I recently came across an article stating that horses in the UK are at risk caused by over weight riders. This article claimed that only 1 in 20 riders are a suitable weight for their horse. They came to this conclusion based on a handful of people they asked in Devon and using the idea that riders should be 10% of their horses weight. Apparently horses are the latest victim of the obesity crisis!
Weight isn’t the only factor
Although I do see cases where riders are too heavy for their mounts, depending on the type of horse and type of work, this isn’t always the problem. The type of work the horse is doing and the riders ability can also affect how much weight a horse can comfortably carry.
There are cases where a horse has reoccurring lameness or soundness issues which are often caused by a heavy rider and there is very little a vet can do. In fact a recent study has found that heavier riders can cause lameness in horses in a pioneering study. However, I fail to believe that 19 in 20 riders are too heavy for their horses and put them at this type of risk.
I would guess that Scottie at 16.3h weighs less than 600kg. Therefore, I would have to weigh less than 60kg to not cause him any harm. I weigh around the 80kg mark and Scottie has had no problems with me and in fact he is improving massively. Because of this, I think the 10% mark is too low. When we were backing young horses at University, to be able to ride you had to be less than 15% of the horses body weight. I think this is perfectly reasonable as they are young and do not have the muscle to help support an heavier rider. In a more recent post I have gone into more detail about suitable rider weight.
Other key factors
In theory, any rider can ride any horse. Not including the obvious NO NOs. (16 stone rider on fine 12h pony) However there are important things to consider, including:
- horse age
- horse condition
- riders balance/ability
- riding activity
- saddle fit
- rider balance/experience
These things need to considered as the riders weight isn’t always the issue. An older horse or very young horse may be slightly unbalanced and lacking muscle and need a lighter rider to help prevent any issues. Similarly a horse in poor condition, especially one seriously lacking top line should probably not be ridden at all, especially not by a heavier rider.
However, in both of these cases, rider ability needs to be considered. Often a balanced 12 stone rider is easier to carry and does less damage than an unbalanced 10 stone rider. The last consideration is the activity horse and rider will be doing. Majority of horses would be fine hacking out with a heavier rider, however, expecting that same combination to go hunting could cause the horse problems.
What is your opinion on this issue? Any experiences with it? Would you also be labelled too heavy for your horse?