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Is Horse Riding Cruel? Is It Vegan?

Updated Note: For insight from an insider, I highly recommend watching this interview with Ren Hurst, who rode, trained and traded horses. It's part of the horse ethics series.

What’s the vegan stance on horseback riding?  Is riding horses cruel?  This is quite the controversial topic and one I will be covering in more than one video and blog post.

For this initial look into horseback riding, I’m going to first address the question of whether riding horse is vegan and then I’ll move into whether it’s cruel.

As I said in my video about wool, veganism, in general, is about opposing the use of animals for our own personal gains in any form whatsoever.  If we look at horseback riding, it’s evident that horses do not need to be ridden.  They seem to do very well for themselves in the wild without one of us atop them.  Horseback riding solely benefits the rider and is thus a form of using animals for entertainment.

Now this is not a popular stance and there are several arguments as to how riding benefits the horse: One of these is that domesticated horses need the exercise.  The most simple response to this is that domesticated dogs also need exercise, yet owners are somewhat able to provide this without mounting them.

A second argument is that riding provides horses with an enriched environment.  Again, this can as easily be achieved without someone atop them by walking a horse from the ground.

A third argument is one that comes in many forms but always starts with “by my horse loves…” and insert being ridden, going to shows, wearing a bridle, having a bit, running the barrels, and what have you.

Perhaps there is a horse out there who genuinely loves to be ridden–it is still important to understand the impact of riding on a horse's body.  What I’m going to cover is a cursory look into the impact of horseback riding on horses.  I have links to additional resources a the foot of this post and I urge you to reference those studies to delve deeper into his topic.

Let’s start with skeletal structure.  There is a saying that a horse is ready to ride when their “knees close.”  This refers to waiting until the growth plates just above the knee convert from cartilage to bone.  Dr. Den Bennet in her article, Time and Rate of Skeletal Maturation in Horses, states, “what people often don’t realize is that there is a “growth plate” on either end of every bone behind the skull, and in the case of some bones (like the pelvis or vertebrae, which have many ‘corners’) there are multiple growth plates.”  She goes on to detail the exact schedule of growth plate conversion to bone in horses.

schedule of bone growth in horses

Click to enlarge


While many people start riding their horses around age 2 (in racing) and 3 (in leisure riding), Dr. Bennet’s detailed schedule shows that the last plates to fuse are in the vertebral column, and this does not occur until the horse is at least five and a half years old, with taller horses and males taking even longer.

According to 2002 study, Practical Anatomy and Propaedeutic of the Horse, the length of time for complete growth of the epiphyseal plates (cartilage) in the body of the lumbar vertebrae of thoroughbred horses, for example, is not until they are (on average) between 6 and 9 years old!

The basic takeaway of this is that it’s incredibly easy to damage a horses back and displace his or her vertebral growth plates, causing pain and lasting injury.

Aside from the issue of growth plate fusion, riding a horse at any age causes skeletal damage as well as muscle and tissue.  Alexander Nevzorov of Nevzorov Haute Ecole states “a horse’s back is not a seat, not a place for a human butt, not a piece of ‘meat', not some sort of ‘terra firma'.  It is a very complex and tender anatomical structure with extraordinary functions.  Besides the obvious biomechanical function, the back has another very important function.  The spinal cord’s work is to guarantee that the responses from the entire nervous system can communicate the senses of taste, smell, vision, hearing, and vestibular function to the brain, not to get lost in too much detail. on this especially vulnerable, sensitive organ, onto the medulla spinalis, the brain of the back, sits a rider.” (Nezvorov Haute Ecole Eqeuine Anthology, VOL. 4, p10-11)

In a 2007 study by Matilda Homer and colleagues, out of the 295 horses in the study who were considered physically sound upon initial examination, 91.5 percent of were diagnosed with some kind of alteration on the spinal processes after x-ray.  Almost always the spinal processes of the caudal saddle position were affected. the most frequent results were diminished internal spaces of spinal processes including changes of the bone structure of the spinal processes.


Click to enlarge

The spinal damage from weight alone is compounded by the use of saddles, harnesses, bits, and whips. saddles restrict blood flow to the arterial capillary bed causing tissue damage, as well as general wear and chafing. but nothing is quite as cruel as the use of bits and whips, which I’m only going to give a cursory nod to in this post

Bits cause pain and damage to a horse’s complex cranial nerves as well as their teeth, tongue and palate. facial nerves are extremely close to the skin and thus extremely sensitive.  It is essential to understand that there is absolutely no way to use a bit without the horse feeling pain.

