Is Horseback Riding Cruel? The Truth!

For most people who get involved in the world of equestrianism, this question invariably crosses their minds. Is Horseback Riding Cruel?

The fact of the matter is that horse riding isn’t cruel or selfish exploitation of horses. Humans have always found a way to form symbiotic relationships with animals they deem useful, and horses are no different.

Moreover, the practice of equestrianism has several considerations. Some ensure the safety of horses is always looked after and that they enjoy a positive lifestyle. In this post, we’ll highlight a few of these and other aspects. This is in an attempt to get a satisfactory answer on the topic.

A Few Quick Facts about Horses

Before getting into the topic. Here are a few traits unique to horses that should be kept in mind throughout this discussion:

  • There are a little over 200 species of horses in the world.
  • A fully grown adult horse can weigh as much as 2000 pounds.
  • Horses are herbivores. (They only eat plant matter)
  • Their equine legs makes them strong enough to ensure quick and strong movement across different terrains.
  • They are prairie animals, meaning they are accustomed to frequent movement.
  • Most are social animals that follow a hierarchy.
  • They are creatures of instinct. (Meaning much of their behavior is instinctual)

A Brief History of When Horseback Riding Began

Though no exact dates or records exist to indicate when we started using domesticated horses for our bidding. They have been part of our lives for thousands of years.

Cave art found around various sites across the world indicates contact with them as early as 30000 BC. Records from later times indicate they had been domesticated since around 4000 BC.

With that kind of history. It’s easy to discern that horses have been an important part of human activity considering the relationship holds strong till today. Such a long history implies the relationship has been a fruitful one though equestrian non-enthusiasts may argue otherwise.

Why People Take Up Horseback Riding

There’s no denying horseback riding is popular. People engage in horseback riding for a variety of reasons. These reasons more or less fall under 3 categories:

For Recreational Purposes

Some people buy horses to have them as pets they can simply ride on. The pleasure of having a horse is quite normal. Much like how many of us would have either a cat or dog at home.

For Utility Purposes

Horses are strong beasts. Given their frame and strength. They can be used as a means of transport for both goods and people, among other uses.

For Competitive Purposes

I’m certain many of us are familiar with horse racing. Aside from racing, horses can compete in various other ways as demonstrated by the variety of competitions available in both Western-style riding and English-style riding.

Are Horses Uncomfortable Being Ridden?

The answer to this question mostly has to do with the condition of the horse. For normal, healthy horses, it would be difficult to say they are uncomfortable being ridden.

Consider the weight of the average man (commonly around 200 pounds) and the weight of an adult horse (almost 2000 pounds). It’s evident given the difference in weight that a horse would be strong and able enough to withstand its rider’s weight.

On the other hand, an unwell horse, either due to injury or disease, would inevitably be uncomfortable being ridden.  Just like humans, horses can’t be at their best when they are suffering.

More to this, when horses are uncomfortable, you can tell that they are. They can show visible signs of injury and distress, which should prompt a responsible owner to treat them appropriately.

Young horses that haven’t matured fully yet also can’t be expected to perform as well as fully grown adult horses. They can feel a degree of pain being ridden by people with weights they can’t fully support.

Do Horses Enjoy Being Ridden?

Some experienced equestrians have, over time, gained the instinct to judge the personality of horses. They argue that there are different types of horses, those that enjoy being ridden and some which are stubborn when it comes to it.

From the behavior observed of wild horses, however, they all seem to relish roaming and running around quite a lot. Given that domesticated horses are closely related to them, we can conclude the same of them.

The assertion that they don’t mind being ridden is further supported by the simple fact that the horses actually allow us on their backs.

If they didn’t enjoy it, considering the brute strength horses have, they can easily get rid of someone on their back using various means like bucking.

To further support this aspect, recall the point raised above about how they can show what they are feeling. If they are experiencing any sort of discomfort when being ridden, they will definitely let you know through their behavior.

Can Riding a Horse Injure its Back?

Solely looking at the condition of a horse’s back that is used for riding, a few practices have to be observed in order to ensure its wellness. For instance, saddling a horse before riding is a standard practice among equestrians.

The reason is that bareback riding has been observed to be detrimental to the health of a horse. Engaging in this practice can cause pain for the horse, which is simply cruel.

Saddles are able to distribute a rider’s weight across the horse’s back, and it makes riding it easier. Without a saddle, the pressure exerted from the rider’s weight rests on a single spot, which over time can lead to injury.

Forms of Cruelty Horses Can Face

The thing about cruelty is that it truly has no limits and every day you can discover a new form of it.

Here are some forms of cruelty horses face:


This practice entails meting out pain to a horse’s legs or hooves in order to increase its gait.


Horses require proper food and water for their continued service and well-being. Some people ignore this simple fact.


Some owners who can’t fend for their horses end up stopping all support and provisions for the horse leaving it impoverished.


Horses, though strong, do need enough rest or they can suffer burnout just like we do.


Horses are social creatures and they need companions much like we do friends. This practice can greatly affect the performance of a horse.

Responsible horse owners are aware of how detrimental these issues can be for their horses and as such keep away from such practices.

Criticism of Horseback Riding

For most critics, the biggest and most significant point when it comes to criticizing horseback riding has to do with the issue of consent.

When voicing their concerns on horseback riding, they say that if the issue of consent was addressed, they’d have no problem with others horseback riding.

They argue that humans, being animals of superior intellect, must not exploit other animals that have no option but to live alongside us.

The fact of the matter is that we can’t communicate with any animal, let alone horses. The relationship humans share with horses has been cultivated through years of domestication, and this fact can’t be ignored.

If this argument was to hold, then all the other instances of humans domesticating animals (e.g. cats and dogs) would need to be re-examined.

What consent do they provide humans that it’s unquestionable to have them as pets? Reading their behavior and mannerisms is all we have to go by, the same as what riders do with their horses.

The Ethical Perspective

Looking at the issue of horseback riding from an ethical perspective is where the differences arise. Ethics involves the moral reasoning that influences an individual to act in a certain way.

With this point in mind, one can then justify horseback riding if they happen to treat the animal properly. By providing the necessary care and attention they require, it can be morally acceptable to use horses for riding.

Ethical responsibility in this context doesn’t end with the mentioned provisions but also includes the rider. A horseback rider should always improve their technique so as to continually work in harmony with their horse(s).

Merits of Horseback Riding

For a horse owner, the benefits speak for themselves. From a horse’s perspective, the advantages they may get to enjoy as a result of having owners include:

A safe environment

Unlike in the wild, they constantly have a shelter that grants them protection from attacks and the elements.

Creating a Bond

When riding a horse, both parties must have considerable trust and respect for each other, otherwise, a lot of things could go wrong.

Better Quality of Life

Horses under owners get access to great healthcare, good food, and shelter, all of which contribute towards a longer, safer, and healthier life for them.

All in All

For the equestrians who know what they’re doing and how to do it, they’d never engage in any harmful or cruel acts towards their horses.

To further safeguard them, various laws and lobbyists are keeping a watchful eye on the activity of horse ownership and horse riding.

Hopefully, this article has helped you reach an answer on whether or not horseback riding is cruel. As an equestrian or equestrian enthusiast, consider the information here and enjoy riding your horse responsibly for many years to come!