For the majority of horse owners, riding is the main focus of our passion and time with our equine partners. Whether your goals are to compete on the A-circuit or barrel race at the local rodeo or pleasure ride on the trails, the emotional and harmonious connection between horse and rider has long been established and even extolled as the ultimate goal.
But there is another side of the human/equine story that is gaining popularity on a global scale; the non-ridden equine. This movement extols the intrinsic value and virtues of horses that cannot be ridden for various reasons. Conversely, the movement also welcomes people who cannot ride but want to enjoy the other benefits of horse ownership.
The non-ridden equine movement began in England with horsemanship practitioner Victoria Yates, whose horse Kez was unable to be ridden because of a health condition. “I am super passionate about riding as a partnership. My own personal journey is that riding must be permissive. So when we discovered riding is not for Kez I gave up riding,” she explains. “I have zero interest in riding a horse I have no relationship with. For a while I grieved terribly the death of riding in my life. Now I am totally at peace with not riding.”
Victoria and her husband, Steve, wanted to connect with other like-minded horse lovers, so they created the Non Ridden Equine Facebook Group in 2017. Their aim was simple: for non-ridden horses to be as acceptable as ridden horses.
“Non-ridden equines are the most disadvantaged in an equine world geared towards riding. And people who choose not to ride face challenges and pressures,” explains Yates. “Non ridden activities are wonderful for all equines, be they non-ridden or ridden. The activities are also of great benefit to people.” Seeing that Facebook had limitations, the couple created the not-for-profit Non Ridden Equine Association UK that same year.
The Yates’s view is one that is shared by Gabriela Quinn, a horse advocate and educator who owns and operates the non-profit BlixxHorses and has provided interactive, therapeutic non-riding programs since 2007. “The riding community and industry frowns upon not using horses traditionally because it’s bad for the economics of the industry. This movement grew from the desire of horse owners to break tradition and keep their horses safe,” says Quinn. “The non-ridden organizations exist to provide a community where people can share ways to enjoy their horses and find support that the riding communities do not offer. Some people still ride, while others have kept their aging horses despite pressures to get rid of them once they can’t be used.”
Quinn has had three rescue horses and participated in low-level competitions with her first horse; her second horse has never been ridden by choice. And her third, a dressage/jumping horse, came to her with many issues at the age of 12, including chronic lameness. “Selling or re-homing my horses was never an option. You never know where the horses will end up,” explains Quinn. “I love my horses no differently than my smaller pets, but more importantly I am committed no less than I would be to a child. Obviously, horses are a much more work, but I am committed to their care and well-being for life.”
It is Quinn’s goal that through the work of her non-profit she is able to show the value of horses beyond riding through interactive, educational programs. “It’s about being a responsible horse owner and understanding the reality of what happens to them as they age, become injured, soured, and lose value. These horses are in danger of neglect, abuse and slaughter,” explains Quinn. “Since horses have always been synonymous with riding or sport, tradition to do what is ingrained in the culture is hard to break. For those of us who keep our horses their value has nothing to do with how they are used and everything to do with the relationship we develop. It’s about doing the right thing and being able to live with the decisions you make.”
A scroll down the non-ridden equine Facebook groups – and yes, there’s a Canadian chapter – will show you how passionate people are about the horses in their lives. It’s touching to read posts from people who get such enjoyment and satisfaction from being in the company of horses rather than having riding ambitions.
“When riding is not on the agenda, it opens up a different world and range of experiences. For many it is the deep connection and bond that is important,” says Yates. “There are many non-ridden activities we can enjoy with our equines that are of huge benefit physically, emotionally and spiritually. It also enables us to engage with equines from the perspective of what our equines enjoy, what they find rewarding. Permissive riding can grow from this approach.”
Some sample activities that non-ridden equine owners and horses participate in include agility, hiking, meditation and many others (see below) that involve friendly competition or simply offering different ways to spend time bonding with your horse or pony or donkey.
While the non-ridden equine benefits may sound similar in principle to equine therapy programs (and the UK association does have a Therapeutic section), the non-ridden movement has a wider context. Yates, for example, tells of her own journey with Kez helping her through treatment for breast cancer ‒ and she’s not alone. “Many people share their stories of how their horses have helped them through difficult times. However, non ridden is not just about the therapeutic benefits. Each person’s connection to their equine is unique and there is a rich diversity of activities and fun to enjoy.”
There are also people who have developed a fear of riding, perhaps through a bad fall or an aging body, that still want to continue having a horse in their life. Quinn respects this choice wholeheartedly. “People who have a fear of riding are smart in that they recognize the risk of restraining a 1,000 lbs prey animal and getting on their back. Riding is dangerous,” she admits. “Though interacting with horses on a regular basis carries high risk, the relationship that develops is unlike the relationship of dominance that exists through riding. On the ground we are equals and you learn more about the horse that you could ever on their backs.”
The non-ridden equine movement has really taken off. According to Yates, their Facebook group has over 18,500 members. “From this group we have local, regional and national affiliated non-ridden equine groups. Each has its own direction and admin team. It has created a good practice network or family of non-ridden equine Facebook groups,” she explains. “The groups have a shared ethos, vision and commitment to the non-ridden equine agenda. Each local or national group will explore issues and challenges that are pressing for that country or region.”
People who keep horses that aren’t rideable are often criticized by members of the equestrian community or even their own friends and family who don’t see the benefit. Negative remarks like “lawn ornament” or “never own something that eats while you sleep” are common enough refrains. People are judgmental, especially when they don’t understand something. But for Yates, it has been an empowering experience.
“If it wasn’t for Kez arriving in our lives, we would not have started the non ridden journey we have taken,” Yates explains. “They say when the student is ready, the teacher arrives. And Kez has certainly pushed us outside of our comfort zone and started something that has taken on a life force.”
Non Ridden Equine Resources
The Non Ridden Equine
The Non Ridden Equine Association UK
The Non Ridden Equine Midlands UK
The Non Ridden Equine New England
The Non Ridden Equine of the American Southwest
The Non Ridden Equine in New Zealand
Non Ridden Equine – Canada
The Non Ridden Equine of the American Southeast
The Non Ridden Equine North West England UK.
The Bitless Non Ridden Equine.
The Non Ridden Equine Kent UK.
The Non Ridden Equine Ireland
The Non Ridden Equine Australia
The Non Ridden Equine Southern USA