Have you ever wondered if horse riding is cruel? Is there an ethical way to do it? Do vegans dare to ride horses? Spoiler alert. Yes, some vegans ride horses (and that’s okay).
The ethics of horse riding are highly debatable and somewhat controversial. On one hand, you have die-hard horse fans who invest copious amounts of money and time looking after their beloved pets.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have people who breed, train and trade horses purely for financial gain — no matter the cost to the horse.
This guide will cover a brief history of horse riding, whether horses actually feel pain when ridden before assessing the ethical nuances of horseback riding.
Horse domestication: are there any wild horses left?
The word “horse” comes from the Latin Equus or Greek hippos.
They’re large animals with adults weighing between 400 and 1,200kgs.
Horses were hunted for meat before becoming domesticated. The trade-off? Horses got shelter and food, and in exchange, they pulled chariots and provided transportation in war.
Horses have been domesticated for around 6,000 years in the steppe lands north of the Black Sea from Ukraine to Kazakhstan and today are one of the most popular pets in the world.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, there are approximately 60 million horses worldwide with over 300 different breeds.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many wild horses today due to domestication — despite a small number in Central Asia.
There are, however, around 600,000 feral horses, which are descendants of domesticated horses (that behave like wild horses). Australia has the largest population of feral horses (called Brumby’s), with approximately 400,000 individuals.
Horses are members of the family Equidae, which includes donkeys, zebras, mules, and asses.
The different types of horse riding
I know this sounds overly fundamental. But it’s essential to define horse riding when trying to understand the industry’s cruelty.
Horse riding is where the rider sits on the horse’s back with their legs draped over their body. Riders use reins attached to the horse’s head to control its movement. Riders can also hold onto the saddle horn or pommel to steady themselves.
Humans ride horses for recreation, utility and competitive sports. The most common types of horse riding include:
- Riding lessons: a prevalent activity amongst children who want to learn how to ride horses.
- Horse racing: a sport where jockey’s train and race horses in competition.
- Eventing: a team consisting of one horse and rider competes against others for points in each discipline (dressage, cross country, and show jumping). The sport of horse show jumping has been around since the mid-1800s, and it’s one of the most popular equestrian sports today.
- Trail riding: where horses are ridden on a trail. It’s like going for a hike with a horse in nature.
- Entertainment: horses are trained to be rented out to feature in films and music videos.
- Transportation: there are still some remote villages that rely on horseback riding as their primary mode of transportation.
Beyond riding, horses are used for work activities, including ploughing, hauling and other heavy-duty labour — coining the phrase “workhorse”.
Why is riding considered to be good for horses?
As we can’t directly communicate with horses, it’s challenging to determine a good or bad experience for them. But we can try to make some educated assumptions based on how horses respond and behave to certain situations. Below are 3 common arguments for why riding is healthy for horses.
1. Riding can be an effective form of exercise
A study tracked the movement of Brumby’s in Australia and found the average distance travelled ranged between 8 and 28 kilometres per day. Sometimes horses will migrate up to 55 kilometres in a day to find water.
While these numbers refer to travelling for survival, not exercise — it gives us insight into how horses are genetically programmed to move regularly.
A domesticated horse in a stable doesn’t need to migrate for survival but still needs to exercise to build muscle, stamina, stay loose and release endorphins.
In the absence of vast pastures and landmass, riding a horse as a form of healthy exercise in captive situations makes sense especially when the alternative is staying in a barn eating hay 24/7.
2. Riding can provide stimulation and enjoyment
When reading the body language of any animal, we have to make some assumptions as to how they’re feeling. Generally speaking, a horse is feeling happy if:
- Nostrils are relaxed and soft. If unhappy, her nostrils will become tight.
- The lip line should curl down slightly when relaxed. Otherwise, her lip will be tight.
- The lower jaw should be loose and may hang down.
- The tail should be loose and swinging freely.
- Rearing and pawing at other horses are signs that he’s happy. Horse’s won’t engage with other horses if they’re unhappy.
Equestrian researchers note that heavy breathing and snorting are signs that a horse feels relaxed when ridden. Of course, this isn’t always the case (more on that below).
