‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ Horses: How Grooming Leads to Zooming

Jeremy Ray
Games Xbox
Games Xbox PlayStation

You can steal horses, you can buy horses, or you can capture and tame wild horses in Red Dead Redemption 2. But whatever your method, you’re going to want to take care of your new ride. From leading to feeding, and grooming to zooming, good horsemanship is as much about the bond between Arthur Morgan and his horse as it is pressing the right buttons.

Many of the modern quality of life gameplay additions you’d expect are present in Red Dead Redemption 2‘s horseplay. When riding with amigos, you can just hold one button to keep speed with them. Pressing L2 while around different gangmates will start up conversations with them while you gallop, or you can choose to ride in peaceful silence.

A horserider stands near a tall tree.
There's no lack of expansive scenery to go horseriding in.

A super nifty feature is the ability to enter a cinematic travel mode while on horseback. If you’re not a fan of staring at Arthur Morgan’s back while you play, this will switch between more interesting camera angles as you ride down the ol’ dusty trail. If you’re on a road or following a waypoint, simply holding one button will keep speed and make the right turns.

RDR2‘s Horse Grooming and Affinity

Pressing L2 while standing next to your horse brings up the context menu, as it does with everything else. From there, you’ll have options to pet, groom, lead, feed, mount, or inspect. The inside word was that petting increases affinity with your horse the most, but grooming cleans it. Riding through a stream could just as easily clean it and water it, though. In this game, take a horse to water and it’ll drink.

The actions that increase horse affinity are:

  • Feeding
  • Grooming
  • Petting
  • Time in the saddle

While playing as Arthur Morgan will come with three “cores” to keep track of – health, stamina, and deadeye – your horse itself will also have health and stamina cores. Run out of either and your equestrian companion won’t exactly be champing at the bit.

Arthur Morgan rides his horse in Red Dead Redemption 2.
There's a tradeoff between parking your horse at safe distance from firefights and having it available to access your gear.

The goal here is to keep your horse well fed, clean, and bursting at the seams with pats. You’ll give it so many pats.

Occasionally your horse might not want to go where you want it to, but you can take it by the reins and lead it as you walk through tougher terrain such as swampland or rough rocks.

When a Horse Runs Its Course

Your horse can very much die in Red Dead Redemption 2. No more using it as a mobile piece of cover. The idea is that through grooming and mortality, the connection to our horse will be stronger. You can be bonded to more than one at a time, making it less devastating to lose your transportation. But it’ll factor into every mission or violent altercation. Parking your horse close to firefights? Just say neigh.

There’s a tradeoff there, though. There are no “magic pockets” in Red Dead Redemption 2. In this game, what you see Arthur Morgan carrying is all that’s readily available — the rest of your gear is stowed on your horse. Need to change a weapon? You’ll either have to run back to your horse, or risk whistling for it to come to you.

Horse affinity also affects what you can do with the horse. Your steed will get less spooked around gunfire or natural predators if you have a higher affinity, and certain moves becomes available as well. There’s a cute sideways trot – the kind you’d see in olympic equestrian – as well as a full 180 degree turn. The ol’ ride & slide is useful for quickly turning to fire at a pursuer. It’s more like something out of a drift car racing game, but it looks cool and has a solid purpose so we’re not complaining.

Riding a horse and looking at far away mountains in Red Dead Redemption 2.
If you think that's a large area, just wait until you see the map.

Some of the moves are less desirable, though. Walk up right behind your horse and startle it, and just like real life, you’re risking taking a powerful kick from its hind legs. You’ll also be able to rear the horse up and startle anyone in front of you, though you may want to watch out for that move if you’re just chatting to an innocent NPC.

If it all goes south and your horse gains a nasty wound, it’ll enter a “downed” state similar to what we’re used to seeing in most action/FPS games. That’s when you use your Horse Reviver — which you hopefully purchased from the general store, otherwise you’re looking at a frantic run to town and back to save that horse you’ve grown attached to.

Or just steal another one, deal with the honour penalty, and begin the process again. Your call.

Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2 talking to a stranger on a horse.
You'll be able to call out to passersby with the L2 context button.

Horse Customisation in RDR2

Each horse in Red Dead Redemption 2 has attributes that you can’t do too much about. Some will have more strength, stamina, or agility, which means some will be better suited for different tasks.

You’ll notice these strengths in everyday use, not just battles or races. A great example is hunting. After stashing a dead deer on the back of our horse, we were riding noticeably (very noticeably) slower.

So the gist here is, the customisation options are cosmetic. Unless of course, you count the additional functionality that comes with increasing affinity.

There are many cosmetic tack items you can customise:

  • Saddles
  • Saddlebags
  • Stirrups
  • Horns
  • Blankets
  • Bedrolls

On top of that, you can groom the mane and tail of your horse. This seemed a little more forgiving than grooming Arthur Morgan’s facial hair — we were able to make the horse’s hair longer, whereas Morgan has to wait for it to grow back.

You’ll find several cool cosmetics across different towns, such as horns shaped like a silver eagle head, or stirrups that match your boots. You’ll also find items for your horse in general stores and stables, such as stimulants that boost their stamina and fortify them.

As a cute touch, many of the things you can feed your horse in Red Dead Redemption 2 are things you can also eat. Got two apples? Why not share one with your horse? Very useful if you bought horse food and find you’re so hungry you could eat a…steak.

There’ll definitely be a stronger connection between players and their horses this time around, even if that comes from punishment for neglect as well as reward for attention. It’s the ol’ carrot and stick strategy, and like our horses, we’re much better off with the carrot. Much of it seems to be building on systems such as that in Breath of the Wild, with its horse affinity and permadeath. Though all aspects have been improved here, and we’re sure to feel a few pangs of angst when a longtime companion horse hits the hay for good.

Jeremy Ray
Managing Editor at FANDOM. Decade-long games critic and esports aficionado. Started in competitive Counter-Strike, then moved into broadcast, online, print and interpretative pantomime. You merely adopted the lag. I was born in it.
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