In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Is it vegan to ride horses?” and will discuss reasons why the riding horse is vegan.
Is it vegan to ride horses?
Yes, it is vegan to ride horses. If you ride a horse, you don’t necessarily have to treat it like a slave. Many horseback riders have a deep regard for horses and treat them with care and compassion. Now that horses no longer need leather clothing, you can use vegan saddles and bridles.
The Oxford Dictionary definition of the word “veganism” is a paragon of brevity and precision: “the practice of not eating or using any animal products.” However, in praxis, it may include a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment (1).
Is riding a horse cruel?
There is a long-standing debate that a horse should be left alone and permitted to wander freely since it is a living creature. As a stand-alone statement, it doesn’t make sense, even though there is a lot of truth in it. Horses should indeed be allowed to wander freely in an ideal society, but it does not imply that riding them is inherently cruel.
Veganism is based on the belief that you should avoid all sorts of animal cruelty and exploitation in your everyday life, yet I’m sure most people don’t consider horse riding to be exploitative. As a result, the notion that horse riding is exploitative breaks apart since the person or animal on the receiving end, as it were, would not have a voice. No one can force a horse to do anything if they don’t want to.
It’s also worth emphasizing that our connection with our horses is symbiotic, even though the scales are slanted in our favor. As with other prey animals, horses have two primary needs: food and safety. Because humans take care of both, they are typically delighted to be ridden anytime we want.
Many management and training practices converge around the riding of horses. Saddle horses can have very different management and training schedules even when they share the same yard and are of the same age. Some studies speculate that the way a horse is ridden could cause chronic stress to the animal. They showed that horses primarily ridden in the English style were reported to be significantly more likely to display stereotypies, problems when transported, multiple behavioral problems, and to have more restrictive stabling than horses ridden with other styles. Therefore, the animal management is determinant for its well-being, including the riding style (2).
Is horseback riding moral?
According to the dictionary definition of “ethical” (avoiding actions or organizations that hurt people or the environment), horse riding is ethical since you aren’t inflicting any harm to the horse. The only way horseback riding may be considered unethical is if the rider does not treat the horse with respect. In addition, excessive riding hours in a short period of time can cause exhaustion in the animal and lead it to stress. Studies showed that the number of hours ridden per week affected the behavior of Arabian horses and was linked to weaving and behavioral problems (2).
Should you use a bridle without a bit?
Bridles without the use of a bit have been around for a long time and are growing more popular today, with many using them thinking that they are gentler on the horse, but is this the case? While a bitless bridle may be the ideal choice for horses with sensitive mouths and gentle hands, if your horse’s mouth isn’t delicate and you ride with heavy hands, it may not be the greatest option.
In the wrong hands, a bitless bridle is far more likely to inflict pain and distress to the horse than a bridle with a bit. Rather than placing the strain on the horse’s mouth, all of the pressure is distributed over its noseband, which is significantly more prone to breaking than the mouth.
Bitless bridles may be an effective alternative to traditional bridles and may avoid some horses acquiring oral conflicts. However, bitless bridles are not necessarily a panacea for horses since they also rely on negative reinforcement (and therefore the horse’s motivation to remove the pressure) as much as any bitted bridle so they are only as good as the hands at the other end of the reins. Furthermore, bitless bridles may sometimes lack the ability to deliver the clear lateral pressure needed for turns, tending instead to tighten on the horse’s head before effecting a turn (3).
A bitless bridle may not be an issue for one horse, but it may not be a problem for another horse. It doesn’t matter what kind of bridle (and bit) you’re wearing, you should always be gentle with your hands since every horse and rider is unique.
Should you ride without a saddle or a harness?
There is no right or incorrect response when it comes to this topic. Some claim that riding bareback is terrible, while others argue that riding with a saddle is just as cruel. Both sides of the debate have some merit, therefore I decided to discuss riding without a saddle and with a treeless saddle separately in this article.
However, the saddle is a positive arifect for both horse and rider. The horse’s back moves by rotation, flexion, extension and lateral flexion during locomotion. A saddle supports the rider’s position and distributes the rider’s weight across the musculature on either side of the horse’s thoracic midline (3).
Using a saddle while riding
When using a saddle, the most crucial thing to ensure is that it is correctly fitted. Your horse’s back might be permanently damaged if you ride for an extended length of time in a poorly-fitting saddle that causes your horse a lot of discomfort.
Using a saddle has the benefit of distributing the rider’s weight equally across the horse’s back so that no one point of pressure is created. Saddle spots (white patches on the horse’s back where too much pressure has been applied) may be avoided if this is done. White fur is caused by a lack of pigment in the hair follicles, as well as by the horse’s inability to hold his balance due to irreparable damage.
The tree within a conventional saddle prevents the rider’s weight from pinching the horse’s back. Flexible and adjustable trees are becoming popular among riders acknowledging that movement restrictions caused by tack should be minimized for optimal performance and maximal comfort (3).
Riding on the bareback
Those who advocate riding bareback claim that this puts you in closer contact with your horse, and although this may be true, it does not follow that doing so is always the best option. The fit of the saddle aims to distribute the pressure beneath the saddle in a fairly uniform pattern over the panels without areas of localized high pressure and therefore, increasing the horse’s well-being (3).
Riding bareback means you’ll be able to feel your horse’s every movement, but your horse will also be able to sense yours. Because all of your body weight is conveyed to your horse through your seat bones, this is not always a negative thing; however, if you’re not sitting correctly, your horse is not only going to be imbalanced but is also likely to suffer from discomfort because of the imbalance.
However, if you have a decent seat and your horse does not have a sensitive spine, then riding bareback is just OK.
Riding with a treeless saddle
There are treeless saddles available if you don’t like saddles but are afraid of riding bareback. There are no trees in the center of the saddle so it’s considerably lighter, but like riding bareback you must have a decent seat.
Other FAQs about Vegans that you may be interested in.
In this brief guide, we answered the query “Is it vegan to ride horses?” and discussed reasons why the riding horse is vegan.
- Dutkiewicz, J., Dickstein, J. The Ism in Veganism: The Case for a Minimal Practice-based Definition. Food ethics, 2021, 6, 2.
- Normando, Simona, et al. Variables affecting the prevalence of behavioural problems in horses. Can riding style and other management factors be significant?. App Anim Behav Sci, 2011, 133, 186-198.
- McGreevy, P., et al. How riding may affect welfare: What the equine veterinarian needs to know. Equine Vet Edu, 2011, 23, 531-539.