Experienced equestrians who develop deep connections with their horses usually have a good grasp on the personality and mood of their horse and adjust their riding approach accordingly.
3. Horses get food, shelter and protection in exchange for their riding services
Domesticated horses have much to gain from a caring human relationship. Food, shelter, protection, grooming, veterinary care, and companionship keep captive horses healthier for longer.
The life expectancy of domestic horses is about 25 to 30 years, with some living into their 40s (the oldest recorded domestic horse lived to 62 years old).
In comparison, horses living in the wild have shorter life spans getting to 15 years old on average.
This is unsurprising considering that horses are generally kept as pets and don’t have to worry about surviving every waking moment of the day.
Do horses feel pain when ridden?
Horses will feel varying degrees of pain and discomfort when being ridden depending on pre-existing health conditions, age, experience levels of the rider, the weight and height of the rider, amongst other factors.
However, there are some situations where horses don’t feel significant pain when ridden — providing that riders can determine the optimal riding conditions for a relatively pain-free riding experience.
I know what you’re thinking. How do we determine whether a horse is in pain? It starts by understanding horse lameness.
What is horse lameness?
According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, lameness is a term used to describe a horse’s change in gait (the way they move), usually in response to pain somewhere in a limb, but also possibly as a result of a mechanical restriction on movement.
In other words, any over-compensated or abnormal movement can be seen as lameness or some sort of discomfort.
By analysing lameness and gait movements, researchers can draw reasonable conclusions of pain thresholds for horses. Luckily, I found a pretty comprehensive framework for calculating lameness.
The 24-point ethogram to determine horse pain
Dr Sue Dyson is an internationally renowned equine vet who has developed an ethogram with 24 markers to determine horse lameness and pain when being ridden.
While scoring systems aren’t perfect, Dr Dyson has done extensive research regarding horse behaviour indicators and has created a reasonably robust framework to point us in the right direction.
If you’re interested in learning more about this scoring system, I highly recommend you check out Dr Dyson’s free 90-minute webinar, hosted by the charity World Horse Welfare.
To summarise, there are 24 behaviour markers in the ethogram, including:
7 facial markers.
7 body markers.
And 10 gait markers.
Dr Dyson also found a significant difference in scores between non-lame and lame horses.
The threshold for lameness using this scoring system is 8/24, which means scores less than 8 = non-lame and greater than 8 = lame.
A sample of 57 sports horses, e.g. dressage and show jumping horses, were considered by the owners to be in healthy non-lame health. After applying the ethogram, 47% of the horses showed lameness, including 12% that were only lame when ridden.
A more recent study of 148 horses (a combination of leisure and sports) found that 28.4% of horses were lame in hand, and an astonishing 62.2% were lame ridden.
Both studies prove that horses experience increased pain and discomfort purely from the act of being ridden.
Other factors that influence the scores include the height and weight of the rider. As well as the type of saddle or overall gear used when riding horses.
So yes, horses feel pain when ridden.
The horse racing industry is much worse, with riders often commencing training before horses reach adulthood and fully develop their bones, adding more pressure to their muscular-skeletal system.
Of course, like human athletes, these horses increase their strength, stamina, agility and pain threshold with more repetition and training.
Is it cruel to ride horses?
Horses don’t want to be ridden (at least before training), and research shows that riding causes lameness and discomfort. So on this basis, horseback riding is cruel.
Add the financial incentive or an exchange for horses to “work” for humans through riding services, competitions, and labour, and, likely, humans will unknowingly (or knowingly) push the boundaries of discomfort.
For example, competitive horses need to undergo extensive training and are regularly pushed out of their comfort zone.
And riding lessons can go wrong if the weight and height of the participant doesn’t match the appropriate threshold for the horse, but the trainer looks the other way and proceeds anyway.
And I know there’s a group of considerate horse lovers that do their best to check every box when training and riding horses. Some of these folks treat their horses better than themselves. But they only represent a fraction of the industry.
As Dr Dyson said at the beginning of her presentation, many owners and some veterinarians are not skilled at recognising the presence of lameness in horses — despite their best intentions.
This is further perpetuated by horse breeding. Horses are bred into captive environments where they’re expected to perform and be ridden.