For the scope of this post, I’ll just say this about whips: It’s a whip!  Would you whip your dog? and yes a horse is large than a dog, and many argue, has thick skin, but where the whips land- around the area of the muscle vastus lateralis–the thickness rarely exceeds 2 millimeters and the skin dermis and epidermis is supplied with a large amount of nerves.  And…it’s a whip!

Now this all just scraping the surface of the horse issue.  I haven’t even addressed the breaking of horses, horse racing, the rodeo or other topics—please see the posts linked below for more in the horse ethics series.

And if you find it hard to take my word given my lack of experience with horses, please see this interview with Ren Hurst, about her journey away from riding after  trading and training horses professionally.


see ya next nugget!



★Watch More


▶︎ The Horse Ethics Video Series

Effects of the Bit
One Trainer’s Journey Away From Riding
Horse Racing
Carriage Horses

For more information, please utilize these resources. Most of these studies contain additional citations.

Harm of Riding Study by Maksida Vogt, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

Time And Rate Of Skeletal Maturation In Horses by Dr. Den Bennet

Röntgenveränderungen an den Dornfortsätzen von 295 klinisch rückengesunden Warmblutpferden (Changes to the Spinous of 295 Clinically Healthy Warmblood Horses) by Matilda Holmer, Bettina Wollanke und Guido Stadtbäumer

The Cruelty of Equestrian Sport by Alexander Nezvorov

Nezvorov Haute Ecole Eqeuine Anthology

The Horse Under Pressure (effects of the saddle) by Patricia de Cocq

Harm of Whips by Fair Horsemanship

Nab my Free ebook and never miss a nugget when you join the Nugget Newsletter family. Just enter your info below!


  1. Jane Eagle on September 29, 2014 at 12:42 am

    Interesting article, which raises questions I have always wondered about; i.e. what is the effect of sitting on a horse’s spine?
    I am not a rider and I have never lived with a horse; but like most girls, have always been fascinated with them. I have caught run-away horses (they allowed me to approach), and i used to horse-sit for a friend when she traveled out of town. Not being a rider, but used to dogs, I would leash him up and take him for walks <3

  2. Sam on November 29, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    You see, the barn where I ride, we ate taught to not even pull on our horses mouths. We use our leg to house m by gentle pressure. Now to saddles, many people toughen them to much. For our barn, we only tighten them so much that the saddle may move add or likes but is tight enough to keep our from falling to the horses belly.

    • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on November 29, 2014 at 3:52 pm

      thank you for sharing your experience Sam. there are definitely ways to lessen the impact of the effects of riding. ideally, not riding at all- but certainly better practices exist!

  3. Karen Mitchell on January 4, 2015 at 4:31 am

    I like to think that we can make a difference. It’s going to take a very long time, which is really sad.
    I don’t ride. I grew up with horses. We weren’t allowed to ride them as my father was too protective. Today, I don’t own a horse either, but I really hope that I will in this lifetime. I dream to have a natural bond with my horse without riding. Such a special relationship that isn’t possible with a horse that you ride. I will do all i can in this lifetime, and probably the next, to make a difference!!!

    • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on January 4, 2015 at 9:13 pm

      thanks so much for sharing this Karen. and i hope you find a way to share your love with horses- you can certainly make a difference for them…there are many in need of loving homes.

    • Kelly on December 8, 2016 at 9:00 pm

      “Such a special relationship that isn’t possible with a horse that you ride.” I think you will find this is completely untrue. Myself, and majority of others I know do in fact have a strong bond with our horse off and on their back.

    • Emily Williams on March 10, 2018 at 11:47 am

      Good for you Kelly! But I definitely agree with Nicci! Don’t let anyone who knows less tell you different from the things that you learn for yourself

  4. Karen Mitchell on January 5, 2015 at 4:02 am

    Yes I know. It breaks my heart every day. I’m not exactly well off. Some land wouldn’t go a stray…One can but dream :(

  5. Liz on February 6, 2015 at 7:09 am

    Keep in mind a few main points when discussing horses and veganism:
    1. Horses lifespan in the wild is about 6-7years. In captivity I regularly see fat happy 30 year olds. Whe complaining about arthritis, dentistry etc, were running into natrual issues that we don’t see in the wild because they don’t live long enough to experience them.

