Horses are a big part of Red Dead Redemption 2. Your horse is your primary mode of transportation, a mobile arsenal and your constant companion.
Here’s everything you need to know about dealing with your equine friends in Red Dead Redemption 2.
When you walk up to your (or any, really) horse and press R1/RB to show their info, you’ll see the things that differentiate this horse from any other.
At the top, you’ll see the breed — breed largely determines the rest of the stats, so horses of the same breed will have similar (or identical) attributes. Below that on the left are the horse’s cores — stamina and health — and their associated bars. These work just like yours. To the right of the cores is your bonding level with this particular horse (more on that in a second). Below that, you’ll see the color of the horse’s coat.
The next three pieces of information are what you’ll care about most: speed, acceleration and handling. (Note: We say “care about” here, but please read the final section before you go swapping out horses.) Speed and acceleration are represented by up to 10 bars; some are filled in white, a few more are grayed out, and the rest are blank. The filled-in bars show its base stats, while the gray ones show how far your horse can improve with different and better equipment (more on this below). Handling refers to the class (for lack of a better word) of horse you’re looking at — like standard, heavy, race or elite.
Bonding with your horse
Bonding with your horse works a lot like improving your own health, stamina or dead eye. As you do things out in the world with your horse, you’ll earn bonding points (think of it like a specific kind of XP). When you earn enough, your bond with your horse will level up.
As you progress through the four horse bond levels, you’ll unlock new controls and abilities — like rearing, or being able to call your horse from farther away. Increasing your bond also expands your horse’s health and stamina bars (but not their cores).
Lots of things that you do with your horse will increase your bond, including (but not limited to) riding, feeding, brushing, patting, hitching (press triangle/Y at hitching posts) and calming it.
After you complete (well, technically, just start) Hosea’s “Exit Pursued by a Bruised Ego” mission during Chapter 2, you’ll have access to stables in most towns you visit — they’re marked with a horseshoe icon on your map. Stables, as you’d expect, are where you go for your horses and horse-related needs.
Manage owned horses
The first option at a stable is to manage the (up to) four horses you own. You can check their stats, swap out your main horse — i.e., the one wearing your saddle — or even sell them.
Stables will have a selection of horses to purchase (again, read the last section of this guide before you think about buying a new horse).
Tack and services
Here, you can buy new tack (horse equipment) like saddles, saddlebags, stirrups, saddle horns, blankets and bedrolls in a variety of colors (more on this below). Stables also offer grooming for your horse(s) that lets you change the style and color of your horse’s mane and tail. In addition, you can purchase stable services like a care package that will restore and fortify your horse’s cores, and you can rename your horse (for free).
Finally, there’s a horse stuff store where you can browse a selection of provisions and tonics for your horse. Notably, you can buy a horse reviver for approximately $10. Since horse death is permanent in Red Dead Redemption 2, this is good to have on hand so you don’t wind up stranded somewhere with a dying horse.
Improving your horse with better tack
Like we discussed above, your horse’s speed and acceleration stats have a base level (represented by the white, filled-in block) and a potential level (the grayed out blocks). Bonding with your horse doesn’t improve either of these stats. The only way to improve them is by purchasing new tack — specifically, stirrups.
While you’re browsing tack at a stable, you can see the effect the item will have on your horse in the bottom left corner. Like you’d expect, the stirrups with the best effects are the most expensive.
The stirrups you purchase (and equip) will be attached to your saddle. That means that the speed and acceleration of any horse that you put that saddle on will be improved, but you can’t improve the ratings beyond their caps (the grayed out blocks).
Breaking wild horses
If you don’t want to pay for a new horse, you can find and tame a wild one.
- Use your binoculars to study the horse first. This will let you see its stats (and decide if breaking it is worth your time).
- Slowly, slowly approach the horse. As soon as you’re close enough to lock onto it with L2/LT, do so. Watch for the calm prompt, and the bar in the lower right corner, to make sure the horse doesn’t run off. Also take note of your controller, which will vibrate a lot as you get close to spooking the animal.
- Once you get close, pat the horse (with the same button you’ve been using to calm it).
- After that, it’s time to mount it. You’ll be treated to a fun few seconds of getting tossed around by the horse. Just keep your balance with the left thumbstick — hold back and move the stick slightly in the opposite of the direction the horse is trying to go in. If you do it right, the horse will calm down and let you ride it.
At that point, you have two choices: You can swap the saddle yourself, making the freshly broken horse your new main, or you can just ride it to a stable. Once you get it to a stable, you’ll be able to sell it or stable it (at which point you own it). Selling horses this way won’t make you much money, though, since wild horses don’t have ownership papers.
Stolen horses work much the same way if you ride them into a stable, but you can’t swap the saddles yourself.
Don’t worry about finding a better horse
It’s tempting to think that your starter horse isn’t going to work for you for long. But you’d be wrong. Instead of spending the money, time and effort of buying, stealing or breaking a new horse, spend your time improving your bond with your starter horse. Your horse’s health and stamina will improve as you bond (see above), and it won’t take much to max them out. At that point, you probably won’t notice your horse lacking in any way — you can gallop for (nearly) as long as you’ll ever need to, it’ll (usually) come when you call for it, and your bond will make it confident and brave enough that it won’t desert you in pressure situations.
For a long time, the horses that you find to tame or purchase will only have marginally different stats from your starter horse — and you’d have to rebuild your bond. It’s just not worth it. If you really want to improve something about your horse, spring for a new saddle and stirrups (see tack above). The equipment has good benefits that transfer to another horse if and when you decide to obtain one.
Much (much) later in the game, you’ll start to find elite horses. These horses are expensive, but they also have stats that make the money and effort of re-bonding with them worth it.