Rider Insider: Side Effects of Horses

Horse-Riding Friends
Side effects of horses may include: Health; happiness; friendship; the uncontrollable desire to get outside and ride.


There’s a popular short humor piece that has been circulating the Internet since as far back as 2001 titled “Potential Danger of Horse Hair.” It begins:

The National Institute of Health has announced the discovery of a potentially dangerous substance in the hair of horses. This substance, called “amobacter equuii” has been linked with the following symptoms in females:

  • Reluctance to cook, clean or do housework.
  • Reluctance to wear make-up, good clothes or heels.
  • Reluctance to spend money on home or car repairs until after “baby has new shoes, pad, blanket, tack, grain, hay & supplements.”

And while this is a humor piece, we’d argue that time spent with horses does, in fact, have side effects for both men and women, and most of them are positive.

For example, spending time at the barn, on the show circuit or at local saddle club events could lead to an expanded social circle. There are even reports of afflicted people meeting their best friend or significant other through their involvement with equines.

The psychological effects of horses are well-documented. Time with a horse can replace feelings of sadness or anxiety with peace and contentedness. Many riders find that they have a new sense of confidence once they discover they are able to work with a 1,000-pound animal, and that confidence spills over into their life outside the barn.

In order to feed their addiction, some equestrians even cite improved fitness, weight management and a desire to spend time outdoors and away from electronic entertainment as they pursue their need to become a better rider.

We want to know what side effects you’ve experienced from riding or being around horses. Click “Submit a Comment” below and share your thoughts. Some of the editors’ favorites will be published in an upcoming issue of Horse Illustrated!

This month, Noble Outfitters is sponsoring the Rider Insider column in Horse Illustrated with a prize for the selected featured response. If you’d like to be considered for a prize, make sure to include your contact info in the email field of the comment form (emails will not be publicly displayed.)

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  1. One side effect I have experienced is a reluctance to spend money on technology-I literally would rather have a new saddle than a cell phone. I have also noticed that the “Potential Danger of Horse Hair” is a contagious, or possibly heredity condition. On my mom’s side of the family, there has always been at least three people per generation to become obsessed with horses, and several of my friends became obsessed with horses after I started riding and bringing them to the barn.

  2. My time with horses has many side effects, seen in so many aspects of life. When I am sad or angry, the barn is a place to get rid of those feelings without hurting those around me. So many life lessons are learned there. Friends (both equine and human) are made there. A sense of freedom is found. Confidence is built. Patience is taught. We all know its true – life is simply enhanced by horses!

  3. There are many “side affects” that afflict me daily. Some of those include an itchy need to away from humans and spend more time with my furry friends. One amazing side affect, is the great bond I have with my mare. Without horses, I would have never known what it was like to truly bond with an animal, not just as a friend or companion, but as a working partner.

  4. As a retired person I can tell you my horses have given me a renewed outlook on life. So much better owning and working with horses than playing bridge or doing the things that older folks think they must do. My grandkids love them better than electronics. Hoorah for Horses!

  5. I am very shy and self-conscious person,since I’ve started working at the barn I have noticed some changes. I can stand my ground better in group conversations,be a better a leader, and have more confidence in myself.All of this is possible because of the work that do with horses. I am so thankful to the barn owner and all of the horses there to give me a chance to grow as a individual with the self confidence needed to be how I am today.

  6. Horses have changed my life! I had longed to ride horses all my life but never had the opportunity until after my husband passed away. They filled a void in my heart, and through working with them my depression disappeared. My relationship with horses has filled me with overwhelming amounts of love, happiness, and confidence!

  7. Horses have brought my mother and I closer together. She moved to NC with her family and her horse. When she did, I adopted a rescue horse. That was 4 years ago and we have spent many quality hours together on the trail and in the barn and with our horses. I can’t imagine life without our horses now.

  8. There are so many side effects! After being unemployed for two years and spontaneously adopting a mustang, I’ve regained confidence in myself which in turn got me a job within a few months! My daughter says I’m a much more tolerable person because I’m happier. I’ve learned a bit more patience training my horse as well as learning at the same time. I’ve lost weight which has brought my blood sugar levels down, so all the exercise I am doing while riding and barn chores is extremely beneficial for me. I actually have horse related goals that I look forward to. My horse is my therapy that no person could ever help me with. Plus, first and foremost, my horse is my best friend and you could say the love of my life. <3

  9. When I got my first horse, in my early teens, I was a socially-awkward, almost pathologically shy kid – skinny, and with those wonderful early-80’s glasses and braces. My horse, Amarillo, was my solace and confidant. Many times he was the soul mortal witness to my tears, prayers, and daydreams. Although I have, happily, outgrown all of the socially-inadequate attributes of my earlier years, I am still blessed by the willingness of my horses to offer me unconditional love and acceptance. While the tongue-in-cheek results of horse ownership certainly resonate all-too-well in my case, I also celebrate the wonderful gifts that my fur-friends add to my life every day!