    2. Stop saying you only ride bareback, or that saddles cause pain. A properly fitted saddle will feel like a stiff backpack, like the ones used for hiking. And riding bareback is 10x worse for their back. Even the softest seat is 130+ pounds of weight concentrated in a tiny area. The saddle distributes the weight evenly.

    3. And seriously, what in the world would we do with all of the horses we stop riding? It costs $600 or more a month in an urban area to house and feed a horse, and even keep them in rural areas is expensive. You need 3 acres per horse of grazing land on lush, rotated pastures. Their feet must be trimmed every 6-8 weeks to keep their legs comfortable, they need worming, vetand dental care are needed yearly. Go after the abusive show trainers, ban 2 year old racing, get rid of pads and chains on the walkers, but blanket statements like this are downright ignorant. And colt breaking is just a term, we actually strive for no resistance, no bucking, and no unhappy campers. I’m 15 rides into breaking one of my colts, and so far we haven’t even pinned an ear.

    • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on February 6, 2015 at 12:46 pm

      Liz, thank you for your comment.
      1) from what i’ve read, wild mustangs can live up to 40 years in the wild.
      2) i don’t advocated riding bareback- i advocate not riding at all and
      3) we care for them. we keep those that are domesticated as members of our family, as we do with dogs and cats, and watch after them and cater to their needs. only we don’t ride them, again, as we do with dogs and cats.

      hope that helped address those issues. and i do honestly appreciate your comment and you sharing your point of view. i always value hearing various viewpoints. many thanks.

      • Preston Huey on December 31, 2016 at 8:18 am

        This is a very good article. I used to ride a lot but stopped when I became vegan. I now volunteer at an animal sanctuary where we have five horses and one mule. We love caring for them and you don’t need to ride a horse to enjoy their company!

        • Emily Barwick on January 1, 2017 at 1:45 am

          Thank you so much for sharing about your journey and for volunteering for the sanctuary! Much love

      • Lisa on March 17, 2018 at 1:45 am

        Agree. I’ve been around horses since I was 5. I had my heart horse for 35 of her 36 years. She just passed on last year. We had an amazing life and bond. She was my soul companion. We BOTH loved to ride. How do I know? Because I knew my girl inside and out. I rode bareback and often just with the halter. As she got older and started to get arthritis, she told me (yes, we communicated telepathically) when she wanted to go for a ride… I always listened to her and honored her wishes. I loved loved loved my dear sweet Miss and did everything for her till the very end… helped her cross over which was the most difficult yet loving thing to do in this life. She was my greatest teacher and I am writing a trilogy about our life and all of the amazing life lessons and wisdom she shared with me… often on our rides back in the day. I once had a vegan rip me to shreds for riding. Please. Do not tell me about my horse and best friend and what our experience was in this life. It was magical and beautiful and a profound gift for both of us. I rescued her when she was an orphaned malnourished yearling and I was 13. There was no abuse; only love. And true love heals and only makes each other better. I am the luckiest person alive to have had my girl for so long. I miss her terribly but still feel her with me and communicating to me always. Our connection is not over… just a different form.

      • Allison Hair on September 12, 2019 at 6:23 pm

        Mustangs in the wild do not live to 40. Rarely do horses in someone’s backyard live to be over 37!

  6. Liz on February 6, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    Sorry if that came off rude, I just get frustrated with misinformation being spread. The idea of keeping horses is pets is lovely, but the truth is that thought process feeds the slaughter pipeline. I can place well mannered riding horses all day long. Finding homes for pasture puffs is damn near impossible, and I’m sick of seeing them get crammed onto trucks headed for Mexico because no one gave them skills to ensure they’d end up in good homes. Even rurally it costs a minimum of $10,000 a year to keep them. You find me 3 million people willing to do that, and I’ll agree with you. But I’ve been involved with horses from rescue to world shows for 20 years, and know the realities. Are there things I’d like to see done differently? Hell yes, there are some awful things that go on, but people who don’t know horses trying to fix the industry makes it worse.

    • TV on May 10, 2015 at 10:29 pm

      I’m vegan and I’m an equestrian. Emily brings up some good talking points in her article but I think that these points are difficult to host a discussion about if you’ve either never been involved with horses as a rider OR if you’re experience as a rider has been negative (- meaning your trainers use short cuts or outdated information/methods to “improve” the ride). As equestrians, you know right away when the saddle sucks or if your horse is sore. You know it within the first few minutes or the first day of riding them. I believe the back issues are reflective of the work/athleticism the horses experience in life- just like people who have physically demanding jobs or are involved in sports. All activity leaves a mark on our bones. Liz, I share in your frustrations.

      • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on May 11, 2015 at 12:30 am

        thank you for sharing this. i appreciate you offering your perspective in such a respectful and grounded manner. it’s evident you care for horses, and i do believe that experience with them is essential. i consulted several long-time equestrians in the creation of this video as i did not feel it was my place to speak about it fully. again, i very much appreciate you sharing this! all the best.

  7. Brahmdev Singh on February 24, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Hey I guess you already know it, that they (we) use horses to produce vaccines? Put it on the bloodstream, make them sick, put off the blood, the whole deal. Nice work, thank you!

  8. Lulu on July 5, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    Finally, someone who understands. Also, if the writer was so passionate about the topic she could at least be bothered to use capital letters.

  9. Josie on September 20, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    I remember when I was young and I tried horse riding and the instructor kept telling me to kick the horse with my heel, or give it a whack to make it go. When I hesitated she said “Don’t worry, they have thick skin they can’t feel it”. Well what’s the point of doing it if they don’t feel it. Obviously they do otherwise they’d just stand there while to hit them…

    • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on September 30, 2015 at 11:00 am

      Very true and quite a simple and logical view on how crazy our reasoning is!

    • Kyra on April 26, 2016 at 1:25 am

      Then you didn’t have a good instructor because you aren’t supposed to kick your horse. You are supposed to slightly squeeze, and I know a lot of horses that know voice commands. Not trying to bed rude :)

  10. Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on October 25, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    Perhaps less of the saddle irritation and bridle nerve damage, but the spinal effects remain the same.

    • Rex on November 22, 2016 at 10:11 pm

      Someone above already pointed out that riding bareback is WORSE for the the horses spine than riding with a saddle.

  11. Niki on November 3, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Raya- bad idea. As the article states, horses’ backs are not seats for our butts. That’s the reason for the saddle. The technology in modern saddles is really impressive actually, and with a good seat (rider position) they are designed to do no damage to the horse’s back. I agree with Liz, people who are ignorant to horses but try to fix the industry will make it worse. As an equestrian, I’d say about 75% of the riders I see aren’t ideal, so yes, the industry isn’t where it should be. But the article also states that riding horses isn’t vegan, so if you’re a vegan, don’t ride horses. Seems pretty simple to me.

  12. Nora on December 3, 2015 at 6:33 am

    One thing I have to say is that…. “bits are only as hard as the rider that is using the bit.”

    • Caroline on January 24, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      exactly Nora!!! (:

  13. Julia on January 6, 2016 at 2:49 am

    Fair point, but as an avid horse owner/rider, some of your reasoning is well outdated. Anymore, a large number of riders are beginning to go bitless. Some use an English hackamore, though even they can be dangerous on their delicate nose if used incorrectly. I myself use a Dr. Cooks bitless bridle. I recommend researching it. Also, although riding specifically is primarily for the human’s pleasure, I’ve met many a horse who obviously enjoy being ridden to an extent. And riding is only a portion of the horse-human bond. Many riders are getting into natural horsemanship and combining trick training and games (horse enjoyment) with riding (rider enjoyment). Please youtube “NativeHorse” and watch her videos. They emphasize on the ability to ride a horse yet still have a deep, loving relationship with them.

  14. jennie on March 5, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    This really upsets me, I’ve been vegan for two years and I’ve been horse riding all my life (well since 4)
    I rescued an abused mare 3 years ago, when my therapist advised me to go back to horse riding and since then I’ve adopted the natural horsemanship style of riding e.g parelli, monty Roberts ( they’re the only American ones I can think of, haha but I mainly follow a local Irish trainer)
    Me and the mare have developed a very strong bond, she literally saved my life because I was suicidal
    I don’t fence her in, she lives in the forest by my house (she’s lived there about 1 and a half years now, I was convinced she would run away but to my surprise she stayed, everyday after school I go there and I spend all my free time with her
    She’s 6 and i started riding her when she was 5(as it takes a long time with no bridle or saddle to mount a horse who’s never been mounted)
    Someone tried to break her in before I rescued her but was unsuccessful that’s why she was sent to the knackers yard to be made into dog food…
    We go riding nearly everyday, some days we just mess about, but I honestly do think if riding was hurting her she would just run away, I use the system of reward (e.g give an apple to her for good behaviour) and through this method I have taught her a lot (she even kneels down so I can mount and gives me hugs and kisses, she really brings a smile to my face)
    But she has taught me so much more, I seriously would not be here today if it wasn’t for her because when we are out hacking or galloping along the fields it’s a feeling like no other and all your worries just disappear, you’d have to be an equestrian to understand the feeling
    Now That I found out I’m no longer able to ride.. I feel so gutted. Maybe I just shouldn’t return to the forest… I don’t think I could handle it, seeing her would just make me remember the feeling of riding..
    I am so sorry I didn’t know I was hurting her back! She’s my only friend I wouldn’t even dream of harming her, she’s my world (well was) she helped me through the bullying, eating disorder, self harm and drug abuse.. I am so ashamed of what I’ve done, I feel totally shitty about it.. I used to think of riding as borrowing freedom.. I see now how it is wrong… Ughh just like everything I do its wrong.. Everything in my life has just went wrong
    I don’t know what I’m going to do now, but I’ve decided tomorrow will be my last visit ill probably have a mental breakdown, but its for the best, I thought letting her live freely in the wild was ‘letting her go’ but now I’ve discovered its not and I’m so upset with myself like ughh! Why was I so stupid!

