09 Dec Making Your Horse Enjoy Riding: What You Need To Know
How To Make Your Horse Enjoy Riding
Seeing that horseback riding can be viewed as a partnership between you and your horse, it’s no wonder that you would want your horse to enjoy the ride as much as you do. It can be difficult to understand what your horse is feeling in a moment, but there are certain things you can do to help your horse enjoy being ridden even more.
So, how do you help your horse enjoy riding? Here’s a list of tips I’ve discovered over the years to help my horse have fun under saddle:
- Learn to notice when your horse isn’t having fun
- Be sure to give your horse praise
- Check your riding cues
- Change your horse’s thinking, not their action
- Mix up your routine
- Ride your horse somewhere else
- Try different riding disciplines
- Set up an obstacle course to ride through
- Have relaxing days
- Hit the trail
- Don’t ride your horse at all!
All of these tips are geared to helping your horse have more fun under the saddle. Humans love to work hard until they get something right, but horses don’t think like that. If your horse doesn’t enjoy what he’s doing, it will take a lot longer to accomplish your riding goal.
Tip #1: Learn How to Read Your Horse’s Body Language
The first thing you can do to help your horse enjoy being ridden is to start to recognize how your horse communicates. When you do this, you’ll be able to read your horse’s behavior and tell whether or not they’re having fun.
Here’s some behavior your horse may demonstrate if they’re not enjoying the ride:
- Chewing on the bit
- Ears back when cues are given
- Tail swishes
- Protests to certain cues
- Lazy movements with no energy
- Easily distracted (see our article How to Tell If Your Horse is Bored)
- Not wanting to go into the arena
- Slow response to what you’re asking
Some horses will communicate more subtly than others, but the more you spend time with your horse, the easier it will be for you to understand what they’re trying to communicate.
Here’s a list of behavior your horse may demonstrate if they’re having fun under saddle:
- Ears perked forward or pointed towards you, listening to your cues
- Forward, energetic movements
- Quick response to cues
- Willingness to do what is asked
- Stays focused on the task
Take time to notice how your horse is communicating; are they willing and responsive or are they mad and bored? Each horse is different and will communicate differently; however, they’ll all tend to demonstrate certain behavior whether they’re having fun or not. Learn to read what your specific horse is trying to say!
Tip #2: Praise Your Horse Often
Many times a horse gets frustrated or stressed is because their rider will never communicate with them that they have responded correctly. This could look like praising your horse and giving them a pat on the neck to even just releasing the pressure you’re applying to get the horse to do something.
Horses learn by pressure and release; this means in order to teach a horse something, you apply pressure. When the horse responds correctly, the pressure should be released so that they know they’ve done well.
If you never release pressure on your horse or praise them for doing good, they’re not going to be able to differentiate what is right and what is wrong. This will make the horse get frustrated with the rider.
For example; I’ve seen many beginner riders get upset when their horses won’t stop backing up; however, even when the horse is standing perfectly still, the rider is subconsciously pulling on the reins, asking the horse to back.
Now, the rider is getting frustrated at the horse for backing up while the horse is getting frustrated because it’s just doing what it’s told but the rider is getting mad at it.
Take time to learn about the principle of pressure and release and how it relates to horse training. Once you understand this principle, many more doors will be open for you to communicate thoroughly with your horse.
Tip #3: Check Your Riding Cues
There’s another principle in horseback riding that when your horse is having a problem that needs to be corrected, always start by evaluating yourself and how you’re communicating with the horse. As mentioned in the previous point, riders can easily get frustrated with their horse if they don’t understand certain principles of communicating with the animal.
As horseback riders, we have a hard job. It’s not easy to keep control of your position while you’re trying to use your seat and your legs to ask your horse to do something. It takes years for equestrians to master the art of communicating with their horse, and they usually learn by trial and error.
If your horse isn’t enjoying the ride, look at how you’re asking your horse to do something. Are you subconsciously telling them to do something other than what you want them to do? (I’ve totally been there)
Taking riding lessons or having an experienced horse person watch you ride is a great way to correct any bad habits you may have as a rider. When these habits are corrected, you’ll be able to communicate better with your horse and have a more enjoyable ride.
Want to know how you can become a better horseback rider? Check out our article 15 Tips to Become a Better Horseback Rider.
Tip #4: Train to Change Your Horse’s Thinking, Not Their Actions
A way to not only help your horse enjoy being ridden but also to help them be in a better headspace altogether is to train to change your horse’s thinking, not its actions.
What I mean by this is that instead of training to correct bad behavior, you should, first, try to understand why the horse is thinking to act that way, and second, what you can do to help the horse think differently.
Usually, many horses may act up due to pain or negative associations. While a horse that’s acting out due to pain will be handled differently, a horse that’s acting out due to the negative association has to be shown the positive in a situation.
For example, a horse that has not been having fun while being ridden may not want to stand at the mounting block when you go to mount up. They associate the rider getting on them with a boring ride.
In order to change this behavior, first, teach your horse that standing at the mounting block is a positive thing. (learn how to do this by reading our article, My Horse Walks Off While Mounting: How to Correct It) Second, teach your horse that being ridden is actually a good thing by making your ride fun for the horse.
Tip #5: Mix Up Your Riding Routine
So, how can you make your ride fun and enjoyable for your horse? One way to make things interesting for your horse while riding is by changing up your riding routine.