  10. I LOVED your article “Side Effects of Horses”. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression most of my life, my time with horses is therapeutic! I am forced to set aside all my worries and fears before I climb on the back of that horse and I have gained the confidence needed to pursue my lifelong dream of being in the show ring! In addition to that, i now have the desire to exercise regularly and gain the strength I need for riding which is very good for my anxiety and depression as well! It’s a win-win situation.

  11. I am diagnosed with many anxiety and panic related disorders, including severe agoraphobia (terrified to leave the house or be around groups of people). I have had these issues on some level since I was a small child. I have always been shy and lacking in any self confidence… but not around horses. There was a noticeable difference even when I was taking lessons as a child, though the confidence did not last long outside of the lessons. At 13 years of age I got my first horse and started working as a ‘junior trail guide’ at a farm that I am still at 20 years later as a senior trail guide and farm hand. Not only do the horses have a therapeutic effect on me, but I have learned great self confidence when taking out trail rides. I am in control of something, I am social and in charge and can cope with all manner of odd things that pop up without the panic that results in other day to day activities. It even carries over to the rest of my life, a good day at the farm means I can go out and take on other tasks that I usually dread. Even my doctors have expressed that they want me to remain with horses, having seen the difference between me with and without them in my life. No amount of ‘treatment’ has ever worked as well as my time spent on a ‘working’ farm. Many of my riders have looked at me in disbelief when I tell them that I am diagnosed with anxiety and agoraphobia, all I can do is smile and laugh with them in response because it really is as though all of those things are truly GONE while I am with horses. In many ways equines have saved my life… or at least given me one that I would not have had otherwise.

  12. Married to my best friend, we still do “our” things together, but everyone needs “their own” thing.. Horses for me is it!! He appreciates that I do what I have a passion for, and enjoy it so much!!It makes for a more rounded person and we always make time to talk about each of our passions. Horses are my lifestyle, not just a fleeting moment hobby:)

  13. One of the major side effects I get from being with my horses is maximum healing and happiness. Whenever I am sad or ill, I immediately walk to the barn. Riding, grooming, and even breathing in the smell of my horse’s neck instantly cleans my soul of all of my troubles. Nothing else on this earth matches to making me happy as much as my horses. I don’t need a doctor when I already have two in my barn!

  14. I got my first horse at age 54. Four years later, I bought a weanling and committed to working with a trainer to make him a reliable trail mount. Four years after that, my sweet boy and I out there going and doing. Am I perfect? Heck no. But I am active, passionate, teachable, and constantly pushing the envelope of my comfort zone. I’m having the time of my life.

  15. Spending time around horses has given me the ability to leave my troubles at the door and approach all situations with a calm, positive attitude. Horses have taught me that I may not be successful every time, but there is always something to be learned.
    Horses teach patience. No matter how big my goals are, it’s the tiny improvements made every step of the way that really make things possible and worthwhile. With enough time, effort, and love, you are able to accomplish anything with a partner you would do anything for.
    The time I have spent with horses has taught me to accept and work with just about every kind of personality in the book. While personalities may not always click, we can always learn something from each other and enjoy the experience if we are understanding and willing to be flexible enough to work with the differences.
    Horses are and have always been my life. They were my first love and have taught me the importance of forgiveness. No matter how bad a day may be, they are still there to comfort you and somehow show that they would do anything to make you happy.
    The best teachers I have had are the horses I have been fortunate enough to meet. I think you can learn all of life’s important lessons on the back of a horse.

  16. I have an illness, it’s called Horse Fever. My medication is: my horse. Side effects include (but not are limited) to:
    *Spending lots of money to have him shod and having to do my own mani/pedi
    *Spending lots of money on supplements, and not taking vitamins myself
    *Making sure he’s eating on the best quality feed, then grabbing takout for dinner for myself
    *Grooming my horse to the nines, but going to bed without taking a shower
    *Making sure he’s all up to date with the Vet and Dentist. And having no idea when the last time I visited the doctor myself was!
    Other side affects include:
    *Feelings of great contentment
    *True Partnership
    *Spending quality time outdoors
    *Getting a look inside ones self in a way no one can show you
    Be warned, this is a contagious disease and can be transmitted via visual and verbal contact with others. It is a very serious disease. Please tell your friends about it!

