This TikTok video begs the question as to whether horses like being ridden. It seems to me that the average person almost automatically believes that horses like to be ridden because we see so much of it. Because we don’t see horses rejecting their riders or demonstrating a reluctance to be ridden, we assume that they enjoy and at worse accept it. I think this assumption might be wrong.
Perhaps at best it is fair to say that horses accept being ridden by standard-sized, reasonably competent person. But to simply accept it is not a great recommendation to do it from the horse’s point of view. Do horses actually enjoy being ridden? I’m not sure that we know.
However, we do know that this individual horse, Jingang, strongly dislikes being ridden or that is how we can interpret his unusual and distressing behaviour of playing dead when approached to be ridden. It’s as if the horse is saying in strong terms, ‘don’t ride me, go away!’.
Note: This is an embedded video from another website. Sometimes they are deleted at source or the video is turned into a link which stops it working here. I have no control over this.
The TikTok video is meant to be amusing in some respects but the majority of commenters do not find it amusing. They find it concerning. Some of them believe that the horse has mental health issues. Some believe that he is stressed and that the arrangement and relationship between horse and person needs to be looked at. Something is desperately wrong; that is the opinion of a substantial percentage of those commenting on the video.
The New York Post journalist states that the horse plays dead because he is lazy. The horse is rebellious, they say. When the rider leaves, Jingang he gets up. And when he returns to try again Jingang pretends to be dead again.
It is why I analysed my thoughts about whether horses actually enjoy being ridden. The top Google search (horseyhooves.com) tells us that “most horses are okay with being ridden”. And they go on to state that most horses tolerate being ridden rather than like it. Not a great endorsement for horse riding.
On that statement, we can decide that horse riding is for the benefit of people only. It is a criticism, therefore, of horseracing where horses must become stressed and exhausted when they are pushed to their limits.
I suspect, however, that in line with other animal species, we don’t really know what horses are thinking when it comes to being ridden. We can’t read the mind of horses. We can speculate. We can speculate about their emotions. But the study of animal emotions is work in progress.
It is only currently that people, in general, are realising that animals are sentient beings with emotions and indeed quite a wide range of emotions. People are exploring the extent of these emotions. It is certain that horses and other animals feel pain, fear, depression, happiness and contentment. They feel anxiety and irritation but do they feel grief? Are horses self-aware? Can they step out of themselves and look at themselves objectively like humans? That, I am sure, is beyond their capabilities but we don’t know the limits of a horse’s emotional response to events.
And that’s why when looking at this video people guess as to what the horse is feeling when he plays dead. Some people might consider it to be a horse larking around and having fun or simply devising a way to tell his owner that he does not want to be ridden. But the majority, as mentioned, have decided that the horse is in need of TLC and his emotional state needs to be assessed because they are worried about him.
Perhaps, too, a horse might tolerate being ridden but he might take a disliking to a certain rider or to the tack. He or she might not like the bridle or halter. Sometimes a horse may have health problems which makes being ridden uncomfortable. The tack might be ill-fitting. Training aids might be used which the horse objects to. Some horses have temperaments which are not suited to being ridden. And horses have moods as mentioned and therefore they might not be in the mood to be ridden on a certain day.
Also, a horse might have had a bad experience leading to fearfulness and a lack of confidence. It is said that the biggest problem is the personality and style of riding of the rider concerned. For example, the rider might be oversized or unfit. Horses can safely carry up to 20% of their bodyweight. Overweight riders might cause back pain and musculoskeletal issues.
The bottom line to this discussion is that riders should be sensitive to their horse’s emotional state to try and make the experience as enjoyable as possible or as acceptable as possible to the horse. And we shouldn’t assume that they enjoy it. They may strongly dislike it.