Can Horses Truly Consent To Being Ridden?

About the Author

Specialist in bitless bridle fitting, design & anatomy. Phillippa trains with, coaches, and researches bitless bridles full time. Her approach with horses is holistic, and she believes in working with a team of professionals to improve equine training, care, well-being, and understanding. She is the principal of the Equine Academy and passionate about education for all equestrians.

Horseback riding is often seen as a romantic partnership between humans and equines. But have you ever stopped to consider if your horse is truly happy to carry you? While horses can’t give verbal consent, understanding their body language can bridge the communication gap and create a more positive riding experience for both of you.

Why Consent Matters

Horses are sentient beings with emotions and preferences. Forcing a horse to be ridden who isn’t comfortable can lead to behavioral problems, anxiety, and even physical harm. Building trust and a willing partnership starts with understanding their body language.

Signs Your Horse Might Be Saying “Yes”

  • Relaxed posture: A soft eye, lowered head, and a relaxed body are all good signs your horse feels safe and content.
  • Approachability: A horse that greets you with a lowered head or nuzzles you is showing friendliness.
  • Following your lead: A horse that walks calmly beside you or readily accepts direction from your body cues is a good indicator of trust.

Signs Your Horse Might Be Saying “No”

  • Pinned ears: Flattened ears facing backward often signify stress or annoyance.
  • Tail swishing: Excessive tail swishing can indicate nervousness or irritation.
  • Moving away: Horses may have a negative association with being mounted.

Building a Communication Bridge

So how do we gain a horse’s consent? The answer lies in positive reinforcement training and building a strong foundation of trust. Here are some tips:

  • Spend quality time with your horse on the ground. Grooming, offering treats, and simply being present builds a positive association with you.
  • Focus on gentle communication. Use clear body cues and avoid force or harsh correction.
  • Pay attention to your horse’s signals. Respect their boundaries and adjust your approach accordingly.

Remember that a happy, consenting horse is a safe and enjoyable riding partner. By prioritizing communication and building trust, you can create a more harmonious relationship and a truly rewarding riding experience.

Hoping your journey together as an Equine Partnership is always bridled with happiness!

My Bitless Masterclass includes discussion and focus on the signals and behaviour of equines and how we can respond to them empathetically whilst learning to keep ourselves safe. Understanding and working consensually keeps stress levels low and relaxed horses make for the best learners. From the ground to the saddle, learn my simple approach to relaxed horsemanship, transitioning to bitless.


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