It’s one thing to adopt a horse who’s living in a barn all day or is about to be shipped off for slaughter. In this context, a loving horse/human relationship is better and frankly nobler than doing nothing — especially when you consider the costs and time involved to support that horse.
If you’re one of these people, I want to acknowledge your incredible commitment to these animals.
But supporting a cycle of breeding horses to spec for performance, aesthetic and other preferences knowing that they don’t want to be ridden, and knowing that most riders don’t have the adequate knowledge to see behavioural signs of lameness, is nothing but cruel.
In what situation is it ethical to ride horses?
Let’s keep in mind that we’re trying to make an unideal situation suck less. Even when considering the stresses of living in the wild vs the perks of domesticated living. With their herd, horses in the wild make for a fully enriched life. Taking the good with the bad.
It’s unnatural for horses to be ridden. Still, we’ve created a situation through domestication, performance and commerce that all we can do now is make the experience less painful for horses.
If you still desperately want to ride your horse, which to an extent, I can understand. We’re talking thousands of dollars of monthly upkeep here.
So folks aren’t going to invest all that time, money and love without the expectation of being able to ride their horse. Although I’m sure there are exceptions.
Here’s three criteria for cruelty-free horseback riding:
- Adopt don’t shop. Similar to the dog breeding industry, adopting horses is a net gain for each horse saved from an otherwise bad situation. Don’t let the demand for riding horses promote an endless cycle of breeding an excessive supply of domesticated sentient beings that ultimately get exploited and often turned into dog food.
- Create an environment for your horse that allows them to interact with other horses, have the freedom to roam and explore, and forage for food. According to professor Natalie Waran, these are known as the 3 F’s (friends, freedom, food).
- Educate yourself on how to understand the lameness signals of your horse. Dr Dyson has a course on recognising the 24 behaviours indicating pain in the ridden horse. Once you know, be sure not to cross the pain threshold for your horse.
Meeting the above criteria gets us closer to safe, cruelty-free horseback riding.
As you can see, you need a massive commitment to tick these boxes and if you can, amazing! For everyone else, perhaps it’s best to not ride horses to avoid any potential harm.
What do you think? Is it unethical to ride horses?
While horses are likely to live a more enriched life in the wild as herds, our history of breeding and domesticating these beautiful animals means we need to develop sophisticated practices to significantly reduce pain and discomfort when riding.
I’d love to hear from you now. Do you think horse riding is cruel? Is there such a thing as cruelty-free riding? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
The vegan principle that animals are not here for our pleasure, food or use is a good guide.
In essence it means leave animals alone, relate to them in the wild. Don’t lock horses up in stables and put metal in the mouth and rains and saddles and heavy people on their backs.
Same principle says don’t have pets, if we want a pet, get an electronic furry thing. Don’t OWN animals. That’s slavery.
Animal sanctuaries that let saved animals live out their lives in freedom without being exploited must be a good thing.
Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Many thanks for providing these details.
Very well presented. Every quote was awesome and thanks for sharing the content. Keep sharing and keep motivating others.
I would ask a different question.
Instead of “is it cruel to ride a horse?”
which implies, the option to ride a horse is reasonable and therefore debatable.
I would ask “Do horses exist for human pleasure?”
or “can non human animals consent to being used?”
“Can a human unilaterally determine whether an animal gives consent?”
“Why can’t we just leave animals the fuck alone?”
“Can slaves enjoy serving us, if we feed, house them and teach them to read the bible?”
“If a slave smiles and their lower jaw is relaxed, does that mean they are happy?”
Or ask all the horsey questions and substitute “slave”
This is just wrong and incorrect!!
I have read the article and it is not true. Most horses generally don’t mind or enjoy being ridden. It gives them something to do and let’s them blow off some steam.
Before I start I am a diploma qualified behaviourist, diploma qualified in animal welfare as well as a mum and brother both as practicing vets!
I’ve had horses my whole life and i still currently have 2, both were jumpers one is now 34yrs old and is adopted from ‘World horse welfare’ as a riding horse so how concluded that horses cant get ridden if here adopted is utter rubbish! This little mare competed with me in affiliated 4ft jumping classes! She is completely retired now and the other is retired from competition only and is still ridden 3 times a week.
