3 reasons you need a happy horse (before it’s too late…)

Horses grazing on grass in sunset


Do you ever wonder if your horse is happy?
Some people think animals have no feelings at all. Philosophers and scientists have been debating this question for centuries.

For me, the answer is easy.
I am around horses a lot. And I think they clearly show a lot of different emotions. Such as fear, insecurity, pain, love – and yes, happiness.


What is happiness?

First of all: what is happiness? According to the dictionary: ‘A state of well-being and contentment’.
Anybody who has ever seen a horse munching on a big pile of nice hay, knows that horses can be very happy indeed.

But why is it so important that your horse is happy?

In this blogpost you will find 3 very good reasons. And the most important one you will find at the end of this post.



Reason 1: Your own safety

Even the smallest horse is stronger than almost any human. (I have been dragged around by a mini Shetland pony, so I know from experience!)
Most horses WANT to cooperate with us. Otherwise we could forget about riding them. Or even leading them.

But even the sweetest horse has a limit. Many horses are in pain. And they put up with that for a long, long time. Until they ‘stop working’ and ‘suddenly’ explode. By bucking, or kicking, or taking off.


Pay attention!

Grey Arab horse headshot in snow

Pay attention to what your horse is telling you!

We also often forget how many things can be stressful and scary to our horses.
If we put our horse in a situation that could be stressful – for example, putting a rider on it for the first time – we have to pay attention to the signals the horse is showing.
Otherwise there might suddenly be a huge reaction from the horse. Again: bucking, kicking, taking off, and so on. And then you better make sure you’re out of the way!

Of course – s*** happens. But many accidents around horses are avoidable.
As long as we keep our horse happy and relaxed. And as long as we listen when the horse is telling us when he’s not!


Reason 2: Happy horses live longer

Think about a top athlete. For example, a ballet dancer.
How well would she perform if she would be forced to train against her will? Maybe getting whipped if she does not do it ‘right’ immediately? Or pulled into a split by some leather straps…??

Of course this would be mental torture. But what would it do to her body?
It would break down very quickly. Her muscles would become stiff and painful. Her tendons and joints would be damaged.

And the same thing is valid for our horses. A horse that is in pain is not a happy horse!

Therefore: if our horse is giving us clear signals he is not happy, we should listen.
Otherwise there is a good chance his body will be damaged forever. And all our plans and dreams go down the drain.

Grey Arab and chestnut horse galoping in grass field

Happy horses live longer



Don’t forget the mental aspect of happiness. We learn more and more about the connection between mental health and physical health in humans.
Just think about the ballerina again.
Would she perform with true joy if she gets beaten every day, forced to eat unsuitable food, and kept locked up in a toilet most of the time…?

Well – it’s the same for horses. They can get stressed, and lonely – and even depressed.



Some people change horses almost as often as they change their underwear. Maybe for them it doesn’t really matter how their horse feels. For example, if they only want a quick sale.

But if you want your horse to be a healthy and willing partner for as long as possible, it is a very good investment to keep him happy! Both in his body and in his mind.


Reason 3: Horsekeeping is not a human right

Shetland pony girl with pink fleece jacket

Horsekeeping is not a human right

When cars, bikes and tractors were invented, it was predicted that horses would die out. Except maybe a few in a zoo.

Luckily we found new ways of using horses: horse sports!
Horse racing, jumping, dressage, polo, driving, mounted games, etcetera. And, of course, just for riding around.
Horses are even used as therapy animals.

Instead of dying out, horses have become very popular. Horse breeding is booming.
And we breed them to do specific things. Running fast, jumping high, looking pretty, and so on.


Nobody asked the horse

There is just one problem…. Nobody asked the horses for their opinion!

Often, when we use horses, we keep them in ways that no horse would choose for itself.
And many horses get damaged in body and mind doing these things – for us.
Many of them even die far too young because of the way we treat them.

The last few years we have started to think differently about many animals. And what we do with them.
Just think about free-range chickens. And the protests against the killing of whales.

There already have been protests against the use of horses in sports. And there will be more and more.
Animal rights organizations are focusing on horse sports and horsekeeping, too.


Our ethical responsibility

Black horse ridden by young woman in indoor arena

Will horse riding be forbidden in a few years?

Do we want horse sports and maybe even keeping horses to be forbidden in a few years’ time?
If not, then we all should have a good look at what we are doing to keep our horses healthy and happy.

It doesn’t matter if you want to take your horse ‘all the way’ in jumping or dressage. Or, if you just want a partner to have fun with riding through the woods.

We all have an ethical responsibility to keep our horses happy.

Just like for other animals, that means: keeping, training and using them in a way that is in line with their natural needs. Pain free and without unnecessary stress.
In other words: keeping them happy.



Horse organizations should lead the way…

Grey Arab headshot in pipe stall

Horse welfare should be the main consideration

…. but we cannot put all responsibility for change on them.
We all have to take this very seriously. And by ‘we’ I mean everybody who is involved in horses in some way. As a rider, horse-keeper, trainer or other horse professional.
Horse welfare has to be a main factor in any decision we make.
We need to educate ourselves about what horses really need. And what horse-friendly training looks like.

And, of course, all the national and international horse organisations should be leading the way. Both in providing education, and in making it clear to their members what is expected.


What do you think? Are we all doing enough for horse welfare? What can we improve upon? And what is most important?
Let us know in the comments!

Michele Stuurman

Michele Stuurman has been around horses for over half a century. Which means she has made most mistakes you can make... She shares what she has learnt, so you don't have to make the same mistakes. Michele can make riding easier and more fun - not just for you, but also for your horse!

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