Is rider / weight ratio important in preventing lameness?

Research has shown that a third of recreational riders are too heavy for their horses. We believe that bearing this burden puts our horses at risk of bad backs and lameness.

Behavioural problems, such as bucking, rearing and general disobedience may also be our horse’s way of telling us we’re too heavy! As the average weight and height of humans continues to increase, there is growing debate about relative rider-horse sizes, but little research has been conducted on the effects of this on our horses.

A rider who is too heavy or too tall for an individual horse can cause discomfort in the horse

Preliminary findings suggest that horse and heavy rider can both be happy if the horse is of appropriate size and fitness, with a saddle that is correctly fitted for both horse and rider.

Researching rider / weight ratio

Our pilot study shows that high rider: horse bodyweight ratios can induce temporary lameness and discomfort in horses. Put simply, if a rider is excessively heavy or too tall for an individual horse, this will have a negative impact on the performance of that animal, and its welfare.

To minimise risk it is imperative that the saddle fits both the horse and rider – this is not possible if the horse is too small for the rider.

Our ultimate aim with this research is to provide guidelines to riders to help them assess if they are the right weight for the horse or pony they intend to ride. Getting this right will enhance both equine welfare and rider comfort and enjoyment. But before we can develop these guidelines, further work is needed to determine if horse fitness, adaptation to heavier weights and more ideal saddle fit will increase the weight an individual horse can carry. Understanding these factors will help us in our quest to define optimum rider: horse bodyweight ratios.

Is your horse lame?

We can help

Our Equine Centre offers a fully comprehensive referral service for the diagnosis and treatment of lameness, and other problems of the musculoskeletal and associated neurological systems, in horses and ponies.

Find out how our Equine Clinic can help

We are very grateful to the following for their ongoing support of this work:

World Horse Welfare,
the Saddle Research Trust,
the British Equestrian Federation.