A new study has found that riders could be damaging their horses and ponies if they are too heavy for them.
In simple terms, if the rider is excessively heavy for the horse in question it can have a negative impact on the performance of the horse. Ultimately the study should help with the development of guidelines to help all riders assess if they are the right weight for the horse or pony they intend to ride, to enhance both equine welfare and rider comfort and enjoyment.
Dr Sue Dyson, Head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust’s Centre for Equine Studies, Newmarket, who led the study said: “While all the horses finished the study moving as well as when they started, the results showed a substantial temporary effect of rider weight as a proportion of horse weight. The results do not mean that heavy riders should not ride but suggest that if they do they should ride a horse of appropriate size and fitness, with a saddle that is correctly fitted for both horse and rider.
As the average weight and height of humans continues to increase there is growing debate about relative rider-horse sizes, with riding school horses epitomising the variety of weights of rider that a single horse may be exposed to. Numerous inter-related aspects are involved with the horse and rider combination including the age of the horse, its fitness and muscle development, the length of its back and the presence or absence of lameness. The rider’s skill, fitness, balance and coordination are important factors, as is the fit of the saddle to both the horse and rider. The type, speed and duration of work and the terrain over which the horse is ridden must also be considered.
The riding tests for the heavy and very heavy riders were all abandoned, predominantly because of temporary horse lameness. The study also raised the issue of rider height and saddle fit. The owner of one of the test horses had a similar bodyweight: horse bodyweight ratio to the heavy rider and was of similar weight, but significantly different in height (157.0 and 185.5 cm, respectively). This large difference in height has major potential implications for saddle fit for the rider and consequently the rider’s position and weight distribution. The taller rider sat on the back of the cantle, overloading the back of the saddle and making it more difficult to ride in balance, with the heel being in front of a vertical line between the shoulder and ‘hip’.