I can professionally say that both are completely sound as I write today and always have been throughout there 15yr career with me. Just like the vast majority of all other ridden horses and retired ridden horses… sound as a pound!
So where you get your information from I don’t no but it can’t be from real horsey people nor equine vets nor people that have owned and ridden horses there entire life nor equine manipulators and nor an equine biomechanic specialist!
This theory is rediculous and i can prove it by discrediting one thing in your statement using your own words! But first let me educate you on how a lot of people break in horses these days to which if they didn’t want a saddle, bridle or a human on them they wouldn’t, simple as that.
We use there own language and ask them to except us they have a CHOICE, whether to except getting ridden or not, we’ve moved on from the forcing, violent days where we were making horses do things! i won’t explain in detail as ill be hear all day so just look up ‘Monty Roberts’, that’s how we do things these days! Its called operant conditioning and P.I.C.N.I.C the same methods i use to train dogs.
Right to discredit your theory that riding a horse makes them all lame and cause pain.
Riding don’t make them lame or in pain the confirmation of the horse does, the surface/ ground you ride them on does, a lack of the correct support boots in disciplines they do, like eventing and show jumping, wrong fitting tack does and an over weight rider does!
You then go on to list the signs of a lame horse were nearly all correct! However the majority of the point your trying to make is that riding horses makes them lame no matter what. So then how do you explain the vast majority of ridden horses that don’t show any of those signs?
The explanation is that ridden horses that don’t show any of those signs ARE NOT IN PAIN only the ones that do show the signs, so how can you say that riding horse makes them lame or in pain when if it did surely you would see the signs in every horse, Right!?… But u don’t.
It can’t be both! Lameness signs cannot mean lameness and soundness and it’s exactly the same with pain. The first place a horse would feel pain because of being ridden is in there back, have you ever tried to ride a horse that has developed pain in it’s back? If you did you would spend most the time on the floor or the horse trying to deposit you on the floor.
So if a horse is not in pain then it won’t behave in this way or out of character.
Nailed it! You are much more qualified to this discussion than any so called expert!
“We use there own language and ask them to except us they have a CHOICE, whether to except getting ridden or not”
What a ridiculous argument. That’s like a slave owner saying – “Oh! My slave doesn’t run away or revolt so that proves that he is happy being exploited”
“So then how do you explain the vast majority of ridden horses that don’t show any of those signs?”
Literally read the article where he mentions that 47% of lame horses and 62% of non-sporting horses were lame, at least when ridden.
How you can claim to be so qualified and have the reasoning and comprehension ability of a 4th standard child I really don’t know. And you don’t even know basic spellings like “accept” and “ridiculous”? You’re definitely lying.
I am a retired competitive, show jumper. I am fortunate in that my horses stay with me until they die and are buried on my farm. However, I have come to believe that riding horses, especially with bits and spurs, is cruel.
I feel sad that I abused my dear equines all these years by riding them in such, and not be educated by the likes of Dr. Sue Dyson on the signs of unhappiness, while professing to love them and thanking them for saving my life. I did however, go with my gut, and retired those who told me they were done. Thank God for that.
My three horses are turned out now with companionship, big paddocks, deep sheds and fresh water. They seem to be happy, now.
Thank you for this article. Blessings on man’s true best friend-the horse.
Better late, than never.
How is everyone posting a comment on hear because I cant find where to write a comment apart from replying to someone like I am you?
Do I have to sign up to this site? If so where is he option for that as cannot see that either. 🤔
I grew up with horses, both for pleasure and working cattle. None of our horses moved away from us when be saddled. A number of them seemed excited and came to us at sight of the tack coming out. We used bitless bridles and our horses were well fed and cared for with good veterinary care as needed. We enjoyed our interactions with them and they seemed to enjoy our caring for and brushing them.