  17. I had horses as a child then “life” got in the way but I never lost my love and passion to have a horse again. So a little before my 40th birthday I purchased a beautiful gray Arabian mare, Sublimity, she changed my life. Looking back, I think I have always struggled with bouts of depression, and it is hard to keep sad feelings down when you suffer with this. But with my horses there is not one moment that I feel sad or depressed or alone…. even though I have had my share of tragedies with my beloved horses. Sublimity had to be put down because of a mishap while being transported from Florida to my new home in Nevada. This threw me into such a tailspin that I could not bear to think of another horse, for 4 years. Then I came to realize that what was missing and why i was so very sad was a horse. So I purchased another little Arabian mare, shortly after that I, was afraid if something happened to her, I would be alone again so I decided to get another horse and purchased an Appy mare. My Arab, Ambrosia became my soul mate, we were one she looked into my heart, she seemed to know my moods and what I was feeling, we rode alone much of the time and picked our trails together as one. One cold January night in Minnesota he colicked and had surgery, a twist of her small intestine. It was a miracle that she came thru it. Everyone at my barn helped in her recovery which took hand walking several times a day, stall rest which she did not like, but with lots of love, prayers, and care, she came thru it with flying colors. Because of beiong with her constantly in her recovery both at the hospital and barn, our bond became even stronger. Two years ago she colicked again, this time a double twist of her large intestine, the surgery was not successful, and I lost her. I was devastated, but she left me with the strength to push myself to go to the barn each day for my other horse, she needed me , and she helped me to push on and keep the memories alive of my Ambrosia. I now own another horse another mare this time a Tennessee Walker, The care and attention of 2 horses is allot to take on when you have to board, and work full time. I go to the barn everyday to visit and ride and supplement my girls. I “spoil” them with treats and allow them some liberties that I know are frowned upon by some at the barn. But I have NEVER regretted one dollar, one day, one moment, one ride, that I have spent with any of them…. they have given me more that I can ever repay to them …. they have given me my life, an understanding and acceptance and peacefulness that I cannot describe, that can only be felt. I will forever be indebted to all of the Equines that have graced my life and made me realize how very humbling nature is.

  18. Horsey Side Effects: Humbleness, Patience, Self Control
    It’s learning to celebrate the small victories in life as well as the large ones.
    You always have a least one best friend!

  19. I’ve been dealing with bouts of anxiety for the past several months and whenever I go out to ride my horse, I don’t worry about anything. All of my troubles disappear for the few hours that I’m out at the barn, and it feels wonderful. I’m able to focus on improving my skills, while also having fun. My horse has been very patient with me during this time and I thank her for it; she’s the best I could ever ask for. Riding is definitely my kind of therapy, and the side effect of being at peace has helped me through a lot of tough times.

  20. One unexpected side effect is that me, and now my non-horsey husband, cluck to our cars, our lawn mower, and each other when we need something to move faster.

  21. A side effect of having horses for many, many years has recently spurred my entrepreneurial spirit. I’m considering creating a new perfume, “EauEquus”. You know, for when we can’t be with them πŸ™‚

  22. My horse has changed me for the better, helping me conquer the obstacles of Autism, and dealing with phobias that have plagued me for years. In a few short years, he has become my best friend, and has provided better therapy than any therapist has been able to provide.

  23. Horses have always been my “other” half…I am a Sag, November person. Horses have been my life and my best friends. They have given me strength, confidence, love and the reason to put up with all the struggles of living. It is so incredible to come home and have my red dun mare neigh as soon as she sees me (of course I know she is telling me she is ready to eat), but to me, it’s hi, great to see ya……I have felt all my horses/ponies over the years have loved me as much as I loved them, as they always did what was asked of them and always wanted to be with me. Horses make life worth living!

  24. I have a major side effect of horses…crazy as it may sound, in July, I sold my house in the fabulous Florida Keys in order to move to horse country !
    Presently, I am responding to this question while living in my small camper searching for that perfect horsey property !

  25. It’s very true! I’m only 18 but I have a way larger social circle than I would’ve had from just being in school. I’ve even met my best friend through horses. Yes we tend to want to spend money on our horses before household items, etc., but we also see that the horse we have is our responsibility. AND we also get off technology than most people (unless looking for cheap and used horsey tack) Personally I tend to go for trail rides, hikes, training/riding, or just to spend time with them with a sense of friendship while giving them a few carrots here and there.

