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Rider weight: what should a rider weigh? How fat is too fat?

  • Contributing author: dertraber
  • Post published: 14. May 2021
  • Contribution category: Training& Horseback riding / The hayloft / Health& Feeding
  • Post comments: 6 comments

The weight of riders is on everyone’s lips, much to the delight of diet drink suppliers. How much can a horse carry? When is a rider too fat for his horse? Is the Shetland pony a weight carrier? Does the trotter still run with a rider weight of 105 kilos? And 90 kilos for a man is nothing at all.

As if the topic of weight wasn’t being bandied about in the media often enough, now it has reached the equestrian world as well. Facebook and Instagram are fueling the issue: what used to happen only at the home rail is getting a new emphasis with screenshots of riders who are too fat (warning, pun intended).

Hundreds of horse lovers get upset about fat girls and their horses, complain (sometimes rightly) about cruelty to animals or talk up being fat. The horse is big, he can carry the 120 kilos already. Others shout "discrimination" when horse owners look for normal-weight riding partners for their horses who weigh no more than 75 kilos.

But what weight are horses actually allowed to carry?

Originally, horses were not used as riding animals, but as pack animals or draft horses. Therefore, horses can pull much more in proportion than they can carry. Large horses, cold-blooded horses and Icelandic horses are said to be able to carry a lot of weight. Weight carrier.

This is not correct. Just because a horse is big, belongs to a certain breed or can pull heavy loads, doesn’t make it a weight bearer.

Of course, horses can also carry heavy loads: In the war, in the army or for transport purposes, the horses were packed with a lot of weight, 100 kilograms or more. But these pack horses were or. are on the move at a walk. In addition, the pack weight does not wobble around uncoordinated on the horse’s back and possibly still want to jump, gallop and ride quadrilles.

How well-founded is the 20% – rule actually?

Old rules from the military say that horses should not carry more than 20 percent of their own weight. This rule is not based on scientific facts. For this, we find assessments that explain that horses and mules can carry about a third of their weight (we still assume Beasts of burden and not from leisure horses in fast movement from!).

But the 20-percent-rule lags for a very simple reason: Imagine the horse is significantly overweight. Does this automatically mean that it can carry more weight?? NO, clearly no. Not only does the horse carry the rider’s weight around, but also his excess weight in fat instead of muscle mass.

Here’s what scientific studies are saying

A strong back can be delightful

A scientific study from Iceland makes two points clear: The Icelandic horses that could handle increasing weight better had a strong (very well muscled) and wide back.

The heavier the rider, the heavier the horse will behave

In addition, other studies clearly show that heavy riders are difficult for horses to carry. For example, it is clear that the physical load on the horse is very high when the rider exceeds 30 percent of the horse’s weight – compared to the 20 percent mentioned above.

Horses lame under heavy riders

A British study led by Dr. Sue Dyson, Equine Orthopaedic Specialist at Animal Health Trust, evaluated rider weight and impact using several weighty individuals. Based on the body mass index, the test riders were classified as light, normal, heavy and very heavy. In the case of the heavy and very heavy rider, the test runs in the saddle were stopped prematurely, the detailed evaluation was not possible, because the horses, due to the high weight started to lame.

IMPORTANT This is why BMI is not a yardstick when it comes to rider weight

A rider can be fat without weighing much. A rider can be slim and muscular, but weigh just as much as the corpulent rider – who is simply smaller. Therefore normal weight and too heavy riders can have similar BMIs. Instead of BMI, we have to consider weight as the decisive factor.

Body size and the associated distribution is the key, for reasons of simple physics: force equals mass times acceleration. Therefore, for the physical reasons mentioned above, the rider’s weight has a direct influence on the forces acting on the horse’s back via the saddle. Balance and the correct riding position are also important indicators for energy-saving riding. By the way, you can read about it in detail here.

Those who are well trained and can therefore balance their "mass" of weight well will also have an advantage.

Which horses are suitable as "weight bearers?

Horses that are well muscled (the right muscles, trotter riders beware – trotters from the track are trained, but not for rider weight!) and are conditioned, are fundamentally at an advantage. Short, strong back and stable legs are other indicators. Slim, unmuscled horses with petite builds are not built for overweight riders. But even cold-blooded horses are not automatically weight-bearers – these are working animals that can pull heavy loads. For them, too, the first priority is to maintain health through correct musculature.

Icelandic horses are not easy weight bearers per se, however the type "square, stable and compact" is quite capable of carrying heavier loads than petite warmbloods with long backs. However, race alone is not a free pass to get on a horse weighing 110 kilos.

How many kilos can a trotter carry?

I can’t say that in general, even if some would like to hear that a trotter can carry 90 kilos. Trotters come in different sizes, some are quarter type, some are very petite and some look like a warmblood. There are even pony sizes among trotters.

