There’s been a lot of discussion and debate about whether horse riding is vegan or not and while you will always get some people that argue their case is right very few debates will look at it from a completely unbiased point of view which is why I thought that I’d write this article.
The simple answer to the question would be yes horse riding is vegan but a more balanced answer would be that it can depend on a number of factors. It’s these factors (or points) that I thought I’d focus on.
Is horse riding vegan? Horse riding is vegan because although the horse is being used for personal gain it’s a symbiotic relationship that the horse benefits from too. There is also a wide selection of synthetic tack available these days so there’s no need to use leather equipment either.
Is horse riding cruel?
There is an age-old argument that says that because a horse is a living creature it should be left alone and allowed to roam freely. And while there is a lot of truth in it, as a standalone statement for whether horse riding is cruel or not it doesn’t really make sense. Yes in an ideal world horses would be able to roam freely but just because they don’t it doesn’t mean to say that riding them is cruel.
The philosophy behind veganism is the principle that you must exclude all forms of animal cruelty and exploitation from your daily life but I’m sure most people won’t regard horse riding as exploitative. After all, for something to be exploitative the person or animal on the ‘receiving end’ as it were, wouldn’t have a say and this is where the argument that horse riding is exploitative falls down. Horses are heavy animals and if they don’t want to do something nothing is going to make them.
It’s also worth noting that while the balance is tipped more in our favor the relationship we have with our horses is a symbiotic one. Like most predated animals a horse has two main requirements, to have enough food and to be safe, and because we take care of both of those needs they are generally happy to be ridden whenever we want.
As you can see the act of riding a horse itself isn’t cruel but this, of course, will depend on how the horse is ridden. If a horse is expected to carry too much weight (if you’re not sure if you’re too heavy for a horse this article will help), is pushed way past his limits, or is whipped regularly then nobody can argue that this isn’t cruel. Whereas if you always respect your horse, and ride in a kind way then this isn’t going to be cruel at all.
Is horse riding ethical?
If you go by the dictionary definition of ethical (Avoiding activities or organizations that do harm to people or the environment) then yes horse riding is definitely ethical because you’re not causing the horse any harm at all. The only time that horse riding could be classed as not being ethical is if the rider isn’t respecting the horse.
Is horse tack vegan friendly?
These days there’s such a wide range in tack that it’s very easy to find something that is not only synthetic but that is also 100% vegan. That said though, while synthetic is obviously best from a vegan point of view it isn’t necessarily better from the horse’s point of view, at least when it comes to the bridle. The reason I say this is because one of the advantages of leather is that it can break. No that’s not a typo I really did mean to say that the good thing about leather is that it breaks. The problem with a synthetic bridle (or a halter for that matter) is that if your horse gets it caught then no matter how much force he uses it won’t be able to free himself, whereas with a leather bridle it will break and therefore the horse will be able to free himself.
With this in mind rather than being ‘is horse tack vegan friendly’ the question should really be ‘is a synthetic bridle ethical’. To me at least this is far more important.
Should I ride with a bitless bridle?
Bitless bridles (sometimes called bosals, sidepulls, or hackamores) have been around for a long time and are becoming more popular these days with people using them believing them to be kinder to the horse but is this really the case? If your horse has a sensitive mouth and you ride with soft hands then a bitless bridle may well be the best option for your horse, whereas if his mouth isn’t sensitive and you tend to be a little bit heavier in the hand a bitless bridle may not be the best option.
A bitless bridle in the wrong hands is highly likely to cause the horse a lot more pain and discomfort than a bridle with a bit. The main reason for this is that instead of putting the pressure on the horse’s mouth all of the pressure is across the noseband and that is far softer and more likely to break than the mouth.
Every horse is different and while one horse will have no problem whatsoever with a bitless bridle another horse won’t like it at all. As well as the horse being different all riders are different to and regardless of what type of bridle (and bit) you’re using it’s important to be gentle with your hands. If you want to know more about bits and how to find the right one for your horse then you might want to check out the article I wrote a little while ago about finding the right bit.
Is it better to ride bareback?
This can often be a contentious issue with no real right or wrong answer. Some people will argue that riding bareback is cruel while others will argue that the same is true of riding with a saddle. There are elements of truth in both arguments so I thought it was better to talk about riding with and without a saddle separately as well as riding with a treeless saddle.
Riding with a saddle
The most important thing to make sure of when riding with a saddle is that it’s fitted properly. A poor-fitting saddle can cause your horse a lot of pain and if you ride with a poor-fitting saddle for a long period of time it can cause permanent damage to your horse’s back.
One of the advantages of using a saddle is that, if the saddle is properly fitted, the rider’s weight is evenly distributed over the horse’s back with no one single point of pressure. This will prevent saddle spots (Saddle spots are white patches on the horse’s back where too much pressure has been applied. The reason the fur is white is that the hair follicles have been irreparably damaged and are no longer able to create pigment) as well as help the horse to keep his balance.
If you’re not sure how to fit a saddle properly or what you should be looking for when buying a saddle then you may find this article I wrote recently about buying and fitting a saddle helpful.
People that ride bareback will argue that by doing so you’re more in tune with your horse and this is certainly true but that doesn’t mean to say that riding without a saddle is always the right thing to do.
If you’re riding bareback then it’s important to remember that while you’ll be able to feel your horse’s every move he’ll also be able to feel your movements too. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does mean that all of your weight is transferred to your horse via your seat bones and if you’re not sitting properly then your horse is not only going to be unbalanced but is likely to experience pain.
That said if you have a good seat and your horse doesn’t have a sensitive spine then there’s nothing wrong with riding bareback at all.
Riding with a treeless saddle
If you’re not keen on riding with a saddle but are worried about riding bareback then you could try a treeless saddle instead. As you might expect it’s a saddle that doesn’t have a tree in the middle of it, this makes it much lighter than a standard saddle but like riding bareback it’s imperative you have a good seat.
What if you don’t want to ride?
If you’re not sure about whether or not you should ride your horse but still want to make sure he gets enough exercise don’t worry, you don’t need to ride in order to keep your horse healthy and exercised. Instead of riding you could lunge him or take him for ‘walks’. Simply put a halter and lead rope on him then the two of you can go for a walk.
Horse riding can absolutely be vegan because as I say it’s a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship where the horse has all of his needs met and can feel safe. The only real question about horse riding being vegan comes from the tack itself and whether or not you use leather or synthetic tack. As long as you’re riding with care and listening to your horse then it doesn’t matter whether you ride bareback, with a treeless saddle, or with a bitless bridle.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