Weighty Matters

Together with the horse, we’re Olympians.
Together, we’re scholarship athletes.
We’re a legendary duo, crossing continents, scaling mountains, swimming rivers, and outsprinting nearly every other species on the planet.

fattrainerBut somewhere along the line it became OK to partner-up with our horses as overweight, out-of-shape humans. Increasingly, the horse community seems to give heavy riders a free pass, an enthusiastic blessing even.

  • We don’t want hurt feelings.
  • It’s more important that we ride well and treat our horses nicely.
  • Who cares if we’re heavy?

Those were some sentiments posted in response to the BestHorsePractices Rider Weight article. It reviewed research by a pair of English scientists looking at the issue as it relates to horse wellness. It found that horse injury and “bad behavior” (rearing, bucking, etc.) were associated with an increase in human weight.
Commenters brought up excellent points.
Namely, that rider weight shouldn’t overshadow the need to have lightness, balance, and a proper fitting saddle. I couldn’t agree large_rocknegcmore. Read a NickerNews guest columnist’s Point of View.

But for the sake of a reasonable discussion on rider weight, let’s assume those variables are controlled.
In other words:
Take two riders with equal balance, lightness of feel, and properly-fitting saddles. Would the horse do better with a 100-pound partner or a 200-pound partner?

Clinicians are worried.

They see more and more riders compromising their ability because they’re overweight and unfit. They worry these riders won’t be handy getting out of a jam. They worry about the horses.

bobbyIt’s time we reconsidered ourselves as athletes and athletic partners.

The only successful heavy athletes I’ve seen lately are golfers, bowlers, and the occasional relief pitcher. Riding requires significantly more effort, agility, and athleticism than swinging at or throwing a ball. And heavy athletes are most certainly rejected from other sports where lifting or carrying them is required (figure skating, ballroom dancing).

All things being equal, let’s think about our weight and how it impacts our horses, say nothing for our own safety, health, and ability to be agile in the saddle.

Admitting the problem can be the first step in remedying it.

3 comments


  • Shannon Dunn

    I think a horse’s conformation, body type and bone are also part of the equation. A long back is generally weak. I look at the diameter of the cannon bone and size of the hoof, too in assessing sturdiness. I own a gaited horse and have noticed in the gaited community the mismatch is often glaringly apparent with the riders weight in stark contrast to the 850 or 900 lb, fine boned horse they ride. My poor Rocky Mountain Horse bears the scars of the latter. After years in the park show ring carrying big guys, his back was a disaster. 3 years and we are finally enjoying self carriage and throughness. In the end I am happy he found his way here.

    October 03, 2016
  • I would venture to say that, based on 15% as an upper limit of horse:rider ratio, I estimate that maybe 1% of the reindeers, and cutters fall within that range. In fact you would have to look at the junior classes to find even 10% of the riders fitting within the guidelines.
    I am 6’1” and 183 lbs and train horses for others. Does that mean I should only start horses that are 1300 lbs and above? I am also a equine chiropractor so I get it.
    The ossification centers in the spine are the last to close so anytime we ride a horse before the age of 6 we are likely causing irreparable damage.
    Amazing what horses will tolerate.

    June 14, 2014
    • maddy

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Don.
      British and American recommendations differ – from 10 to 20 percent. So you’re fine with riding virtually any horse at the upper limit. At least that’s what the research suggests. Clinicians make a good point when they suggest heavy riders compromise their horses and their safety since generally heavier riders may also be less balanced, less fit, less agile. Obviously, these are generalizations, but still have some value. Thanks again

      June 17, 2014

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