Overweight riders risk their horse’s health

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Horse and Country / Charlotte Ricca-Smith on 25th-Mar-2013

Only 5% of those questioned were a healthy weight for their horse ©sxc

Only 5% of those questioned were a healthy weight for their horse ©sxc

Recent research has revealed that a third of riders are too heavy for their horses, causing them to suffer from back pain, lameness and behavioural problems.

Extreme health impact

The study, which was published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, assessed 152 horses and their riders in Devon and Cornwall. A shocking 32% of riders weighed more than 15% of the weight of their horse, which means they are putting their horses’ health at risk.

“People tend to think horses are such big animals they must be okay, and not to take notice of the weight issue of riders,” said Dr Hayley Randle, from the Duchy College in Cornwall. “But the health impact on the horse can be quite extreme, quite quickly.”

Guidelines

Only eight (5%) of those questioned weighed less than 10% of the weight of their horse, which adheres to recommended veterinary guidelines. Ninety-five riders (62%) weighed between 10% and 15%, which is considered ‘satisfactory’.

According to Dr Randle, who carried out the research with her colleague Emma Halliday, while these are just “broad-brush guidelines” they do give an idea of the weight-baring capabilities of each horse.

Welfare issue

 

“The problem is that these ratios are not widely known by people in the horse industry,” she said. “People do seem generally to be a bit heavy for horses. That is just a consequence, I suppose, of our average weights going up. It is definitely a potential welfare issue.”

President of the British Equine Veterinary Association, Keith Chandler, agrees that many health problems, such as lameness and back problems, are caused by “the wrong riders on the wrong horses”.

“Many riding schools are very aware of these problems and exactly who can ride which horses and who cannot, but there are some horse people who may not fully understand the issues,” he said. “There is a discussion which needs to take place in the horse riding community. There needs to be an awareness that some larger riders need to ride bigger horses.”




AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
33 Comments
  • BlessUsAll

    A good reason to take the lead of Russian horse trainer Nevzorov, who in 2009 stopped riding because he realized it could not be done without harming the horse. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=TQUMAJCh1fA

    March 25, 2013
    • Ann Raeside

      I agree BlessUsAll! I have been doing Liberty work on the ground using the Carolyn Resnick Waterhole method. I love it, the relationship I have with my horses gets better and better each day. Sitting with my boys just sharing territory is so rewarding for all of us! I am overweight and do not take offense to this article. There is a limit and people need to be aware. Each horse is different in size, height, abilities, and physical limitations. When people ask me “what do you do with your horses?” I smile and reply I enjoy them. Yes, there is more to a horse than riding it!

      March 26, 2013
      • BlessUsAll

        Somehow I missed seeing your lovely reply four months ago, Ann. Your unselfish regard for your horse friends is inspiring, and I love your simple smile and reply to the question that assumes we must always be “using” a horse for our purposes in order to benefit from the relationship.

        Thankfully, I found your comment when I went back to this post just now to ask Jan a question, based on what she wrote today. On to address Jan now…. :-)

        July 26, 2013
    • JanSchultz

      He hasn’t stopped riding but he keeps it to a minimum. I am readin ghis book now and the guy is absolutely fascinating. I love the benefit the horses will get from any owner who even comprehends a smidgen of what he shares.

      July 26, 2013
  • Valerie Wehmueller

    This is a great article! My daughter & I know a young woman, who is a very nice person, but, she’s also quite over-weight, who just happens to be having lots of problems with her horse’s behavior. He’s only 6 or 7 at the most, but he’s recently started rearing up, & bucking, for “no apparent reason”. The owner doesn’t like him, has been treating him not so nicely, & has told us she’s selling him. His bad behavior could be caused by pain or discomfort when she’s trying to ride him, & trying to run barrels with him. I hope he gets a much better home, he’s a beautiful horse, but maybe they’re not a good match.

    March 25, 2013
  • Erica

    I find this very insulting, I am over weight and never have I put my horses health in jeopardy. Cant horses carry twice their weight and pull 4x their weight? I would not ride a small pony, but my old mare was 14.1 HH a quarter horse and I would ride her, she was short and stocky and I was 5.5 and 200lbs. people need to fit the horse to them. there is already enough that over weight people can not do, and you are now telling them they can not ride an animal that weighs 1500lbs???