    Anyways her safety and happiness is what I should be concerned about not mine so I guess I am happy I found this article but I also feel like the only thing I have in my life is been taken away but that’s just me being selfish

    So thanks, I guess

    • jennie on April 9, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks for the reply! ? yeah, I was finding life very hard without her, but I definitely will go back (:

  15. Bethany Bravington on March 26, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    I didn’t like the fact when there is this event that happens around me that lets people at 200 pounds on the horses. I dont like seeing horses at events either where they are carrying adults and kids on their backs all day.

  16. Madeleine on April 27, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    I was a typical “horsey” girl: while my friends’ bedroom walls were covered in posters of boybands, mine were adorned with pictures of horses. I loved riding, and did so from the age of four on and off until I was 17. I became vegan at 19. Along the way, a lot of things I experienced concerned me, but somehow I reconciled it with myself. “It was just how things were.” “It wasn’t as bad as it seemed.” Looking back, I wish I had been a little more compassionate and not just done what I was told. One thing in particular stood out to me and does to this day, 16-17 years on. I went on a riding holiday and was paired up with the most beautiful, vibrant, sweet-natured, five-year-old, black pony. He was new to the riding school and he oozed enthusiasm. He had a delightful personality and was so interactive. I didn’t end up riding him for the whole holiday, instead riding a “stubborn” older mare who had a very different but equally lovable demeanour, but I had a very enjoyable experience and returned the next year. I went to see the black pony I had fallen in love with the year before, not expecting him to remember me but to have a good re-bonding session. When I saw him and helped his rider tack him up, I was crestfallen. This once enthusiastic pony just stood there, motionless, head down, eyes glazed over. He didn’t respond to talking or stroking like he had done before. He resisted having the bit put in, having taken it on his own accord the previous year. At that time, I knew straight away what had happened to him, yet I didn’t want to admit it. I enjoyed riding too much. I didn’t want to think that the horses didn’t enjoy it. I was sad, but everyone around me was carrying on as usual, riding and providing the horses with everything they needed to live. It wasn’t until some time after I became vegan that I decided that horse-riding was not in accordance with my core values of respecting the desires and feelings of other beings. It is rather shameful to admit. My non-vegan (at the time) cousin said, “Would YOU like a bit in your mouth?” “It goes in the diastema, and we don’t have one,” I replied, almost automatically. “But would YOU want that against your tongue and your cheeks?” And then I thought about all the times I had pulled on the reins. The so-called ‘gentle’ jointed snaffle that squeezes the tongue and presses into the corners of the mouth. Remembering how it felt like an ice block to my hands in winter. My answer was of course “No”.
    It isn’t simply a case of “horses are so big and strong that they wouldn’t do something if they didn’t want to”. While I have experienced many times horses not doing what you want them to, and sometimes punished painfully for it, and sometimes just getting away with it, it is surely not difficult to see how it is easy to manipulate a creature of any size. As an example, if I sit on an ant nest and an ant bites me, I am going to move away because it hurts, or is at least very uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter that I am ten million times more massive than the ant, and that her jaws are almost microscopic. The ant can move me if she wants to, even if I would have preferred to not get up and not get bitten. The point being is that it doesn’t take much to be aversive and unpleasant, and this is not how I would choose to spend my life, and if I wouldn’t like it, who am I to decide that another being should have to endure it.
    That being said, I don’t put horse riding in itself in the same mental category as the consumption of animal products. I do, however, know that many horses are slaughtered after they are of riding use, because it is the simplest and most cost effective way to ‘dispose’ of them, and these will become someone’s cheap hotdog or perhaps cat or dog food. But it is also evident that there is a scale, as with probably everything. There are people who clicker train their horses and don’t use any aversive methods, though these people are extremely rare. But it is sad that we seem to love animals only for the value which they can provide us, and, usually, give them no real choice in their lives.

