Do horses like when people take them on trail rides?

For the people who work with horses a lot, do you think they enjoy when people ride them? I know we can’t ask them directly, but based on what you can infer from their behavior, how do you think they feel about being taken on rides?

I’ve only gone horse riding a few times, and I would guess the horses seemed pretty indifferent about the whole thing. They didn’t seem to object to it, but I didn’t get the sense that they were really happy about it either. My guess is that they would have preferred to just stay in the barn if given a choice. If I contrast this with my dogs, my dogs love going for walks more than anything. Their excitement is overwhelmingly evident. It may be tough to get their leash attached because they’re jumping around with joy. I don’t get the sense that horses are enjoying it anywhere near that much, but I’m not around them enough to know what they are like at other times.

Horses most prefer being out in the pasture on a warm, sunny day, eating grass with the rest of their herd.

Much like humans, horses would prefer to avoid work. Being ridden is work, though not very hard work.

Being locked in their stalls all day is much like solitary confinement. Horses don’t like it at all, and would even prefer work. (Some horses hardly ever know anything else, and get very accustomed to it. But it’s not what they would prefer.)

Being taken for a ride means some work for horses, but they get lots of human attention, get to go out with some buddies (usually, people don’t ride alone), and generally get a nice, comfortable rubdown and some treats afterwards. All in exchange for a couple hours of carrying a human around? Pretty good deal, actually. Many humans work harder, for longer hours for less reward.

And trail rides, going outdoors along an interesting trail with other horses – that’s much preffered to riding round and round in the same boring ring again. Most horses will definately perk up when going out for a trail ride.

It depends on the horse. In some ways, they are like people. Some people like to work or like to exercise. Some people don’t. Horses are the same. Some horses only carry people on trails because that’s what they have been trained to do, and they can be pretty indifferent about it.

Horses that do get excited can be difficult and a bit dangerous. Horse trainers will work with excitable horses to keep them calm so that they don’t jump around uncontrollably and accidentally hurt someone (or themselves).

If the horses you have ridden were from a place that rents horses, those types of places intentionally choose horses with very calm temperaments. Of course, that means that these horses are more likely to be bored or indifferent.

Most horses would not prefer to just stay in the barn, just like most people would not prefer to stay locked up in one tiny room all day long either. If left on their own, they would prefer to run around in their fields.

Horses do bond with people. A horse that has a good bond with its owner is much more likely to enjoy going out for a ride with that person. A horse from a rental place isn’t going to have any kind of bond with its rider, so hauling you around is just work.

It is tough to resist the urge not to anthropomorphize horses but you have to. They are herd animals and not especially bright. They also have very different personalities. Some of them enjoy being ridden and others hate it. Individual horses can also change their preference in the blink of an eye and really hurt or even kill you. That is why teaching one to be ridden is called “breaking it” and it isn’t easy especially at first.

My best guess is that horses, once they are broken and trained, enjoy being ridden over being stuck in a barn but they are so different from people and social animals like dogs that it is difficult to generalize. You can also never fully trust an animal that weighs more than some small cars even if they are docile most of the time. Watch a bronco rodeo riding competition sometime even on Youtube. Those are large but unbroken horses and they want anyone off their back as soon as they get the chance.

I figure if horses enjoyed taking long walks through the wilderness, you’d see wild horses doing it. But as far as I know, wild horses don’t do this. And I can’t see how carrying a person on their back makes it more fun for the horse.

There was a theme in my youth of horses being hard to catch for the purposes of rides. We always caught them, but it was always kind of a game. I figure they’d rather hang out in the pasture and graze, but they seemed to enjoy the game, not mind being ridden too much, and they enjoyed the oats afterward. High-calorie snacks to make up for all the grass they didn’t get to eat, while they were being ridden.

I will say that the two favorite horses, of the four I owned (not all at once), were horses who very much seemed to enjoy getting and staying ahead of oher horses. They obviously liked that. So did I.

If you got up early enough in the morning you could see the horses enjoying themselves by running, playing, and fighting. But mostly they enjoy eating.

To re-iterate some of the things said by SDMB ninjas

Human have domesticated horses, dog and cats for a very long time. By some selective process, deliberate or incidental, we’ve manipulated their behavior to suit tasks for human benefit.

