Do Horses Enjoy Being Ridden?

Updated on July 17, 2019
Rick Benningfield profile image

Rick Benningfield is an old-time horse trainer and farrier with over 50 years' experience.

Apache is very friendly, but he is anxious about being ridden.
Apache is very friendly, but he is anxious about being ridden. | Source

A Confident Horse Enjoys Being Ridden

Personally, I think that Major, my horse, enjoys being ridden quite a lot. When I go and get the saddle, he goes to the area where I usually place the saddle on him. He will stand there while I put the hackamore on him and button it down. Usually I will take the lead-line portion of the hackamore and lay it over the fence and then place the pads and saddle on his back and cinch the saddle.

Major never moves, but when I am finished with saddling he will lift his left front foot so I can clean it. He then relaxes on his left rear which I pick up and clean and we go to the right side and the same thing happens. When his feet are cleaned, I get on and we take a few turns around the round pen and head for the gate, which is a cowboy gate. I pull the gate to the open position and he moves around the gate to the outside but close enough that I can easily close the gate and latch it.

Major is trained in Western pleasure, reining, trail, and roping. He is definitely an all-around horse for cowboys! When we head down the road he watches his surroundings and does not appear to get scared at much of anything.

We Take a Leisurely Ride

We usually ride for an hour, then I will get off and loosen the girth and allow him to graze, which is easy since I use the hackamore. When he is done (or in an hour) I will tighten the girth and re-mount and head home. Once we are home, we go to the round pen and he walks up to the gate so that I can open it from the saddle. He moves through the gate and comes to the area where I can once again close the gate and latch it. Then I dismount and clean his feet again and remove the saddle and pads. Now he gets brushed, and he really likes that. I brush him all over and comb his mane and tail. He likes all of the attention that he receives.

Major has even learned that we are going to do some riding if I am wearing my cowboy hat. He will nicker quite loudly when he sees me wearing it! Sometimes we just go around the round pen and practice walking, trotting, etc. and certain tasks like the opening and closing of the gate while mounted.

I also lay out some posts and have him step over them at the walk. Then I will move them closer and have him step over them. I step down in the stirrup on the side where he is stepping because this will shorten his stride. If I step down in the opposite stirrup when he takes a step, it will lengthen his stride. This is fun but sometimes it becomes difficult to get it right.

This kind of practice is a game, and Major does like games. This is also a part of Western pleasure class. I try to make everything that we do together into a game. Always do this with any horse because I believe it‘s important for both the horse and rider to have fun. One time one of my neighbors came by and noticed me and Major out playing in the round pen and stated that the horse really likes what we were doing, and he stayed for a while and watched.

Some Ideas for Bonding With Your Horse

Every Horse Is Different

Major is a very good all-around horse, and next I will start working with Apache, a smaller black and white paint horse that I own. His disposition is much different than Major, and he is afraid of practically everything. I have had him for a couple of years and have mostly worked on making friends with him.

So, now the game begins. I will start with a black hose about 5-6' long. I will lay this piece of a water hose in a serpentine pattern and attempt to walk Apache over it to see what his reaction is. This is done in the 50' round pen. On the second attempt, I will lead him to the hose and let him smell it. This goes on for a few days until he gains confidence in me.

Next will come something that makes a screeching type noise—usually I use an old type of mailbox that has a bent door so that it makes a noise. I lead him up to it and try to open it; this goes on for about 7 days.

In England, they call this sacking out. Cowboys just call it “getting the boogers out,” and it does work. The horse can't enjoy a good ride if he is scared of his surroundings, but once the fear has been realized to be nothing at all, then he can enjoy a good ride.

Praise and Treats Work Wonders

I have also used imprint training and brought the concept into all of my training to some extent. This means interacting with the horse and praising him when he successfully completes a task. This can also involve giving treats, such as a carrot or apple slices.

Just as a caution, you should know that you shouldn‘t give more than two carrots per day! Too many carrots can cause an impaction in the intestines, so mix it up with apples and other treats too. Major likes turnips! Remember that the main thing is for the horse to imprint with you, so praise and a positive attitude are more important than any kind of treats.

As the trainer, I am the leader of my herd. I let the horse become a part of my herd, and when he accomplishes any task, no matter how small, I praise him and let him know that he is definitely a part and that he has done good. I can see the expression that he gets on his face and I know that he is having fun.

Happy Horses Miss Riding as Much as Good Riders Do

We have just received about 17" of rain and right now everything is muddy beyond belief. Major had to go into the barn along with Apache because of the mud in the round pens. When I go to feed them they are safe in their stalls, but Major's eyes fix on me the second I enter the barn. He puts his ears straight up until I tell him “Not today!” Then he looks away. I know that he misses going for rides, and I am ready as soon that the mud is gone and it is much drier so we can go riding again, even if it is just to look at the daisies.


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    • Rick Benningfield profile imageAUTHOR

      Rick Benningfield 

      20 months ago from North Texas

      I can see where they can become bored doing repetative rides, but what I do is to change up the routine enough to keep it interesting, this they like! I will even sing while we are working out-like Cattle Call, Little Joe the Wrangler etc. Major's favorite song is Cattle Call!

    • Ellison Hartley profile image

      Ellison Hartley 

      20 months ago from Maryland, USA

      I think that some horses do and some don't. I think it is also dependent on what exactly you are doing with them. If you are doing what they perceive as boring ring work they won't be as likely to enjoy it. If they are doing something they are well suited to and are well trained and physically fit enough to do the job I think the definitely like it. My lesson horses on the other hand that are ridden multiple times a day by different inexperienced riders, don't think they enjoy any of it besides the treats they normally get afterwards.


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