I’ve been around horses most of my life and have never met a that was ‘hurt’ regularly while riding unless there was an existing condition. Which in most cases, you can spot. My almost 20 y/o geldings will stand with me in his pasture unprompted while I clean his trough just because he likes me and wants to be around me. He also gets excited every time I take him out to ride. Sometimes he acts spunky in our warm-ups, but that’s all play. I can tell based on his body language and how interacts with me if he is enjoying something or not. Tack and other equipment can be a source of pain, but only if it doesn’t fit the horse. Again, my gelding had an incorrectly fitting saddle that was hurting him, so he reacted by bucking me off. Once we determined it was a tack problem we fixed it by getting one that fits him and he hasn’t bucked me since. He actually gets depressed and will move around in his pasture less if I don’t ride him regularly, and he gains a lot of weight. Obviously riding old horses (Late 30s to early 40s) can hurt, and if a baby has its mounted training started too early it can cause arthritis in later years, but a large majority aren’t, and if they are, they aren’t ridden. A vast majority of horse people pay a lot of attention to their horses and know when something is off if the horse is hurting, and how to take care of them.
This article you wrote is very inaccurate, horses like being rode. Yes some horses are or were abused but most horses actually like being rode and in joy spending time with their rider. I have a mare who loves being rode and might have been abused when she was younger but she still loves being rode just like all of the other horses i’ve seen and rode.
I’m an equestrian, but unlike many others in this thread, I only started riding about 1.5 years ago. I greatly enjoy riding horses and I’ve noticed that it has improved my general wellbeing in many areas of my life. For these reasons, I want to keep riding. However, I can’t help but to think about the ethicality of this hobby.
The argument of horses being ridden as compensation for food, shelter, company etc. being a fair trafe holds true to an extent, in my opinion. But only if certain conditions are met. Let’s say that in a hypothetical situation, there is a horse named Dapples who lives on a private yard with a few other horses, all owned and taken cared of by the same couple of people. These people are experiensed horse owners that put their horses needs first. Dapples has all of her needs met: food, big pasture, shelter, exercise and horse friends. Her owner rides her four times a week in fitting tack and makes sure that Dapples doesn’t get any tasks that are too demanding. After riding, Dapples gets back to eating in the pasture with her horse friends. I think the horse is happy in this situation and doesn’t mind being ridden. Sadly, not many horses get to live a life like Dapples.
In most cases horses don’t have all their needs met and will be ridden even if they show clear signs of discomfort. This can be due to many reasons, but none of those reasons justify the suffering of a horse. If a person doesn’t have enough money, time or motivation to keep a horse so that the animal is happy, they shouldn’t own a horse.
What I find the hardest part to think about in the horse world are the riding schools. I just don’t know how to justify riding lessons. Of course, there are good riding schools that take care of their horses and make sure that the horses aren’t overworked. Most schools though, in my experiense, don’t have the resources, time or in some cases the will to do this. Horses in riding schools don’t get the veterinary care they need, they have pastures way too small for them and don’t get to live in a herd. They are stalled for most of the day and do long days of 2-5 lessons in possibly ill-fitting tack, being ridden by amateurs who (understandably) do a lot of mistakes while riding. Some of these mistakes are painful to the horse but probably all of them are at least uncomfortable.
To make sure that the horse is comfortable while it’s ridden, a rider needs to have skill and experience. To get that skill and experience, a rider needs to be taught by someone. Most likely the rider will choose lessons from a riding school, since very few have enough money to just buy a horse and get a private instructor to teach them. It feels unnecessarily cruel to have these lesson horses suffer for the sake of other horses. We need riding schools if we want to learn how to ride so that the horse is comfortable while we ride.
There are horses that enjoy riding, jumping and showing. But I think those horses that truly enjoy showing in competitions, for example, are so far and few between that it doesn’t qualify as a point to me. Some humans enjoy getting beaten up by someone, does that mean that the rest of us should enjoy it too?
I’m glad I’m an empathetic person. I’m glad I care about these things and that I think about them even though it hurts, because sadly, many equestrians don’t. It astonishes me how fiercely some of us defend this sport. If the horse world looks bad, unethical or conserning to the outside world, then isn’t that a ckear sign that we’re doing something wrong and are in need of change? I think some of us are blind to the abuse that happens in the horse world, because it is seen so often that people get used to it. And if that isn’t messed up then I don’t know what is.