    March 25, 2013
    • Debbie

      I am over weight too, but rather than point the twinkie at others and get bent out of shape (more out of shape than I am :), I take responsibility for my condition. And no offense, but if your horse was only 14.1 and weighed 1500 lbs, sounds like you were not the only one in that relationship that was over weight. We (and I mean that as people in general) need to bring down the walls, stop being so quick to be offended, and start putting that emotion where it matters..our horses safety and comfort.

      March 26, 2013
      • JanSchultz

        It is not meant as an insult. If you look at the skeleton of a horse, you will see the point. The shoulders are not attached to the legs. The front legs are floating. The support of the rider comes from musculature. If a horse carries too much weight or combined weight of rider and saddle and is not properly conditioned over a period of time or does not have the physique – there will be problems. It is simply a fact. There is no insult to it.

        I think the myth of horses being beasts of burden (same as with the loyal burro) has done so much harm to proper relationships between humans and equines. A horse can pull quite a bit of weight, but not necessarily carry it for long periods of time. Please don’t take it personally. Some people buy draft breeds because of their stature and the broad musculature of their backs provide a saner ride.

        July 26, 2013
  • shirley mix

    I do not understand people. Anyone who cannot get up quickly and has to wear large clothes, should know they are too big for their horse

    March 25, 2013
    • really what planet are you from. Large clothes is a size 14 hardly big at all. This story would have most men not being able to ride at all. Get off your high horse. Because I know how to ride and balance well my horse hardly knows I am there and ya I wear large clothes, and I am old and can’t get up from the ground. But then again you should never mount from the ground anyway, most people do that wrong too.

      March 26, 2013
  • Bobbi Siters

    The quote ” There needs to be an awareness that some larger riders need to ride bigger horses.” I don’t entirely agree with. Various breeds of horse can handle more then others. Drafts as most people think can handle more weight then lets say a stout quarter horse is entirely wrong. Most Arabs are known for being able to handle close 30% of their body weight. Now would I tell a 300lb + person to ride a 600lb pony no, but neither would I tell them to get a draft horse. Conformation in a horse is key and if the rider knows how to ride a stout 15hd QH, Arab, Paint, Morgan and the list can go on horse shouldn’t have a problem. I’ve seen more horses getting sore from inexperienced riders of all sizes and improper tack.

    March 25, 2013
  • I have found that how a rider uses their weight is a big factor in the horse being able to handle the rider’s weight. Some riders very inconsiderately move and twist around on a horse’s back constantly causing the horse to shift his/her weight to be under the rider, even when just standing still. I see this a lot at trail rides.

    Also, the shape of the rider makes a difference. Riders with a lower center of gravity cause less strain and move more in sync with the horse.

    Finally, if the saddle is ill fitting, the saddle’s damage to the horse is exaggerated by extra weight on the rider.

    March 25, 2013
  • Ranching Cowgirl

    This should also take in to account your saddle and gear weight also.
    15% is allot of weight on a long mountain ride……
    Fred Hook type saddles help lower this weight on hard used outfitter horses.

    March 25, 2013
  • Cate Wines, Ph.D.

    In my experience, larger riders are catching on and that’s why we are seeing increased popularity of draft breeds for riding. There is a very popular group on Facebook called Fuller Fillies. It has more than 3,000 members and is based in the UK. The photos show that most of these women ride drafts, or have taken up driving if they have smaller horses or ponies.

    March 25, 2013
  • Oxford Ranch

    Next time I regime a rescue horse I am going to be having a calculator with me!!!! Would love an app for this!!!!

    March 26, 2013
  • Way to many people think that a horse can with stand allot of weight.use common sense…or look in the mirror….too many people show horses that are bigger then the horse…rule of thumb…if your butt is bigger then the horse don’t get on….

    March 26, 2013
  • actually if I fatten my horse up then she will weigh enough for me right. Now there is logic. this story is such crap, it does not take into account balance and know how. One skinny person riding crooked can do way more damage than a larger rider sitting in balance. For a 1000 pound horse we would all have to be 100 pounds.