I bring up cats because people sometimes claim that they’re “not domesticated” or “barely domesticated” or “they domesticated us, har har.” Sigh Cat’s are domesticated, in that unlike tamed wild animals, they are very unlikely to attack us at random. Cats seem to not be domesticated, because the behaviors they exhibit are the ones we want – a certain aloofness, skulking about searching for vermin, etc. Another thing – genetically, there’s not much “raw material” for a wide variety of behaviors in cats. The proto-domestciated cat may simply not have had much to work with – its a small, vermin eating carnivore, that’s it. That’s all it has to do, and it can’t really do much else. Likewise, horses have been bred for working tasks. There may not be much “room” in the gene pool for other behaviors. Or we just may not want any sort of behavior from a 1200 lb animal besides stability.

Humans spent a great deal of time domesticating dogs. And we’ve gotten a certain “surrogate pack” concept bred into dogs. Dogs almost have to project enthusiasm at every mundane aspect of their lives – reaffirming that they’re part of the pack. There are humans who do that too – we call then attention seekers. Its wrong to apply that to a dog, because its just doing what it can with the behaviors we’ve left encoded. But its equally wrong to say cats are “aloof” and horses are “disinterested.” It makes about as much sense to apply those to animals as it would be to ask one for help with your taxes.

Horses are herbivores. Their job, in a sense, is to eat and eat and eat as much plant material as possible, to maintain life processes and maybe lay down some fat for leaner times. This takes lots of time (not as much as cattle, horses aren’t ruminants) and yeah, they’d probably like to stay in the stall, and eat. Dogs, and more so, cats, are carnivores. A little bit of meat and maybe some vegetable matter for dogs, and they’re good to go, up for an adventure or whatever.

Horses are also herd animals. We’ve manipulated their herding instinct to see humans as part of the herd. Horses don’t do well in isolation, locked in a stall, they can develop all sorts of bad behaviors: chewing the stall boards, kicking the walls, biting the stall boards and sucking in air – that’s a bad one, really causes stomach problems. So yeah, a chance to be out, in a herd of humans, is probably relished.

Also, you may be misinterpreting behaviors. Lots of dogs like to play. The dogs guarding the airport or guiding the blind don’t seem to want to play with me much, seems like they have their pack work to do, and don’t care much for me. The horse may well be worried about you, a stranger, on their back – that’s where predators go. Or it could be focusing on the trail ahead, keeping you safe, given that its obvious to the horse that you have no idea where you are or what you’re doing – you probably wouldn’t be able to outrun a mountain lion, and your kicks won’t likely kill one.

Or the horse could just be focusing the scent trail of the filly up ahead.

In my much younger days (wow, over forty years ago now!) I worked at a horse farm for a bit. We’ve bred horses to be docile because you don’t want to deal with a non-docile 800-1200 pound (or more!) animal. Horses can, potentially, kill you accidentally.

As noted, they have different personalities. Some are meaner/less docile than others. Some are alert and some aren’t. Some are lazy and others are compliant to what humans ask them to do. But there is no horse so docile that a good fright won’t cause it to panic and become uncontrollable (police horses are selected to be less likely than average to do this, then given special training to condition them to scary situations to minimize chances of panic). Having a frightened horse run into you is very much like getting hit by a moving car.

I’ve been bucked off, had “calm” horses rear up under me, had frightened horses take off with me on them… I know what to do, but there’s always a chance you can fall off and break your neck or something. It’s up to the human to stay alert and try to anticipate problems. Some the most expert riders and experienced stablehands have been badly hurt or killed by horses. It’s not common, but it’s a real risk.

That said - while most horses really, really enjoy nibbling in a green field on a nice day (probably their favorite activity after making more horses, and one they can enjoy more often), most would rather be outside than stuck all the time in their stall. If the price of getting outside is having to haul a human around on their back, so be it. If the human knows how to ride there’s the bonus of getting clear directions and the human properly seated and probably more comfortable to carry. If the human hasn’t a clue about riding then there’s the possibility of snatching tasty little snacks from the trailside, or even wandering off into the weeds after something interesting until the guide comes to drag the horse back to business.

That said - there are some horses that either don’t really enjoy working, or don’t suffer fools. You will not, however, encounter those at a place that rents horses for trail rides. It’s just not safe to put tourists on a horse like that. If they have them at all the trail guides, who presumably know what they’re doing, will be the ones riding them.

Most horses, though, seem to get that hauling people and crap around is the price they pay for having free oats provided and protection from Scary Stuff (which, for some horses, includes their own shadow) on some level. But while the average horse does have some ability to learn rote tasks they aren’t, in general, very smart. Once in a while you’ll get a horse genius that will figure out, on his own, things like how to take off the bridle, or trip a crude latch on a stall or gate, or otherwise show some problem-solving skills but they aren’t typical. We didn’t really breed them for that sort of thing. We bred them to be passive and obedient. That’s largely what they are and they probably don’t think too much about things like “do I enjoy trailriding as much as the humans do?”