    • Sola on October 28, 2016 at 7:50 pm

      I agree with Madeleine, it is a spectrum– horseback riding can be abusive, it can be enjoyable and beneficial to horses, or anything in between. It’s not just riding but any interaction with horses is on that spectrum. Just because you’re not riding doesn’t mean the horse is enjoying herself. I also agree that horses trained with clicker training and avoiding all aversives absolutely love their jobs and their owners.

      The important aspect of this conversation is what animal welfare advocates need to do to shift the ugly end of the spectrum from abusive to neutral. If people who care about horses stop riding and interacting with them, the only people left are those who cannot teach younger generations a better way. So, if you care about the treatment of horses, educate yourself about humane training and management practices (and go beyond simply humane training to training and riding that gives the horse a chance to opt out if she’s not enjoying herself).

  17. Gloria Ortiz on August 21, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    Sorry but horses are not made for sport. Look wharf happened to Chris Reeve! It’s nice to like them but it does not mean you have to ride them. They are animals not human. They were meant to help us in the old days tof carry stuff, cross rivers etc. Equestrians are doing it for their own pleasure not the horses

  18. Jessica on September 25, 2016 at 1:50 am

    Hi, I am vegan and have struggled with this for a long time. I believe under the right circumstances (which are rare in the world of equestrians) that it can be vegan. I take my inspiration with the horses that I care for on my property from a very inspiring vegan rider @littlepistolannie on instagram/facebook. She rides on occasion but “plays” with her horses in a way that is so unbelievably beautiful and I cannot see “working” (loosely used – horses should work for people but with/ play with them) in any other way. Her methods are 100% focused on the horse. I use her philosophy when playing/riding my horses. They – and if you are not a horse rider will not understand this – clearly want to spend time with me and honestly if people consider me not vegan for loving the horses the way that I do then fine call me vegetarian despite my in no way killing/causing harm to animals purposefully.

  19. Tui Allen on November 28, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    I used to ride in my teens. I don’t ride now. I’m vegan. I think Liz makes some very valid points however. Horses will just not be kept for any reason other than food if people cannot ride them. I do think many horses are ridden cruelly. Liz admits this too.
    I had a thoroughbred mare once who would have become petfood if my uncle had not bought her for me to ride.
    I rode her badly at first (stupid young teen that I was.) She bolted and threw me off as I deserved. My uncle changed the bit to a soft one made of rubber. She calmed down. But still, I stopped riding her and just treated her as a pet goat who I visited in the paddock. I built a relationship with her slowly. At first she would kick and bite me whenever I came near. Soon I could walk all around her and under her and between her legs in perfect trust and safety. I began to ride her. When she saw me coming she would whinny and run towards me even though she knew I would soon be riding her. Once on her back, we communicated by mental telepathy. I could think “go” and she would go. I could think “stop” and she would stop. But if she wanted to take off and I wanted her to remain on the spot, she would do this beautiful on-the-spot up-and-down dance as a kind of compromise. I had no need to haul on those reins. We thought as one. It was a beautiful relationship.
    I think it is equally bad to see dogs chained up all day or shut in houses. Dogs are meant to run free across the wilds, not be shut in houses and don’t get me started on the horrors of human interference with dog breeding creating “pedigree” dogs who suffer from their bred-in deformities, like pugs and dog with non-pointed snouts who cannot breath properly because of how we breed them.

  20. Loz on December 30, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Horses were not put on this planet to be ridden by humans.

  21. Monica Butschek on February 1, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Fair Horsemanship teaches horseback riding … maybe endorse a horse “expert” who doesn’t ride like Ren Hurst or Stormy May?

  22. Methen on March 19, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    I use to work at a few Horse places and I never really had much problems with horses, One woman asked me what was my secret why did I get along with them so easy, and I said respect, she said she gives her him ,I then asked her a very simple question, If I were to buy you and take you away from your Mother, For the purpose of forcing you to carry me on your back and endanger your life, for nothing more then my own selfish gratification would that be respect, Horses, all animals are living feeling beings with feelings, But to you they are just objects for your selfishness which is something so many people need to learn…

    • Larra on April 9, 2017 at 9:53 am

      I notice how all the Horse Riders all say their horses love it? Did they actually tell you that? Horses should have the same rights as us and be free, they are a living entity and their back’s are not designed for us humans to sit on. All I can sense is speciesism and exploitation.

