Am I Too Heavy to Ride my Horse?
In March a study was released by the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour that stated that most riders are too heavy for their horses. The study didn’t determine what the optimum weight was but instead determined that less than 5% of British riders weighed less than 10% of their horse’s weight. The article didn’t indicate how 10% was determined to be the optimum, however. (http://news.sky.com/story/1069122/overweight-riders-putting-horses-at-risk)
There was a lot of controversy over the article as this meant that the majority of riders were too heavy for their horses. For example, an average horse with a weight of 1000 pounds would need a rider of 100 pounds or less. There are a few riders who maybe meet those criteria, but not many.
A few weeks later an article came out that said it was “rubbish”. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/8494208/Horse-study-load-of-rubbish-say-vets) This article as well though did not back up their claim that it was “rubbish” with any facts besides the fact that many riders don’t fit the criteria and that the handful of vets in the article had not treated a horse for lameness due to a heavy rider.
I did a little digging around and found this article that refers to a scientific study to determine the optimum weight. (http://www.horsesciencenews.com/horseback-riding/how-much-weight-can-a-horse-carry.php) In the study, the researchers studied eight horses carrying weights from 15-30% of their body weight. Granted, it was not that large of a study with only eight horses but it was at least scientific and it also happened to agree with a recommendation put out in 1920 by the US Calvary Manuals of Horse Management. With this recommendation, the same 1000 pound horse should carry no more than 200 pounds. The study also found that horses with wider loins had less soreness.
As a plus-size rider myself, this issue is something I have considered carefully. Golly was selected partially because of his size. I was looking for a horse that was large enough to carry a plus-size rider around without being too high from the ground (the higher the fall, the more it hurts when you hit!).
I don’t have a scale large enough to weigh Golly and I am not sure I am brave enough to publish my weight internationally, but I am about 17% of his total weight. That puts me well above 10% but below 20%.
So am I too heavy for him?
I’d like to think that I am fine. There are lots of other studies that show that the balance of the rider and fit of the saddle is more important than the actual weight of the rider. Take a look at the picture below by Kris Garrett and you can see the 250-pound balanced rider leaves much less hot spots than a 150-pound unbalanced rider.
Photo by Kris Garrett
At the same time, I expect a lot from Golly. I make sure he is at his optimum weight because I know he moves better then. Because I think I am a decently balanced rider, I don’t think I am “hurting” him. However, it would be ridiculous for me to think that I can ride as well as I would at optimum weight.
I spend a lot of time, effort and money to make sure we are the best team we can be. Good vet and farrier care, properly fitting tack, a good trainer to help us on our journey. I stretch before I ride. I cross-train myself and Golly so we are more fit both mentally and aerobically for our dressage tests. I read and study so I can be a better rider. Being at an optimum weight should also be part of that package.
But yet I am overweight. Why?
The short answer is that I like food and I have life responsibilities that prevent me from exercising as much as I would like. But like most things… it’s just an excuse. If I want to be the best rider I can be, my weight needs to be part of that package.
So two things I want to put out there for my fellow fluffy riders — 1) make sure you have a horse that can support your weight and 2) be honest that your weight does make a difference in how you ride. It’s okay to decide that you are willing to compromise on being better so you can stay at your current weight but be honest about it. I know that if I had less belly at least a few things would improve – I could mount easier, my knees wouldn’t hurt as much (and probably my horse’s knees too), certainly show clothes would look better (I mean honestly … white dressage pants don’t look good on skinny people, much fewer ones my size), and I would have more flexibility. Granted, I think that even at my current weight I am probably more in shape and flexible than some of my skinnier friends but that doesn’t mean that I can’t strive to be even better.
So that’s my take on the very hot topic of weight and horses.