One question that is asked by new and experienced riders alike is, “Do horses enjoy being ridden?” That’s a good question, one that would be easily answered if horses could talk. In lieu of that, how do you get into the mind of a horse and find the answer? Perhaps it is in observing and understanding their behavior.
I imagine some horses like to be ridden and some don’t. This could be due to in-born differences, the way they are trained or ridden, or how hard the ride is. Horses sometimes refuse to be ridden if they are hurt or sore, but their willingness to give their all for their owner despite injuries or pain is legendary.
Horses are born to be herded by a lead horse. They instinctively know that a lone horse in the wild is a dead horse and seek the security of the group. They allow themselves to be herded and are “pre-wired” to respond to a leader. When we ride a horse we take the place of the natural leader, mare or stallion. If we are a good leader and treat them with kindness and firmness we can infer they “enjoy” it because we are helping them fulfill their instinctive inborn behaviors.
Here’s an example of horse behavior that may indicate horses enjoy their domestic role. Yesterday I took my mustang mare, India, on a solo trail ride in the hills near Los Angeles. Instead of riding the same old trail we’ve been on many times, I took a new one that India had never seen before. It winds through the brush, uphill, and away from the stable. It’s a trail in the chaparral, scented by the sage and laurel sumac, where one sees an occasional coyote, scrub jay, or hawk. Naturally, when we started up this trail she carried her head a little higher and her ears twitched forward and back checking out the new territory.
Everything was fine as we proceeded along until I decided to turn back and head for home. At that point India let me know just how she felt about the ride; she planted her feet and refused to move.
Her behavior got my attention, especially since this is not the first time it’s happened. However, it’s hard for me to be cross with her and correct her when she so obviously wants to continue the ride. A ride, I might add, by a wild horse, alone, uphill, on an unknown trail that is taking her away from the safety and security of her home.
In my opinion, a talking horse could not say it better. “Let’s follow the unknown trail, I don’t want to go home yet, I enjoy being ridden.”