      • Monty Tostig on December 2, 2017 at 12:17 pm

        The reason that is all you see is because your mind is closed. Please be sceptical about your own beliefs – maybe they are prejudices. If you think animals need human language to communicate with humans, think again. I am a horse whisperer and I’d say most good horse riders also. to some degree are. I know when horses are distressed, in pain, frightened, excited and ecstatic from their body language. Not only that but horses can and do interpret human body language too. This knowledge is empirical: there is no prejudice only 100% reliable scientific evidence. I could give you numerous examples and no counterexamples. There is nothing that is more scientifically solid and as close to proof as that! Rejoice in the sheer beauty of the close bond that can form between horse and human.

  23. Mike Andrew on August 26, 2017 at 12:30 am

    Chas and a couple others have the idea. I wonder who first rode a horse/camel/elephant. Who was the first person to think to themselves . . . Hey, i will just jump up there. No invitation required. Hey, you don’t mind me staying up here do you mr. horsey? BTW Mr. horsey, you don’t get to go where you want to anymore, I will prod you somehow until you understand where your going to go. Sorry, no more of that freedom. . . . .

    just the phrase, “breaking a horse” is abhorrent. Makes no difference if it’s the old way or some new “softer” way. Your breaking an animals mind to do what you want or else . . . .

    We, meaning society as a whole, will look back at this idea hundreds of years from now and wonder how we ever thought it was morally and ethically acceptable to do such a thing!

  24. Liv on August 27, 2017 at 2:48 am

    I think from a more rational standpoint I can say that horse-riding is completely unnecessary. Not needed in this modern day and age. We have bikes and cars now to get around and transport goods. Also, last I checked, riding/driving bikes and vehicles for pleasure neither hurts nor exploits anyone – so long as you ride/drive safely and pay attention to your surroundings!

    And as far as the argument of “What will we do with all these horses if we don’t ride them? They’ll just be turned into dog food because there’s too many to just let live and not utilize for our pleasure/hobbies.” Maybe that wouldn’t be a concern if we didn’t breed/impregnate them so much? Or if we stopped seeing animals as disposable because we have no “use” for them? That’s like making the argument of other farm animals (cows, pigs, or anything deemed “food”.) needing to be killed/eaten so they don’t overpopulate. Domesticated animals – especially farm animals/livestock – largely reproduce with the “help” (or, interference) of humans. We’re pumping animals with hormones and breeding (or, in most cases, artificially inseminating) them at a more rapid pace then their natural reproductive cycles.

    • PhantomGlasses on December 12, 2017 at 10:40 am

      BUT, in the wild, animals don’t overpopulate because of predators

  25. Colin on September 10, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Whether horse riding is cruel and painful for the animal is not really the point.

    It is a basic morality issue.
    Should we use another sentinent creature for our own gains?
    Where do we get the right to enslave an animal simply for our pleasure?

    I don’t see a difference between putting a saddle and bridle on a horse then riding it, to putting shackles on a man and making him work in a field.
    Both horse and man are looked after by their owners.
    Both are fed and given a warm place to sleep.
    Both can protest, but just get beaten/trained gently or violently until they are “broken” and accept their lives.
    Both show pleasure when their Master throws them a crust/apple/sugarlump or shows them some kindness.
    Both the man and the horse are SLAVES.

  26. rose on November 2, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    i’am 13 years old and i live on a ranch. i wish that i could say i own my own horse but i don’t, our only kids horse passed away earlier this year. however i honestly don’t understand how riding horses could hurt them, and i wish no harm to my equestrian friends. why would a horse have strong legs and muscles if we aren’t allowed to ride them? why do some horses have such a strong will to work if they have no job to fulfill?

  27. Alex on December 17, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    Horse riding is not necessary anymore. The “If we don’t ride them they won’t exist!” argument is the same one used to justify eating cows…”If we don’t breed and eat the cows they wouldn’t exist!” You are not being compassionate to a horse by breeding it into existence to be ridden by a human. Ride a bike or something.

