Rider weight

Lat­est find­ings on the real im­pact your weight has on your horse

Your Horse (UK) - - Contents -

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.

The re­sults

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.”

Fu­ture re­search

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

T S U R T H T L A E H L A M I N A : O T O H P

Sad­dle fit­was also checked to en­sure it was ap­pro­pri­ate for each horse

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