Equine in distress! Is there a weight limit for horseriding?

A friend from Australia emailed me a youtube video, requesting that I watch it and feedback to her my comments as a health professional.  What I saw horrified me and made me think about the issue of weight limit for a person riding a horse.

“Surely, if a horse is big enough,” goes the arguement, “….. then it can take the weight of an overweight rider, no problem?”

Emmmm…… it’s not quite as simple as that I’m afraid.

There are some considerations to take into account before even thinking about putting an overweight person on an equine.

From the prospective rider’s perspective :

1.They have more likelihood of injuring themselves if they come off the horse as they are heavier and will hit the ground harder

2. They may have difficulty finding their balance on the saddle if they are fat and may find themselves unbalanced which is dangerous for horse and themselves

3. Bouncing around whilst riding could cause back injury and /or muscle damage to themselves

4. It goes without saying ………Chaffing issues……. ouch!!!

5. Ultimately, it’s all about safety for the rider and the horse.

Now for the horse :

1. Think about the horse’s back.  Extra weight puts pressure on the back, particularly if the rider is unbalanced, which, if the rider is overweight and obese, will happen

2. Extra weight on the saddle can cause saddle soreness and open sores. Whilst muscle soreness may not be visible to the naked eye, saddle sores will be and they will deteriorate if the poor horse is saddled up again before the sore heals!

3. Nerve damage can result from the overweight rider swaying from side to side. This may be permanent, causing distress, pain and lameness to the equine

4. If the horse has a long back and is fine boned, there is far greater risk of damage from an overweight rider. However, even if sturdy, small backed horses can suffer under the strain of a far too heavy rider

5. Horses may become cranky, irritable, tired and unpredictable if they are ridden by a too heavy rider

So what is ok in terms of weight in terms of horse : rider ratio?

Generally, the rider should not be more than 20% of the horse’s weight and that’s being generous!

How about you go onto all fours and ask someone to put an object that’s higher than it is wide onto your back and strap it on round your middle.  Then go for a walk on all fours.  Then increase your speed until you try and launch yourself across an object, like a jump.

Oh! it’s too dangerous is it?  Will you hurt your back, or your muscles? Maybe risk breaking a bone?

Hmmmmmm…… maybe not the same as a rider on a horse, but……food for thought

Back to the 20% rider : horse weight ratio :

The work that an obese / overweight person does on the horse whilst riding –

  1. Walking takes the weight of the rider on the horse’s back
  2. Trotting takes twice the weight of the rider on the horse’s back
  3. Cantering takes three times the weight of the rider on the horse’s back

Further considerations …….

Is the horse warmed up before the overweight person mounts it?  If not, the poor equine’s muscles will suffer terribly as it strains to cope with the too heavy rider

Is the horse fit and exercised enough before the ride?  If the horse is plucked from a field where it’s been grazing and immediately ridden by a heavy rider……… well you can imagine the prospective muscle, nerve, bone and back injuries for the horse, particularly if the ridden on uneven or concrete hard ground.

Lastly, if you think this is a rant by a discriminating horse lover, please think again.  Go to youtube and look at a couple of videos of overweight riders on horses.  You will be shocked and saddened for the equine.

Please consider the health and wellbeing of the horse over giving an obese person the chance to ride.

You’re not doing either a favour.

Remember, all reputable riding establishments will check on a prospective rider’s weight and will refuse if too heavy, generally under 20% horse: rider ratio

Alison my dear, that’s your feedback.  Thanks for raising the subject!




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