How do horses in the barn react when they see riding gear getting pulled out? Do they show interest? Again comparing with dogs, most dogs eagerly run to the door as soon as they see the leash being pulled out. Do horses do anything similar?

First note: please don’t listen too much to people who refer to training horses as breaking them. Horses are not broken, in this country, except in places that animal cruelty laws are designed to shut down.

Horses are fairly intelligent. Relatively equivalent to dogs, with some smarter than others. They are descended from a prey animal, not a predating animal, so their responses will be somewhat different.

My experience in terms of the most recent question about riding gear is that yes, horses recognize when the riding gear comes out. They usually recognize their people and are somewhere between happy to go out and hyper as a 2 year old. If they don’t want to go out, then they’re on the other end of the pasture, or the back end of the stall pretending they can’t hear you.

filmore yes, I have had horses that were always that excited about being ridden, but only one wasn’t trained out of actually darting around like that. Think of it this way. When a chihuahua jumps on you, it’s barely noticeable. When a cocker spaniel pulls the leash, it’s annoying, but not bad. When a great dane jumps and pulls the leash, it starts getting dangerous. Now, imagine your really excited “pup” is 800 pounds or more, 5 feet or taller at the shoulder, and has steel clad hooves. He’s really, really excited. He won’t jump on you (different behavior type), but he will dart back and forth, and hop around, and frankly, it’s dangerous.

Most of the time when I was working with them horses either showed indifference (they put up with the gear without resistance) or active dislike (they’d pull their head away, make it difficult to get it one or adjusted, etc. One particuarly ill-tempered gelding I knew would try to bite, shove the human up against the wall of the stall, and otherwise get abusive - not enough to actually hurt the human, but certainly enough to scare or intimidate a newbie.).

I don’t recall any horse ever being enthused about a bridle.

I’ve known of some horses that would come up to a favorite human and willingly submit to a halter being put on if that was usually followed by a treat or going out of the barn into a field or something similarly favored by the horse, but then, a halter is a lot less involved and probably much, much more comfortable for a horse to wear.

Likewise, I’ve never known a horse to look forward to being saddled. Most put up with it. Some resist. Given that improper fitting, or just wearing too long, can result in sores and other problems, that’s not too surprising (although they should be fitted to the horse so normal daily riding doesn’t cause such problems).

The horses where I worked would eagerly trot up to the barn door if it was opened - but that’s because they were hoping for food like oats or apples, or just food of any sort. Having to deal with other stuff like bridles and saddles was just something they put up with to get the food.

I have ridden (rental horses) occasionally over the years. Here is my observation: Horse walks out along the trail and follows the leader just fine, in no hurry. On the way back horse seems to be in a hurry, eager to get back. Ergo: horse prefers hanging-out at the barn rather than doing a trail ride with a stranger. I now understand the meaning of “smell the barn.”

I would suspect if the horse and rider are familiar with one another it may be a different story.

Nope. No matter how well you know/bond with your horse the horse is always going to be eager to go back to the barn. Going back to the barn means the human gets off, all the annoying gear gets taken off, all the itches get taken care of by the humans grooming them, and there’s FOOD! FOOD! There’s FOOD there!

On the upside - lost horses often find their way back to the barn, because they know that’s where food is. Lost people have used this trait to help out - they let the animal decide on the direction and if the horse can possibly find the home barn it will.

Even a smart horse is not that complicated as far as mental life goes.

Most experienced riders feel very sorry for rental string horses, who have a life of boring toil, ridden by total idiots. They become inured to the pain inflicted by these ignorant people (and are chosen for stolidity and pain-insensitivity) but it is no kind of a good life.

People who ride their own horses often form quite a bond with them, both similar and not-similar to dogs. My horse does seem to enjoy trail riding, which we do alone together most of the time. She likes getting out there and seeing new country, apparently. She does have an unerring homing instinct – it is not “because that’s where the food is”, but I think because that is where safety and comfort and friends are, just like people. She can find her way back over a trail she’s only been on once, to the trailhead where the trailer is parked, just as readily, and I have no clue how she does this. Scent maybe.

