In the riding community at present, most people’s thoughts are directed towards showing. Among Grand Prix jumpers, million dollar horses are becoming the rule rather than the exception. With all this emphasis on money and high level competition, the rider who rides strictly for pleasure has become almost a second-class citizen.

Somehow pleasure riding has come to be associated with bad riding. It is certainly true that many people ride, and even own horses, strictly for their own pleasure, with little or no consideration for the horse. These are the people who rent horses from a hack stable and try to gallop the exhausted animals the whole time. If told that a riding establishment only offers lessons they say the words which put any professional’s teeth on edge “Oh, I don’t need lessons. I know how to ride.” By which they mean that they are not afraid, and that they can usually force a docile horse to do their bidding.

I am reminded of a man who kept a horse near a former stable of mine. Every Saturday the man, on his horse, would come through my lower field at a dead run, obviously being run away with. An hour or so later, back they would come at the same speed. I learned when he brought his daughter for lessons that he considered himself an excellent rider because he always stopped eventually and never fell off. It never occurred to him that perhaps the horse shouldn’t be running away in the first place! When the daughter later brought the horse for her lessons she turned out to be rather a gentle little mare, but quite sensitive. She did not run away with the daughter.

Fortunately, there are many riders and horse owners around who might better be called pleasure horsemen. A pleasure horseman rides or otherwise works with horses because he likes horses and not just the thrill of galloping and jumping. (Mind you, there is nothing wrong with enjoying galloping and jumping, as long as the horse is enjoying it as well.) She likes being around them even if they don’t perform the very best. He looks within himself for the fault before he blames the horse. She understands the value of constantly increasing her knowledge of horses and riding even if she has no desire to compete. His learning may be in the form of reading or clinics, of watching and talking to others, or a regular lesson program with a professional whose knowledge he respects. She knows that she will never ‘know’ how to ride.

Pleasure horsemen can also be competitors, but the horse’s health and safety will not be sacrificed for the sake of a ribbon. Pleasure horsemen can even be professionals who are really ‘amateurs’ in the true sense of ‘lovers of the sport.’ But usually the pleasure horseman is one who is limited, by either money or time. He is unable to spend enough of either to work a horse into the degree of condition or training necessary for high level competition. Recognizing this, he does not expect his horse to perform at that level, so his riding is pleasurable, rather than being marred by the frustration which comes with trying to do something for which neither he nor the horse are properly prepared.

A horseman—as opposed to a rider—can be defined as ‘one who is concerned with the horse in all his aspects.’ Pleasure is synonymous with enjoyment. So a pleasure horseman is one who enjoys working with the horse. She rides or drives or breeds or just has a couple in her back yard to look at. But whatever she does with the horse, she is always interested in the horse’s viewpoint as well as her own. The pleasure horseman has horses whose lives are also a pleasure and a joy.



  1. this describes our barn to a “T.” Many different riders with different goals and ambitions, but in the end, pleasure riders. Some pleasure riders others pleasure horsemen. (or horse ladies)

    It took me a long time to come to grips with my never being
    a professional rider, competing in the high echelons of horse
    shows. After my old horse passed away, I bought two quarter horses. I'[ve grown old and wiser since my very first half arab mare. (remember the man who ran in the fields and couldn’t stop?)

    I’ve learned that I’m scared. but, I’ve also learned that I do pretty darned good ground work, and I’ve learned to clean out stalls, even though I don’t half to. I’m also reading everything I can.

    I’m enjoying my horses. And, will work out the scared stuff.

    Love this article. Reading it was an “aha” moment.

    Patricia Guthrie

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