  28. Someone Somewhere on December 19, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    You clearly know what you’re talking about when it comes to equine anatomy, however, you forgot to mention that there are a lot of steps to making sure that saddles fit correctly and don’t hurt the horses’ backs. Not every horse has a fitted saddle, though. Take lesson horses for example. Lots of them don’t have their own saddles that were fitted to them, and they’re being ridden probably two or three times every day, which will cause back problems. Also, dressage whips are some of the flimsiest things ever, and you’re supposed to hold them over your thigh even when you hit the horse, so that it very lightly taps the back of their barrel. Lunge whips are not meant to hit the horses in the same spot as a jumping whip; they are supposed to hit their back legs, if anything. You would have to really want to hurt a horse to be able to harm them with either of those things. However, I have no defense for jumping whips. You mentioned a study of sound horses who had their backs x-rayed. There were only a couple hundred in the study, but there are millions of horses in America, and sometimes stuff like that happens, where an old, untreated injury causes their anatomy to alter. Additionally, you did not mention whether these injuries were acquired from being ridden in saddles that fit.

  29. Robynne Catheron on March 17, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    Emily, don’t you just love all the “experts” who always seem to know more than the researchers who have dedicated their lives to proving facts? There will always be those whose egos and closed minds will not allow anything new past that stubborn wall they have in front of their brains. They’re unable and unwilling to even consider the possibility that their way might not be the best way. Personally, I find it rude to argue with facts on someone else’s blog. I recently heard this statement: Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to their own facts.

    I shared it on my FB page, “The Healthier Horse,” but I asked that no one try to debate or disprove it; I asked that they simply consider it, let the information swirl around in their minds. Several of my followers shared it on their own pages, though. That was a positive thing, for sure!

    I am a 64-year old horse owner and lover who can’t imagine life without horses. I rode trails and competed in obstacle courses for many years. But I no longer ride any of my horses because of these facts and relatively new insights. I’ve only been a vegetarian for about five years, and I continually struggle with becoming a vegan (that darned dairy aisle). However, this video, which I’ve watched several times since I first stumbled upon it, has struck me quite powerfully and profoundly. I applaud and commend you for posting it. Stand firm in your convictions. I’m honored to stand next to you.

    • Emily Moran Barwick on March 17, 2018 at 2:20 pm

      Thank you so much for your testimony of change and being open to truly loving horses. It’s always such a greater impact when it comes from those who have ridden and used horses in the past. This is why I find Ren Hurst’s interview and story so very powerful. Appreciate you sharing this! Much love and thanks

  30. Emily Moran Barwick on March 17, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to write this, Kate. I am not of the equestrian world, no. This is why I didn’t offer opinion, but rather utilized studies. This is an early video of mine and not as in depth as I tend to go now with subjects. I would direct you to my interview with Ren Hurst, a former horse trader and trainer who worked with horses her entire life. If anyone has grounds to discuss this topic, it’s her.

  31. JoAnn on October 30, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Plus just how much do you think a jockey weighs.? Doh.

  32. Jenny on June 18, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    This is excellent information for all those people that, obviously, don’t know about horses and horseback riding. I don’t ride horses; however, I say to those that do think twice before riding a horse.

  33. Daniel on June 27, 2019 at 6:50 am

    When I got married (I wasn’t vegan then) me and my husband had a horse and cart. It really made our day magical but looking back on it, it didn’t make the poor horse’s day very magical. I guess I didn’t raise that back then and now as I see these poor creatures forced to spend every day of their miserable lives tied up, pulling carts around and whipped, I’m absolutely horrified.

    Some people state that without horses society wouldn’t have progressed but that was then and this is now. The fact is we don’t need horses for transport. It’s no longer necessary in an age where we’ve got bicycles, cars, taxis and public transport. Horse riding is an elitist and exploitive activity.

  34. Mary Copeland on October 7, 2019 at 1:58 am

    I 100% agree with you Emily, and thank you for such an inspiring article and video. I also read your interview with Ren Hurst and I bought her book and read it in one sitting. She could have been talking about the horse training circles I was involved in when I was much younger, with the cruel methods of that era used to train, i.e., dominate the horse, although the recently popular method of natural horsemanship is just a “gentler” form of domination as a major premise is to move the horse’s feet. No one can argue that this premise is domination, pure and simple. I have been involved with horses from an early age, am now almost 60, and pasture board my two rescues, an older off-track Thoroughbred and a younger BLM mustang. I haven’t ridden either in about a year now and simply enjoy going to visit them in their natural herd setting. I do think it’s important we have a plan in place for all the animals in our care in the event something should happen to us as the primary caregiver.

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