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.
We’ll go through some of the cool improvements RDR2 adds to horseriding, before getting into what makes the best horse and how to find it.
RDR2 Takes Horseriding Forward
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 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. But rider beware — you’re still a valid target for bandits and bounty hunters.
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. We’ve found that petting increases affinity with your horse the most — especially after noticing it’s distressed, either from physical exertion, nearby predators, or gunfire.
Grooming cleans it, but riding through a stream does the same job, and waters it too. In this game, take a horse to water and it’ll drink.
The actions that increase horse affinity are:
- Feeding when cores are low – 15XP
- Grooming/Cleaning – 15XP
- Patting/Calming while it’s distressed – 15XP
- Hitching to a post you haven’t visited in a while – 15XP (1XP if you’ve been there recently)
- Equip a saddle – 50XP
- Time in the saddle – constant XP
While going easy on your horse will net you more riding XP (less burden, not sprinting), you’ll actually bond quicker by riding fast until the horse is agitated and then calm it.
Your horse will have health and stamina cores, just like Arthur Morgan. Run out of either and your equestrian companion won’t exactly be champing at the bit.
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.
The Benefits of Horse Affinity
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, your mobility increases, you’ll be able to call it from further away, and certain moves become available as well:
- Bond level 2 – You can rear the horse up, startling anyone in front of you and looking very cool.
- Bond level 3 – You can perform a quick 180-degree turn, confusing pursuers with the ol’ ride & slide.
- Bond level 4 – You can walk sideways with your horse like an olympic equestrian.
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. While you can rear the horse up and startle anyone in front of you, it might be wise to avoid that move if you’re just chatting to an innocent NPC.
While all horses need 50XP to reach Bond level 1, beyond that, it varies from horse to horse.
Higher affinity also affects the mortality of your horse…
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 the threat factors 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’s saddle. Need to change a weapon? You’ll either have to run back to your horse, or risk whistling for it to come to you.
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. In Red Dead Online, you can purchase Horse Insurance. But in Story Mode, 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.
This is another situation in which higher horse affinity helps you. With virtually no bond to your horse, it’ll be quick to perish. But a maximum Bond level gives you a full hour before your horse expires — enough time to run to the nearest town, buy or steal a Horse Reviver, and run back.
Or just steal another one, deal with the honour penalty, and begin the process again. Your call.
Finding the Best Horse
It didn’t take long for users to find the “best” horse in Red Dead Redemption 2.
Widely considered to have the best stats, and available from the start of the game, is the Arabian White Coat horse. It’s available in the snowy northwest.
The challenge here the Arabian White Coat is… well, white. Not exactly easy to spot in the snowiest part of the map. Use your Eagle Eye, and hope you’re not stalking something with antlers.
To tame it you’ll have to calm it as you approach, then lasso it, then calm it some more as you step closer, then mount. From there, you’ll have to complete a minigame in which you stay on the horse by shifting your weight to either side.
But we don’t actually think the White Arabian is the best horse in the game. That’s because there’s a hidden stat that most players don’t know about…
The Hidden Horse Attribute
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. But not every stat is displayed on the profile screen.
For lack of an official term, let’s call this attribute “skittishness,” or “nervousness.” It decides how freaked out the horse becomes in dangerous situations.
This is quite important in RDR2, when gunshots are fired constantly and predators lurk in the tall grass. A horse that bolts at the first sign of danger isn’t very useful. And as long as your horse is agitated, you’ll have limited control.
Out of the different archetypes of horse, you’ll find the War Horse deals with these tense situations better. It’s even worth taking a stats hit for a War Horse. They might have slower acceleration, but sometimes they have higher top speeds, and they’re speeds you can actually rely on.
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. A War Horse will be able to handle this better.
Horse Customisation in RDR2
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:
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 patting, 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.