    March 26, 2013
  • Kasandra

    I have often worried about this very subject for years. After kids my weight is less than satisfactory to me. I’m not a house but I do weight around 200-210 lbs. My horses are all 14.2-15 range so not terrible big and I worry all the time about whether I might be to heavy for them. There is also this women I see every year at Caroline who is easily 350-400 lbs. And she is ridding a appaloosa gelding that as stocky as he may be, is no more than 15 hands. I feel so sorry for that horse and I wonder how she can think that she is not causing pain and long term harm to that horse.

    March 26, 2013
  • M.G.

    I know you mean well, but I feel that a 10% rule is unrealistic, no bound in science, and detrimental to the house population. What happens to horses when a vast majority of them can no longer be ridden by anyone but kids?

    Where do you get the basis for your article? I’ve never heard “10%” being the rule, my entire life. Can you cite scientific sources that back up such a controversial claim?

    By this logic more than 50% of adult Americans could never ever sit on a horse, unless they’re on a big heavy draft. The average for a man is 195 pounds. By your reasoning, that would mean he would need at minimum at 2,000 lb horse. American women, whose average weight is 165, would need at minimum a draft cross around 1700#. Do you see the flaw in that logic?
    Stats:
    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/bodymeas.htm

    Or conversely who *could* ride a horse such as a TB? How man people weigh under 110 pounds? Do you realize that jockeys, in order to keep under the extremely low weight to ride in races must take extreme measure to keep weight off: anorexia, bulemia, excessive time in saunas (dehydration). Is it in the welfare of TBs nationwide to decide that almost no adults can ride them? As it is, too high a % of them go to slaughter. If people believe your article, none of them will find homes after the track. And in America, if people follow this rule, it will mean only a tiny % of adults can ride the smaller QHs, paints, morgans, etc. In a country where the non-drafts outnumber the draft horses, where will all those horses go if you decide most American adults can’t ride them? I fear for the welfare of a group of horses when enough people decide the horse is ‘unwanted’.

    In the US,the rule some use is suggested at “20% including weight of tack” HOWEVER that’s with a modifier: depending on horse’s fitness/condition, horse’s soundness, riders balance/fitness, etc. This was extrapolated from the weight of foals versus mares. For example, there is a difference between the riding fitness of a really obese out-of-shape horse and the same weight fit-and-muscled horse. There is a difference between poor conformation long-backed horses and ideal conformation ones. There is a huge difference between the quiet balanced rider and sack-of-potatoes one. And there’s got to be some attention paid to how long or intensive the riding is. A leisurely hour walk on flat ground is NOT the same as asking the horse to gallop up hills on an endurance race. And of course the saddle needs to fit properly, which should be a given for all riders (and unfortunately isn’t). If you want to name a top thing that causes riding horses back pain, it’s saddle fit.

    I encourage the writer of this article to learn a bit more about horses. Each horse is an individual animal whose fitness level can increase/decrease. A good horseman can tell when a horse is working too hard, tell if one horse is getting backsore unexpectedly, can properly fit the saddle, and so on. There is no one rigid formula that applies to all horses and all riders.

    Who decides who is “overweight” anyway? A 5′ person can have poor fitness and high body fat and still be under 130 pounds. A 6′ athlete can be close to 200 pounds (or more) and have low body fat, therefore not be “overweight”. But by your logic, the short-fat rider could ride a quarterhorse while the tall-balanced athletic rider could not….?! The title of your article might be taken the wrong way.

    March 26, 2013
  • Debra Gordon

    It is about time an article like this came out publicly. Thank you!

    March 26, 2013
  • Sue

    I have often thought about some of the QH “champion” male riders, who turn and spin their poor little QHs with much speed. And some of these “champion” riders easily weigh 200+ pounds.

    I always feel sorry for the horses.

    March 26, 2013
  • Geri

    I have seen way to many men and ladys that appear to be to big for the horse they are riding. Here at the National Western Stock show I see men riding reining horses that look like their feet dang near are on the ground.
    I believe that a person should darn well know if they are to big to be sitting on an animal or on a bike or on certain furniture even. Have someone take your picture if you look like a horse sitting on a horse, well “really”.
    But that said, Last week a report out of the UK, says they are not encouraging school children to have best friends, stating that losing a best friend is to painful to kids, well I thought that was part of growing up–learning coping skills. The first thought I had was that pets would be the next thing kids should no get attached to.
    This world is so out of control, and such a nanny state that I believe most of this stuff that is written today has some other deeper meaning (like maybe disencouraging people to have a pet of any kind be it a cat, dog, horse, or etc. Now to figure out why?)