Healthy horses with good musculature can carry riders weighing 90 kilos well if the ratio is right. However, I do not see the 90 kilos distributed over a body height of 1.50 m, but rather from 1.80 upwards. Otherwise the punctual pressure is very high, usually then also the saddle does not fit correctly to the rider’s bottom. This is then the next problem zone.

Then the next question is: What do I want to do with the horse?? Overweight riders who do little but healthy riding fall into a different category than riders who do competitive sports in the saddle with excess weight.

178 cm height and a weight of 67 kilograms at that time on a 158 cm trotter mare (here 24 years) with a short back and a custom saddle.

From how many kilos I should not ride anymore?

This is also too general: If you are two meters tall and like to ride but are not overweight, you will find the right horse for you. Who says that I am only 1.70 m tall, but if I were 1.90 m tall, that would be the same weight – that is wrong, see the point about the BMI.

I have ridden my trotter mare for decades without any problems at a weight of approx. 65 kilos ridden, in between where I also sometimes 10 kilos more. That was the upper limit. Now I would not ride her like that, after the pregnancies there are some kilos more. My husband, barely 1.90 tall, slim, had sat on her for a few meters step back to the stable. You could clearly see that she had to work very hard. There the horse-rider ratio would not have been okay, even if my husband did not weigh 90 kilos on the scale.

Very important: A suitable saddle – otherwise the problem is multiplied by the rider’s weight!

Reality is not fat-shaming

Being overweight is not healthy, neither for riders nor for horses. A few kilos (under 10) are certainly not so bad. I am critical of the calls for fatshaming, discrimination and bodypositivity where criticism for being overweight arises. Overweight harms the health. Mostly not immediately, but in the long run. With riders, the horse suffers with them: Where do all the lame horses, kissing spines, early arthrosis etc. come from?. nowadays?

I am not saying that losing weight is easy. On the contrary, it can be really difficult, especially beyond the age of 40. But for the sake of your health, please check realistically what you can put on the scales and what you can expect from your horse. To say that a horse can carry this or that is not serious. Formulas to calculate are not as well. Fact is: Overweight riders make horses sick. If the horse is heavily overweight, it will go quickly, if it is moderately overweight, there will be long-term damage.

My rant against too fat riders

In my environment I see riders (most of them, unfortunately) who get on the horse with more than 120 kilos. Riders who have their buttocks spilling out of the saddle. Riders who cannot sit in balance due to being overweight. I see their horses running, strained, panting heavily, tact unclean, eyes wide open.

This is not fat-shaming, this is cruelty to animals. If you are too fat, you have no business in the saddle. Excuse my directness, but what I see in stables in the area, on Facebook or Instagram, makes me really angry. There the eyes are closed before the reality.

But not for nothing there are breeches now up to size 56. 56! WHY? Why do I have to torture myself on the horse in this size?? That is not okay. It is as simple as that. And even if I still fit into my 2XL riding leggings – that is no reason to get on the horse. Just because these sizes are now available in stores.

Love yourself – and stay healthy

Unfortunately, I always hear that it is not so bad if you are fat. One should love his body.

No. No, you should not. One should love oneself, a small, subtle difference. And if you love your horse, you will lose weight for his sake, if the overweight is too strong. Of course, you can find that encroaching when someone points out to you that you are too heavy for your horse. Sometimes this is really vicious. But often it is more a concern for the animal, and the other person has probably thought long and hard about whether and what to say.

Of course, it’s not okay to tell someone they’re too fat. When it comes to animal welfare, I see it differently. And no, I don’t mean the little rolls of flab after Christmas dinner. I am talking about "too heavy for the horse.

When is one too heavy for the horse?

From 10 kilos overweight you should think about changing your lifestyle. From 15-20 kilos overweight riders should walk, sometimes even sooner, it depends again on the horse-rider ratio). In general, riders should not exceed 100 kilos. And as I said, 100 kilos at 1.95 are to be considered differently than at a size of 1.65.

Signs that a rider is too heavy for his horse

  • The horse wobbles when mounted and seeks balance
  • The horse runs lame or clocks
  • The horse makes stiff steps to support the weight
  • The horse is quickly exhausted
  • The horse sweats heavily under light exertion
  • The horse breathes heavily after 20 minutes of light exercise
  • The horse stumbles frequently
  • The horse opens its eyes wide, its ears are laid back
  • The horse bucks or lies down to avoid the weight
  • The horse grinds its teeth
  • The horse runs wide-legged behind and does not under-step
  • The horse bends away with the croup when mounted
  • The horse does not run at a normal pace
  • The horse pushes the back away

Some of the points mentioned above also speak for other things. Therefore it is important to look at the interaction as a whole and exclude diseases.

By the way: Weight loads of 25% more of the body mass of a horse are considered to be contrary to animal welfare according to current knowledge.

For those who want to learn about weight and keeping it off, I highly recommend this book (affiliate link):

For simplicity, I often use the masculine form in this text. All genders are addressed. If the flow of the text allows it, I will include the female form as well.

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