This is such a long reply that it could be an article in and of itself…just proves that this article made me think. I’d love to discuss this more so if you agree/disagree/have something to add, don’t hesitate to reply!
I am an equestrian, and i would like to get it out there. Horse riding is not cruel. If a horse is lame, it will most probably show that it is lame by not cooperating or limping. Also, horse riding, apparently to you, is ‘unnatural’. There are many things in this world that are unnatural, but not all of them are bad. And unless being abused, most horses do not feel pain when being ridden. If tacked and prepared correctly, they should not even be uncomfortable during riding sessions. Responsible instructors should check the tack if the child/adult is not fully comfortable with tacking. But no, horse riding is not cruel.
I am a professional horse trainer (of the humane variety). I specialise in horses who have developed strange behavioural attitudes (usually, but not always through misguided treatment/training) and have two points to make.
1. Dr Dyson’s guidelines are so encompassing as to be of little use. There are so many reasons why a horse might display any number of the characteristics Dr Dyson lists as signs of lameness as to render the 24 point plan of limited value on a practical level. The inclusion of such a wide range of behaviours as signs of lameness will (and does) automatically lead to an over-estimation. It seems that everybody is looking for simple “12 point plan” for everything that can be read and easily digested on an iphone, but there is no substitute for horsemanship, however cold it is outside today.
2. Horses are like teenagers in many ways. Proudly independent but needing gentle guidance – not becasue there is anything wrong with what they are saying (teenagers can often be devastatingly correct in their world view) but because as parents, our job is to help them prepare for the real world. Horses, may also show reluctance to work sometimes but, again like teenagers, are generally happier when they get off their butt and find some direction in their life. Many horses who find such a purpose often exhibit the same type of deep happiness that many humans develop when they know their direction in life – a kind of equine professional pride. Such a person may have gone through some challenging times to get to that point, and so it is with horses. If you apply Dr Dyson’s plan to horses, many healthy horses would be classified as lame and very few of them would ever find their place or develop their skills. Simply put, whatever parenting approach you have towards teenagers, I think we can all agree that cosseting them and never allowing them to overcome challenges rarely turns out well.
Finally, I would make thepoint that describing horse riding as ‘unatural’ is not the slam-dunk you seem to think. It is not ‘natural’ to clean your teeth or use an iphone either, but these are definite benefits. What we should be asking is not whether something is ‘natural’ but whether it brings real-world benefits and I would argue from a lifetime around horses that a horse that stands in a field all day is an unhappy horse compared to one that has a role that he/she understands.
Wishing my fellow vegans and veggies all the best,
Lame……..pun intended! Justify it however you want to make yourself feel better about owning slaves. Your teenager has a CHOICE, your slave horse does not. Your selfishness is harming another living being. End of story!
Thanks for writing this article. I found both it and the comments very interesting.
I’m not a horsy person. By that I mean I love horses and find them fascinating but I’ve never been involved with them in any way except interacting with those I’ve seen in fields while out walking (that doesn’t nullify my reasoning before anyone suggests that).
As an animal lover who is against all forms of animal exploitation, horse riding is a subject I have thought about a lot. For me it comes down to this, horses didn’t evolve to carry a load on their backs. Especially such a large load as a human pushing down at around 90deg to their spine. Not only is this heavy load totally unnatural for them, they are then pressured into physical exerting themselves while carrying it.
I’m a generally fit and healthy person with a very active job but I occasionally get back and joint pain from the nature of my work and when I do it’s awful. I’ve heard a lot of horse riders say that horses wouldn’t do it if they didn’t want to but I don’t believe that’s true in a lot of cases. When have you ever seen an unbroken horse willingly except someone climbing on their back and riding round. The very term “breaking in” a horse says that you have to break their desire not to have someone on their back. Do I want to carry on working while suffering from back and joint pain? Certainly not, but I always do when I can. You could say I’ve been broken into a life where I sometimes have to work through the pain.
For me it boils down to this. Do horses need to be ridden and do we need to ride horses? The answer to both questions is no. Does horse riding cause the horses pain and discomfort? In lots of cases, definitely and in most, if not all cases, probably. In answering these questions it becomes apparent that horse riding is yet another example of animal exploitation where many of those who partake in the activity use excuses to justify their past time without truly knowing the extent of the suffering they are causing the animals they claim to love.