  26. I’ve learned a lot of life lessons from my horse and other horses I’ve ridden. I’ve learned that if you want a meaningful relationship you have to show you care through your time and efforts. Nothing builds a relationship like spending quality time with someone. No one is perfect, and it’s really a beautiful thing when you learn to work with someone’s weaknesses and strengths to form an unbreakable team. The child-like love and trust that horses give so easily is a daily reminder to me to act with greater kindness, patience, and forgiveness to everyone around me.

  27. I have MS.While I have been in remission for several years now I have suffered some permanent mental/emotional damage. Since I have had Harley, my horse, there has been much improvement emotionally and physically. My balance and moods have both improved. My Doctor has decided that Harley is my service/therapy animal.

  28. Once I stared riding I became happy and enjoyed being outdoors. Before I never talked to people and now I’m very social. I owe it all to the barn I go to and my todo experiences. I love going to the barn and just riding with friends I have something in common with, it’s fantastic!

  29. Once I stared riding I became happy and enjoyed being outdoors. Before I never talked to people and now I’m very social. I owe it all to the barn I go to and my riding experiences. I love going to the barn and just riding with friends I have something in common with, it’s fantastic!

  30. Horses are my life, and I don’t think I could function without them! They help to melt stress away, and allow me to renew my focus on tasks. After having a good night and ride at the barn, I can become re-energized and ready to take on the rest of my week. I think horses are great teachers, and they help to keep us healthy, mentally and physically!

  31. Being around horses is what helps me enjoy being outside a lot more regardless of the bugs. I love horse smell. Them and other animals even, usually help me forget the harshness of a day if I had a weird or bad day. Its easier being around them than it being around other humans at times.

  32. Horses have always been my life.I have shipped my beloved horse ( who crossed 2 years ago) from UK to the US when I moved and I’m shipping my “rescue” to EU when I move this month. My horse always gets the best I can afford. I don’t even know what a mall looks like . I buy my clothes at Walmart or Goodwill, but he received a Bucas blanket for Christmas. My teaching salary goes towards his lifestyle. I don’t eat out, don’t visit beauty parlor/hairdresser. He is my choice of life. I’m very lucky to have found the perfect man who lets me indulge!

  33. A friend of mine told me once “I think horses keep you grounded”. I have given that a lot of thought and I think she is right. I find I have a lot more common sense than most people and that when I am with my horses, it is easier to keep things in perspective. Almost always I feel better when I am with my horses and if I am upset about something, I go to the barn and it eases the pain.
    I have found that horses have kept me out of bad relationships since my horses are my number one priority and the people in my life that don’t understand that will not stay around very long!
    I have also kept in great shape by riding my horses and each horse helps me ride the other one better.

  34. I am not happy when I’m not on the back of a horse. The feeling is like being addicted to nicotine, there is always that need in the back of your mind and it you cannot relax until you’re back in the barn surrounded by that relaxing perfume that lets us know we are home and we’re ready for the next adventure today will bring.

  35. well I totally agree me and my sister have been on horses sense we were about 5 to 7 years old were both in our 50’s now we bought some paint mares but I am messed up from my job we need two or three of them broke just can’t afford what a really good trainer wants to train one good enough and safe enough for either one of us to ride my sister has arts in her hands and the job I worked at really missed me up so I can’t take that kind of chance like we use to and thing is me and my sister just love horses we recused a bunch of paint mares when they were just young fillies and about four more later on from dieing of hunger so I guess you could say we are horse poor. and the only place they would go unbroken would be to slaughter they are 1300 pound mares and most are about 16 hands high and all registered papers as long as your body their ancestry no way as long as we can feed them they stay where they are with us. they are all different gorgeous color of paints. that’s all see you. sincerely a horse lover

  36. The first side effect to come to mind is…hay in unexpected places! I put my hand in my pocket today and came back with a piece of hay, right in the middle of the store! Another side effect of riding for me would have to be much better health and fitness, MUCH better. But my favorite side effect would be a complete and total attitude change. My friends say I’m so different from what I used to be. It’s better than any drug!

  37. There are many side effects from horses, and as we may know, not all of them are pleasant. I have just recently broke my left femur after a nasty fall on a jump course. I cannot ride at the moment, but when I heal and get the doctor’s okay, I’m for sure getting back on. Horses do have some potentially dangerous side effects, but we all know the most common side effect, love.

  38. Horses always have side effects. When I got my first horse just a few months ago at first I was a loner, nobody but me to ride with. But pretty soon after some other riders and I all helped with the horse camp at my stable we became best friends regardless of our ages. Getting my horse came with side effects like: love, trust, strength, and patience. But most importantly, getting a horse helped me find something amazing, friendship. πŸ™‚

  39. My side effect of horses is that when me and my family goes on a road trip we always look at farms along the road for horses in the fields.

