Latest findings on the real impact your weight has on your horse
LAST JULY, 12 RIDERS competing at the Great Yorkshire Show were asked to dismount. Organisers deemed these riders too heavy for their mounts, having set a rider weight limit of 20% of their horse’s bodyweight. Of the 12 who dismounted, four riders agreed to be weighed. Each was found to be more than 25% of their horse’s bodyweight. It was the second time the show had asked riders who were too heavy for their horses to dismount — eight riders also exceeded the 20% rule the previous year. The Great Yorkshire Show has welfare interests at heart, but without proper guidelines on rider weight in place, it’s almost unique in its approach. This is where Dr Sue Dyson and her team at the Animal Health Trust come in. Last September, Dr Dyson and her team decided to assess the effects that rider weight has on the performance of a horse. After revealing the results at the National Equine Forum in March this year, the study is set to shake up welfare standards across the board. Four riders of differing weights (light, moderate, heavy and very heavy) and similar riding abilities were tasked with riding six different horses over five days last September. Each rider was given the same routine – to ride a maximum of 30 minutes in walk, trot and canter – while Dr Dyson and her colleagues watched and assessed the performance of each horse. “Horses were evaluated for lameness in-hand before being ridden,” explains Dr Dyson. “When ridden, horses had their heart rate, respiratory rate and time of transitions measured. Behavioural signs that previous research has shown to be associated with musculoskeletal pain were also assessed.” Some of these behaviours included having ears back for more than five seconds, constant tail swishing, head tossing and a reluctance to go forwards. While being assessed on the day, horses and riders were also recorded by video for further analysis.
All tests for the heavy and very heavy rider were abandoned on the basis of welfare grounds, generally because of lameness. It took an average of 16.6 minutes for a horse ridden by the heavy rider to show signs of lameness or pain and for tests to be
took abandoned. Abandonment of tests rider. just 8.3 minutes with the very heavy Horses that went lame in ridden tests had their gait re-evaluated in-hand found to 45 minutes later. All horses were be non-lame during re-evaluation, indicating that it was the rider causing the temporary lameness. While the results are shocking, it’s is important to remember that the study will the first of its kind and more research be needed to create robust guidelines. for “We were unable to repeat the tests heavy and very heavy riders on welfare don’t grounds,” says Dr Dyson. “We still rider know where the cut-off point for 15 weight is, but it seems to be between and 18% of your horse’s bodyweight.” It’s not just bodyweight that’s a factor. also Saddle fitand rider position were For found to affect a horse’s performance. same example, a taller rider who is the weight as a shorter rider may sit further back of back on the cantle, overloading the to the saddle and making it more difficult the ride in balance. It also affects where back. rider’s weight is centred on the horse’s fit “The length of the saddle needs to for the the horse but also be appropriate be rider,” says Dr Dyson. “The rider should with sitting in the centre of the saddle, clearance in front and at the back.”
The next step for researchers is to look at whether rider height also has an influence on a horse’s movement. “We need to look closer at riders in the 90 to 95kg area,” says Dr Dyson. “This is the level where there seemed to be the most problems. We want to see how much influence rider height has. We’re going to repeat the study again, but this time using riders that are all different heights but each weigh 92kg. We’ll first use the horse’s normal saddle and then use one that’s correctly fitted to the rider.”
What it means for you
It’s important to remember that this was a pilot study and researchers are by no means saying heavier people shouldn’t ride – you just need to ride a horse that’s appropriate for your weight and in a wellfitted saddle that’s appropriate for you. “It may not be possible to fit a saddle to both a rider and a horse,” says Dr Dyson. “Increasing your horse’s bodyweight to fit you also isn’t a solution. He’ll then be carrying his extra weight, as well as your own. “Being balanced, having good alignment and sitting straight in the saddle are also important factors influencing the performance of your horse.” There’s still a long way to go before the results can be put forward to create guidelines, but for now, it’s important to use common sense when judging how much weight your horse can comfortably carry. “Take a minute to look at a horse and rider and think ‘Do they look right together?’” says Dr Dyson. “If not, then the horse probably isn’t appropriate for that rider.”
Showing has been in the spotlight, with some riders being asked to dismount by officials if they’re thought to be too heavy for their mount
The heavy rider, pictured here, was b etween 15-18% of the horse’s bodyweight
Is your horse the appropriate size for you?
Your saddle needs to be the right fit for both you and your horse
Saddle fitwas also checked to ensure it was appropriate for each horse