The statistics in this article that show a massive increase in incidents of lameness in ridden horses compared to unridden ones is further proof of the harm horse riding causes. And that’s just pain that’s at a level we can gauge through reading signs in the horse. It doesn’t include milder pain, discomfort or the potential psychological impact of being controlled.
As with a lot of cases where humans think we somehow have the right to use animals however we see fit, I really think it’s time we got down from our horses.
As an equestrian myself, I’m not sure you understand how riding really works. If a horse doesn’t have the will to be ridden, it won’t let you. It takes a certain level of patience and personality from both the horse and the rider. Yes, there is some abuse in the industry, but riding itself isn’t cruel.
You couldn’t have said it any better! I’m also an equestrian and I really can’t believe that someone who isn’t, would have the guts to put something up like this when the don’t truly understand and know what it feels like for you to wake up early just to come outside so you can see your horses and to feel their warm breath against your face in the cold, and to experience their love and affection they give back to you. If you don’t ride frequently and haven’t experienced a true bond with them then you have no say because your argument is invalid.
So because this person doesn’t ride horses, they don’t get a say on if people should ride horses? That’s ridiculous, I don’t have nuclear codes, do I not get a say on whether they should be fired or not? Silly, silly.
I have had horses for 55 years and for the last ten of those I just can’t think of a reason to ride. Why should another sentient being carry me when I have my own legs? Why should she have metal in her mouth? A saddle pinching her back (however will fitted once the rider is on can anyone categorically say a horse feels no pain or discomfort?) Have every movement controlled by a human as in high level dressage? I can’t justify any of it any more. My horses roam free at home and they are perfectly happy in their herd. They have their field mates and food, shelter, water.
I also rehome horses from Ireland as they are more likely to get a permanent home in the UK but am gettimg increasingly irritated by the questions people ask.I presently have a 12yo ex hunt horse here and although I would like a non-ridden home for him it’s impossible at the price he is (set by owner). He’s been hunted by men for 8 years, never had his back or teeth done. When people ask me about his rideability, they get offended when I say he’s “quiet and safe” in human terms because he’s on automatic pilot. He’s not interested in being ridden ..it’s just something he tolerates, something he has to do. He doesn’t have the energy or will to misbehave. He goes where you want him to go at the pace you want him to go. He stops when you ask him to. I need to sell him as his owner in Ireland wants his money but honestly when I see these broken spirited horses and albeit well-meaning riders asking all these questions, I just wish I had the money to buy him myself and let him hang out in the field for the rest of his life. And no he didn’t “love” hunting, and no he doesn’t get “bored” in the field with his friends.
Horse diving seems repulsive to us now but less than 40 years ago diving platforms were still being built in Atlanta. In another 40 years time I hope riding horses will be viewed with the same revulsion. Please read ” I can’t watch any more” by Julie Taylor about horses in Olympic level sport if you still think it’s not cruel.
Thank you for researching the article and Ienjoyed the links to recent topics especially the signs of pain.
Wow, Clare, It’s fascinating to read about your insights and experiences with horses. Thank you for your time, money and energy in caring for horses for over five decades! It’s heartbreaking where some of this had led to, across various mediums.
Claire I’m also and equestrian with 3 horses. I ride with a bit-less bridal and though I do ride with a saddle twice a week, I ride 2 days a week without one. You can have your opinion but you don’t need to call us abusers and say we are inflicting horse cruelty when we know that if they don’t want us to ride them, they will make it bloody impossible to get on them. Horse riding is a partnership and bond between the two of you, not for us to “take control” but to enjoy it with them. They want to please us and the way I know that is because I see it every day when I go out to see them.
‘They want to please us’? What an interesting insight into the mind of another creature. An excellent point raised by someone earlier, you have to break a horse in, in order for it to be ridden. I hope you aren’t ever taken from your natural habitat and ‘broken in’. What a horrible phrase that is needed to be used about a creature, equestrians supposedly love.
Thanks Sam, totally agree. Breaking a horse says everything
I’ve also been around horses for over 50 yrs and I have 3 horses, one I ride and two I don’t ride.
