we establish and stick with clear, fun routines for our horses when possible, we can maximize their enjoyment while being ridden. As riders, we need to be observant to the signals our horses give us. What circumstances seem to make them happy? 

As riders, it is also important to think about our own state of mind when we ride. Your mood can affect your horse. If you are stressed out or nervous, your sensitive horse can certainly feel this and may react in a negative way. 

Like people, every horse has a different personality and likes different things.  Do horses like to be ridden? The answer is really dependent on your horse and their personality. Our job as riders is to pay attention when our horses tell us something, and be willing to make adjustments or changes based on what they say. If we do, our partnership with our horse, including riding, can be an enjoyable experience for them.