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Recently we were getting ready for a trail ride, and one of the horses stepped away when I approached it carrying a saddle—seeing the horse step back prompted my granddaughter to ask if horses like to be ridden.
Some horses like to be ridden and others not so much. A lot depends on the rider, tack, terrain, and fitness of the horse. But most importantly, horses are individuals, and they have different activities they like and dislike.
Many horse owners ride their horses without any concern for their horse’s feelings, and some may worry a bit too much. But how does our equine companion feel about being ridden?
How does your horse feel about being ridden?
Many conscientious horse owners worry about whether they are imposing on their equine friends when they go for a ride. Do the horses like it? Do they mind the wearing of tack and carrying a passenger on their backs?
The problem with these questions is that they are asking for a yes or no answer. The answer is a little more complicated. It depends on the horse, and it depends on the rider. Some horses are uninterested in being ridden and probably won’t change. In that, they are a lot like people.
Reasons a horse may not like being ridden.
However, many horses enjoy being ridden. For one thing, it breaks up boredom for them. The horse and rider work together to make the experience enjoyable. That is an important sentence because many of the horses that don’t like being ridden have good reasons.
It’s essential to make sure that the tack you use fits the horse… and you… properly. Saddles aren’t generic; one size fits all items. The best fit is probably custom, but as that’s expensive, there are ways to get a good fit.
Take the measurements of your horse to the saddlery. That and the breed of your horse will help find the right fit. While you’re there, talk to them about the type of saddle, and the riding activity you plan on doing will help you choose the right equipment.
When looking at bits and bridles, consider the horse’s comfort as well as how you need to communicate with it. Is this going to be a working horse on a cattle ranch? Do you plan on taking gentle hacks around the nearby trails? Are you going to be doing a competition?
Some of these will require specific types of bit, and others may have variables that you need to discuss with the folks at the saddlery. However, there is something you need to know about bits and I will cover it in the next section.
That’s right; the most critical part of the question about horses and riding is the rider. We’ll start with the bit. Do you know what the most painful bit available is?
It is a bit being used by someone who has heavy hands. You could have the mildest bit available, and it will still hurt and/or tear the mouth of the horse.
Another thing to consider is size; this is not about body shaming but rather about making sure the horse can carry the rider. A large man should probably not attempt to ride a small horse. It would be uncomfortable for both.
Before I continue, yes, I do remember what Dr. Phil said. I’m afraid I have to disagree with him. Horses provide a great deal of exercise for the human counterpart, especially if it is done correctly.
However, when you choose a horse, keep both the horse’s size and your own in mind. You’ll both enjoy it more. How you ride is essential. It isn’t enough to just get into the saddle if you really want your horse to enjoy being ridden.
You have to be a partner with the horse. If you want to get the most out of your horse riding experience, having a riding instructor is a good idea. They will teach you how to sit, when to stand partially in the stirrups or irons, etc.
What you do before you put the saddle on is as important as having the right saddle. The first thing is to carefully groom the horse. Besides making sure that there are no twisted bits of hair to pinch, you will have a chance to see if there are any injuries that would make riding painful.
When you’re brushing your horse’s area where the saddle sits, pay attention to the animals’ reaction. If it flinches, this may be a pain reaction that needs investigating.
Rub your bare hand over the horse’s back, looking for bumps, sores, and heat that could mean your horse is unfit for riding. Before putting on the saddle blanket, inspect it for debris.
It’s not unusual for small shavings or pieces of hay to attach to its underside. I typically brush the saddle pad before putting it on my horses. After you put the saddle pad on your horse, make sure that it isn’t bunched up in one spot or hanging unevenly.
An improperly fitted saddle pad can cause all kinds of problems and will definitely chafe the horse. Saddle pads should be in good condition and also put on correctly. Before tightening the girth on your saddle, check to make sure it’s clear and rest against the horse evenly, and isn’t pinching it.
If you want your horse to think kindly about being ridden, what you do after you finish riding is as crucial as any other step. It’s more than just removing the tack.
If you’ve ridden hard, you may need to hold off on the water until the horse has cooled down. We typically unsaddle our horses and hand-walk them for a few minutes, then let them drink a little water.
Then we continue to walk them for a few minutes more and allow them another drink, and I continue this process until I’m comfortable the horse is cooled down sufficiently.
Once that is done, it is time to groom the horse again and for similar reasons as the pre-ride grooming. Riding can cause sweat to build up and dry. The dried sweat gets really itchy. Brushing the horse will feel good to it, and once again, you can look for injuries. We often give the horses a good bath as well.
Don’t forget the horse’s hooves when you are grooming, especially after a ride. Dirt and rocks can get into the frog, and that can be painful. You can also make sure that there are no injuries to the frog and whether it’s time to call the farrier.
After grooming I typically keep the horses separated and feed each a nice flake of alfalfa hay. This is the reward they’ve been waiting for.
General horse care
Why would this matter in the question about whether or not horses like to be ridden? An ill or injured horse isn’t going to like much of anything. The farrier needs to visit every six to eight weeks.
Besides trimming the hooves, shoes may need to be changed or replaced. If you have decided to let the horse go barefoot, the farrier is even more critical. They can check to make sure this is the right decision or if shoes are actually needed.
Immunizations can protect both you and your horse from illness. Many horse owners give these injections themselves, but the vet can do it for you if you aren’t comfortable with that. Sometimes there are immunization clinics that are a less expensive option.
The equine dentist is essential, as well. The dentist will look to see if the horse’s teeth need to be floated and if there are any corrections that need to be made. Ask the equine dentist what the ideal timing would be; for some horses, it’s every six months, and for others, it is once a year.
Do horses like being ridden? I’ve experienced both. The one who didn’t like it had as many problems as the riders did. The ones that typically enjoy being ridden have experienced riders in control, give their horses new experiences, and take care of their animals after riding. The key is the rider more than the horse.
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