For the last couple of years I’ve been struggling with the question of whether it is fair or ethical to ride horses but I love riding, its a constant battle in my mind!
I hack, I have no interest in competitions!
But sometimes when I look at my horses free in the field I ask myself how is it ok just to assume its fine for me to ride when I cant really ask my horse, although she doesn’t seem to mind but thats how they’re trained isnt it.
And when I have my naked horse I infront of me I often feel like the tack spoils her beauty and spirit.
Its a very odd place to be in when I’ve ridden for so many years without these thoughts. Maybe its an age thing, maybe when you realise how precious life is you start to question what is right?
My family has had horses for my entire life and use them for work, competition and recreation. Our horses are our friends, our partners, our beloved pets, and in the case of my children who are on the autism spectrum, an important part of their therapy. We have found that when we develop a good relationship with a horse, they are at their happiest when they have a job to do. Just like a human, they need a purpose. We would never pair a horse with a rider of an inappropriate weight, neither would we ride or use a horse when it is lame–that’s just common sense. They are given plenty of food, fresh water, and room to run and roam. When they get old, they become what we call “pasture ornaments”, meaning that they live out their lives in peace on the farm. Are horses abused? Yes, absolutely, and we should work to end that abuse. Children are also abused and we should work to end that as well, but that shouldn’t stop those of us who can provide a stable, loving and nurturing environment from having families. Just my $.02!
Hi Leah, it sounds like you’ve taken all the measures for your family and your horses to have a loving and mutually beneficial relationship. And yes, there’s always a spectrum of abuse with animals, both human and nonhuman. Thanks for sharing your experience.
I am a guardian of 5 equines and none of them are ridden. I feel they do not need to be ridden to prove their worth. I am not anti horse riding but I do feel the horse must be 100% in agreement with being ridden for this to be acceptable. Interesting what I have found personally is the stigma of “riding” is not in riding but in the opposite of not riding your equines.There is a grassroots movement now for the non ridden equine (on Facebook it is called exactly this) but it has had a lot of flack from the horse riding community. Many people use horses merely as instruments and once they stop assisting them with their purpose they are either PTS or moved on to other homes. Horses, in my opinion, are one of the most re-homed animals with some having 3-4 homes before they are 2 years of age. This is purely because they were not acceptable to their human.
Hi Michelle, your perspective and experiences are fascinating! I wasn’t aware of the frequent re-homing at such a young age. I’m curious, how do your horses get exercise? Do they keep each other stimulated?
Yes, horses belonging to people who are focussed on riding only or dressage etc can sometimes just see the horse as an instrument for forwarding what they want to achieve. I have seen horses bought as babies and then on sold at three because they were not suitable for the person’s equestrian pursuits. I also find it quite a rarity for a horse to stay with the same person for their entire life. We have a small animal rescue and the 5 equines are part of this. We have given the lion share of of the property to the horses and they are on tracks (the design comes from Paddock Paradise). Most of our horses are walking approximately 5 kilometres a day on these tracks which basically weave around the property (you don’t need a big property to do this – even under 5 acres would suffice). We have their water and food at opposite ends with variations of terrain throughout (rocks, gravel etc) so they are continually wearing away their hooves. As far as stimulation I feel our herd just need themselves. I do not feel that a horse needs a job, per se and feel that this viewpoint can come from our use of this animal. We generally do not say this about our dogs and cats. I truly believe that horses were not put on this planet to be ridden i.e. they have existed well without man taming and riding them.
Fascinating insights, Michelle. Thank you for adding your experience to this conversation, and more importantly, thanks for rescuing the equines and giving them the best life you can.
I so appreciate this article and all of the insightful comments. I am the guardian to four amazing horses and have ridden since I was only a few years old. As I get older and understand more what makes a horse truly happy vs all of the things humans do to them for their own pleasure:entertainment, I find myself struggling to see how I fit into the “horse world” anymore.
Hi Nicole, I’m also appreciative to learn about different experiences. It’s interesting to read about your shift in perspective on the horse-human relationship. Especially your last line, “I find myself struggling to see how I fit into the “horse world” anymore”. Thanks for sharing!