In their wild natural state, horses walk slowly in groups, grazing, for something like 20 hours out of the day. They don’t sleep much. Unlike ruminants, horses are designed to ingest quantities of low-quality forage pretty much constantly. Moving along a trail with other horses is a lot like that, and horses get really into it. I can’t say the same for most of the other things people do with horses, like jumping over obstacles in a sand box, or running reining patterns, or drawing carriages. But trail riding is pretty natural as things go.

By the way, we probably didn’t alter horses’ personalities nearly as much as say, dogs. In Mongolia, where they were domesticated, horses and humans still live in an interesting symbiotic relationship which very ancient if not original. The horses live in natural ie free-breeding herds along with the nomadic tribespeople, who catch horses out of the herd and return them as needed. There’s no artificial selection.

IANAE, but I’ve always thought that cutter horses seem to enjoy doing their thing. Near as I can tell, they’re on autopilot after the rider has picked the calf out of the herd; I can’t see any inputs from the rider, but the horse seems to know that his job is to keep the calf out in the open, and gets pretty intense about it.

Yes, most horses love bossing cows around. The job of the rider is to show the horse the calf wanted, and then to stay on. A rider can’t react and then direct a horse fast enough to control cows to that extent. It’s like working sheep with a sheepdog. Even my own Morgan with no cowhorse breeding loved calf work.

Not really problem-solving, but I had a horse when I was having lessons, who would automatically do it all properly, despite me. The teacher wanted me to approach the jump on an angle to demonstrate something to me, but the horse straightened up, every time, and came at it straight on. She knew how to do it, and she was going to do it how it was meant to be done. She was great, I loved her, she made me feel like I could actually ride. :smiley:

Horses are social animals. Our horses love trail rides! A ride begins with grooming. They love being brushed. Each step of the way involves rewards; a quarter apple after being saddled, a peppermint after bit&bridle are in place. Lots of verbal reassurance.

Going out into the woods we vary our route and there are always things to see. They are content walking but also eager to open things up and vary gait. A herd of deer kicked up from a cut cornfield, a flock of geese by a lake, a fox running from us, even just our dogs playing around in the woods around us.

Sometimes we stop at a friend’s house and they come out to pet the horses and chat. Sometimes we dismount and switch rides. We try to always do something new/different to vary our routine and keep the horses on their toes.

But, not all horses enjoy being ridden. There are horses that become “barn sour”. They drag their feet and are reluctant to go out. They take a big, deep breath and hold it when you tighten their girth strap. Given the chance they’ll race back to the barn. I think those situations are created by the owners. A horse in poor condition, improperly shod, in poor health, must feel miserable carrying around 200 pounds on a hot day.

Now that’s an important question, on the topic of animal “intelligence” as we try to understand it, without anthropomorphizing, and without contrasting prey animal “intelligence” to predator animal “intelligence.”

We’ve all heard the story about horses that pulled fire wagons, when at the sound of the fire alarm, they exited their stalls, and stood where they could be hitched to the fire truck. I used to (i mean until this thread, actually) anthropomorphize that the horses really cared about the fire alarm, and fighting their instinct to avoid fire, wanted to follow the human herd, towards the fire, to address the threat fire posed, as if fire was some sort of uber-predator to be defeated by the human-horse herd. Fire horses would even lead the fire wagon to the fire, by their sense of smell and memory of the side-streets.

Come to think about it, its probably not like that, for two reasons: First, the horses are simply trained to allow themselves to be hitched, and driven. They don’t like fire, but with breeding, training, and rejecting the ones with bad behavior, they stay calm enough – probably needed to be tended by somebody. Maybe the horses were herded by the Datamation – traditionally a dog used to lead the owners horses and scare away other humans and horses. Maybe the fire house dog helped herd the horses into position.

Furthermore, why are the horses in stalls that they can exit on their own? Wouldn’t they just leave – at least to steal extra food or just annoy people? I’m now wondering about the layout of a horse-driven firehouse, maybe stalls far offset so they can’t get out into the street? With no greenery around to attract them? Maybe they were locked in, and the tending human just ran down the stalls unlocking them, and the horses pushed their way free? Maybe once in a while, one lagged back, and had to be led? Or maybe just once, almost by coincidence, they arranged themselves kinda in the correct position, and someone noticed, and the story stuck.

Given the anecdotes from real horse people in this thread, its seeming more and more like “horse intelligence” is a string of coincidences that grew into a myth. See, I tried to enter this with the knowledge that human civilization has selected for behavioral traits inherent in the animal for tasks we need, and then I went off the rails anthropomorphizing.

Insidious, it is.

How can this be a GQ? There is no factual answer, it is limited to people’s opinions and guesses.