Just like humans, horses can become bored and disinterested when they have to do the same thing over and over again. Horses have a very short attention span, so it’s easy for them to lose interest if their minds aren’t stimulated with new and different challenges.
Even making the smallest change to your routine can help your horse enjoy the ride. Try going the opposite direction you usually go when you first enter the arena. Add many different transitions and challenges for your horse during warm-up instead of just circling around the outside of the ring.
When you introduce new things to your horse, you help your horse focus back on your cues and stay ready for your direction. If you can tell your horse is starting to get bored, try to do something different than what your horse is expecting.
The remaining tips will follow the lines of changing up your routine and keeping your horse’s mind engaged to help them enjoy the ride.
Tip #6: Ride Your Horse Somewhere Else
A great way to change up your horse’s routine, introduce them to something new, and let them have some fun, is by riding somewhere that isn’t familiar to your horse. Whether you take your horse off-property or simply ride them around the barnyard, giving them a different place to experience will make a great new challenge for your horse to enjoy.
It is very common for horses to become ring-sour, where they don’t want to enter the riding arena. This is because they start to associate the riding arena with the same boring routine.
Riding your horse in a different location will give your horse new things to look at and experience as well as give them a break from all the hard work they’ve been doing in the arena.
If your horse isn’t used to being ridden in different locations, it may be difficult in the beginning to hold their attention. Check out our article, How to Get Your Horse to Pay Attention, if you plan on riding your horse in a new spot.
Tip #7: Try Different Riding Disciplines
Another great way to mix things up for your horse is to try a different riding discipline with your horse. As horseback riders, we always tend to favor a certain discipline to others. While this helps us become more skilled in a certain discipline, it also means that your horse may have a very monotonous training routine in order to advance in the discipline.
To help your horse enjoy being ridden, try a different discipline than you’re used to. When I was younger, I competed with my horse in hunter shows. When I was introduced to fox hunting, I recognized how much more my horse would engage in fox hunting since it was such a different activity than the hunter ring.
Trying other riding disciplines can give your horse a mental break from concentrating on your specific discipline. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen horses completely change their demeanor from bored and annoyed to alert and interested when they’ve tried a different activity or discipline.
Tip #8: Set up an Obstacle Course to Ride Through
If your horse is reluctant to go into the riding ring because of negative association, try making the arena a fun and enjoyable place for them! A great way to do this is by setting up an obstacle course to ride your horse through in the arena.
Not only will riding through an obstacle course be different than your usual routine but you can also make it challenging enough to keep your horse’s mind engaged and make it fun for yourself. Going through obstacles is also a fun way to practice specific maneuvers that can benefit your overall riding ability.
You can set up a pole to side pass your horse over to practice lateral movements; Set up a tight maze to practice turn-on-the-forehand and turn-on-the-haunches; set up a tarp to walk your horse over to work on desensitizing your horse. There’s a number of different obstacles you can set up to challenge you and your horse!
Check out our Horse Obstacle Course Ideas Pinterest Board to see some good ideas for your obstacle course.
Tip #9: Have a Relaxing Ride
If you’ve been doing frequent rigorous training sessions with your horse, give them a break by going on a relaxing ride. Get on your horse with the idea that you’re just going to have fun and relax…no hard work!
Giving your horse a break from rigorous training will not only give your horse a different and new experience, but it will also create a positive environment for your horse where you’re not demanding anything out of them.
Horses can very easily fall into the mindset that humans just demand them to do hard work. This can make being ridden less enjoyable for them. When you take the time to let your horse relax, you remind them that being ridden isn’t a bad thing and it can be enjoyable.
Relaxing with your horse is also a great way to bond with them. To learn how you can build your bond with your horse, check out our article Bonding With Your Horse: 8 Simple Tips That Actually Work.
Tip #10: Hit the Trails!
My favorite way to help my horse have a good time under saddle is by going on trail rides! Trail rides are not only relaxing but they also provide the excitement of riding your horse in a new or unfamiliar location.
All of the horses I’ve had have thoroughly enjoyed trail riding. It gets them out of the arena, allows them to see new sites, and let’s both of us relax from the stress of training.
If you haven’t done much trail riding with your horse, start by simply riding your horse around the barnyard. From there, slowly work your way further and further from the stables. This will help your horse acclimate from riding in an open space rather than a riding ring.
Our article, 16 Trail Riding Tips: Ultimate Guide, can help you prepare for getting you and your horse ready for the trail.
Tip #11: Don’t Ride Your Horse at All
To help your horse keep a positive outlook of being ridden, sometimes it’s just best to give them time off from being ridden altogether. This is especially true if you’ve had a busy training or competition period. This will let your horse rest both mentally and physically.
Even if you’re not riding your horse, there are many other things you can do with them. Take them in the arena and practice groundwork; practice liberty work; give your horse a makeover; let your horse graze in-hand. Just because you aren’t riding doesn’t mean that you don’t have to spend time with your horse.
Communicating and working with your horse from the ground will help your horse see you as part of the herd rather than just someone whose going to use them to be ridden. This overall will help to better your relationship with your horse.
If your horse trusts you, it will be easier for them to enjoy being ridden. Check out our article, Horse Trust: 5 Clear Signs Your Horse Trusts You.
P.S. Save this article to your “Horseback Riding Tips” board!
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.