  40. There are so many side effects of being with horses that it is hard to narrow it down to just one. My most positive side effect is probably that sweet horse smell that we all love. Every time I catch a whiff of it I instantly calm down and relax. It reminds me that whatever happens, horses can help get me through it.

  41. Good Side Effects: Friends with similar interests. Confidence building. Constant learning. Happiness.
    Bad Side Effects: Sometimes you smell really bad (ask my husband). Your car is pretty much always covered in dust. You spend more money on your horses grooming supplies than you do your own.

  42. My family knows I love to be around horses, and they laugh when they see a cardboard cereal box hanging on my wall with horse hair stapled to it, or when they catch me either in the barn pretending to ride with a halter tied to a post, or in the pasture “lungeing” a horse which only I can see. Yep, I’m one of those crazy horse lovers, and my family is prepared for the consequences when I come back from riding.

  43. Like many medicines, the cure for horse fever has its side effects. Some of mine have been (just to name a few): Greater faith, confidence, courage, and love. Faith because working with horses is a dream come true; confidence because I can see my riding ability improving; and courage to be able to go flying off a cantering horse head first, coming within four feet of crashing into a tractor, and then grin and get right back on. (Okay, that last one might be craziness instead of courage, but it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.) And love because I can see it in the horses, the people that work with them, and my family, who not only put up with my love of horses, but encourage it by working so hard to get me around them, even on our broken budget. And also, I know that my love for everybody, and God, who is so wonderful, has grown.

  44. I have just started taking riding lessons and one side affect is when I have an amazing ride, the next day all I can think about is when am I going to go again? Then I wonder ‘when can I get a horse of my own?’. That’s the biggest side effect for me of horse fever. Every time a see a horse it just makes want to adopt one all the more! Someday, someday that dream will come true.

  45. I’ve noticed that as I’m walking my dog, I cluck for her to go, and I say whoa when I want her to stop. Also, since she doesn’t like to stand still, I end up “lounging” her around me.

  46. Ever since I started riding, I’ve wanted to be at the barn at every second! When I have a bad day, my worries seem to disappear at the barn. My horse seems to know how I am feeling, and knows exactly how to ease me. When I started lessons I thought I would go once a week and have my lesson and leave, but no, horses have an effect to suck you in!

  47. Since I’ve started riding I have had the urge to always do something horse/barn related! Several of my non-horsey friends get upset when i always talk about something my horse has achieved lately! Another side effect is forming a habit of saying whoa when you want some one to stop!

  48. You know you are infected by the “horse bug” when all your spare money goes towards your horses, and people get a glazed over look when you are talking to them and you slowly realize you were blabbing about how good your horse was last weekend. Side effects being no spare cash, and having very few two sided conversations about a topic other than horses.

  49. I can get nervous around new people and I am often shy. I’ve recently started to find my voice on and around horses, especially by helping teach kids how to care for the horses.

  50. This article is so true. 20 yrs.ago,I was beaten,and assaulted. I lost every ounce of happiness, self esteem, confidence, caring for anything. Then a friend of mine and her husband got me into distance riding. I bought my own horse, rode day in, day out. Learned to ride, learned to care, learned self confidence. Made new friends, and gained a life long best friend in my mare. She didnt care what I wasn’t, she only cared what I was. She saw me much differntly than I saw myself. She believed we could do it, and we did. She’s 31 yrs.old now, and retired on my farm. She’s still the love of my life, and the saver of my soul. We walk around the farm together and work everything out. The kids ride her, and she loves it. I have a new mount, but no horse will ever take her place.

  51. I have noticed that a lot of times, I walk into a clothing store and I’m the only one who is wearing a ponytail, a normal shirt, and worn-out jeans because those have become the best horse clothes!

  52. I have always been shy around people, although I feel much more comfortable with animals. Ever since I started riding, I have become a more outgoing person, and also a better one. I’m able to make better decisions after a day at the barn because a ride relaxes me and clears my head. I have made many new friends as well; my riding buddies, show friends, my trainer, other boarders at the barn, and of course horses! I feel like horses teach us and help us; they teach us how to live and love, and help us back up when we fall. Horses are the best healers, companions, and teachers the world has to offer.

  53. A side affect of riding horses, especially when you can’t be at the barn every minute is that your family jokes that away from the barn you suffer from “Horse Withdrawal”.


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