"Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" began as a demo that the band recorded at STS Studios in 1990. The band worked on it during the formal Achtung Baby sessions, including several failed attempts at Hansa Studios in Berlin. This produced several versions of the song and about a dozen mixes. However, the original demo remained their preferred version.ProducerJimmy Iovine, in particular, expressed his preference for the demo version when lead vocalist Bono played it for him. During the group's time recording in Dublin in 1991, producer Steve Lillywhite was brought on to provide a "fresh pair of ears" and mix the song. The album version most closely resembles the original demo.
Lillywhite recalls that, "They hated that song. I spent a month on it and I still don't think it was as realised as it could've been. The Americans had heard it and said, 'That's your radio song there', because they were having trouble with some of the more industrial elements [of the album]. It's almost like a covers band doing a U2 moment. Maybe we tried too hard." Bono said, "It's a song I feel we didn't quite nail on the record because there was another whole set of lyrics that were dumped and I wrote those quickly and off we went." The band later released an alternately arranged "Temple Bar Remix" as the single, the version of the song they most prefer. The band also has claimed they find the song difficult to perform in concert. Bassist Adam Clayton said, "It's a great torch song, with melody and emotion, but I don't think we ever captured it again and we have never really been able to play the song live."
The song was performed in full during the first two legs and the first show of the third leg during the Zoo TV Tour in 1992. It made a few appearances during the rest of the tour in a shorter, solo acoustic form. Lines from the song were added at the end of their song "Bad" during the final leg of the Elevation Tour. During the Vertigo Tour, the song has appeared on several occasions, first in an electric version similar to the album version, and later in an acoustic version somewhat reminiscent of the "Temple Bar Remix" used for the single. Later, the song became part of the Experience & Innocence tour in 2018