    March 26, 2013
    • Geri

      it is supposed to say they are encourgaging kids to NOT have best friends

      March 26, 2013
  • tgeiger

    Also… look at what the horse is built for. Shorter backed horses (like the Andalusian & other Spanish blood) I think are built better for riding, where as the longer backs like the Friesians were created more for pulling carriages… TB’s also have longer backs to run fast but not to carry a rider all day. Just because a Draft is a big horse does not mean it should carry more weight on the back… they were designed to Pull not Carry. Everything should be taken into consideration I agree most horses should not be made to carry the weight they are. When someone says they have a bad horse that bucks First thing I think is.. horse is bucking because they are uncomfortable and just trying to communicate… sadly people force them to accept.

    March 26, 2013
  • Gabriele

    Sue, re: the spinning QH

    Very important the rider sit straight for this manuever, never lean to the side or forward or back. Getting the horse to spin is a long, slow process, conditioning the horse to the motion. They get very good at it when done correctly and there is nothing to “feel sorry about”.

    March 26, 2013
  • gabriele

    Sue, a spinning QH is brought along very slowly and most importantly, the rider needs to sit straight up, never leaning in any direction. This enables the horse to spin on an axis.

    Geri, I agree with you wholeheartedly. There is an agenda out there that discourages “ownership” of any animal. PETA is among them.

    March 26, 2013
  • Geri

    Also I should add that most ladys I know that have horses are older and have put on a pound or two, but they spend the better part of the day doing other things and when it comes to their horses spend more time brushing horses and cleaning barns than riding and when they do ride it is only an hour or so. Which gives both the rider and horse time to rest. I know myself after a full day of hard riding(have never been there) I would be worse off than the horse ever could be. Just think it is a small percentage of people who would abuse a horse in this manner and they probably don’t last very long, heavy people do have their own health issues.

    March 26, 2013
  • Nancy Bertolo

    I taught horsemanship for years and also used the 20% rule. There was a family that would come out once a week and learn about horses together. We covered the nature of the horse, handling the horse, grooming, leading, etc. as well as riding. The dad was a heavyset man, close to 300 lbs. He would sometimes ride my biggest, heavily muscled, 1200+ lb QH in the flat, sanded arena. His riding sessions were mostly at a walk with a few walk/jog transitions. The riding part of the session rarely exceeded 30 or 40 minutes. He was very concious of his balance and moving with the horse. Several times he expressed his concern to me about his wt on the horse, but I assured him that under the conditions of the session, it would be fine. The horse, a smart and worth his wt in gold gelding, never resisted or showed any signs of discomfort.

    I agree that it really depends on the horses confirmation, muscle mass and bone density. Equally important are the fit of the saddle, the rider’s balance and ability, and the distance, duration, terrain, and the speed/gait of the ride.

    March 26, 2013
  • Nancy Bertolo

    Although this discussion isn’t about bits I’d like to add that while I taught my students how to bridle a horse, my horses weren’t ridden with bits during the riding part of sessions. It’s important that the horse isn’t punished via mouth, poll and nose pressure due to a rider’s inexperience! Instead either the reins would be clipped to the halter, or a “Dr Cooks Bitless Bridle” would be used. The “Bitless Bridle” doesn’t put any pressure on the mouth, nose or poll, it works by applying pressure along the side of the cheek. Once a horse learns to give to pressure consistently this is a very effective as well as humane alternative to the use of a bitted bridle.

    March 26, 2013
  • terry westin

    Due to being his by a Drunk driver I went from being very active going and going and going. I have gained the additional weight of 2 ppl. I knew i was am to heavy to ride at this point. My daughter 5’7″ and about
    200 lbs she is vert fit and is in a size 6-8 BF% is 14 by all weight charts she in 75 lbs over weight but she can wear a bekini and look good. so someone please tell me if she is over weight is above the charts norm but her Body Fat % is less than what the charts say is good body far more than she has over weight?

    March 27, 2013