Many riders too heavy for their mounts – study

| March 26, 2013 | 45 Comments

rider-weightBritish research suggests only one in 20 riders may be within what they describe as the optimum weight range for their horse.

The study found that a third of recreational riders were too big for their horse, leaving the animals at risk of back troubles and lameness.

Roughly two-thirds of riders in the survey fell within the satisfactory range for body weight when assessed against their mount.

The findings have been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour.

The researchers from Duchy College, in Cornwall, tracked a group of horses and their adult riders from stables across Devon and Cornwall.

An industry practitioner proposed a 10 per cent rider-to-horse ratio for optimum performance, up to 15 per cent as satisfactory and a level of 20 per cent to be a welfare issue.

Just 5 per cent of the riders involved in the study met the optimum threshold.

The study revealed that 32 per cent of the riders weighed more than 15 per cent of the weight of their animal, which is considered to pose a welfare risk.

The remaining 63 per cent were 10 to 15 per cent of the weight of their horse.

Working out the weight of your horse

Equitation scientists Dr Hayley Randle, who conducted the study with Emma Halliday, suggested guidelines be put into place to protect horses from overweight riders.

She said the health impact on the horse from riders who were too heavy could become quite extreme, quite quickly.

Behavioural problems such as bucking and rearing could result.

Randle said the guidelines for riding weights were not widely known by those in the horse industry.

The weight guidelines, she added, did not take account of all factors, such as the age and breed of the horse, the kind of riding to be undertaken, or the experience of the rider.

While riding schools had rules in place over the weight of riders, it was often private owners who were harming their own horses, she said.

The study, the aim of which was to assist in the identification of rider to horse body-weight ratios to optimise ridden performance and welfare, involved assessment of 50 horse-rider combinations. All riders were 18 years old or more.

“Since observed rider-to-horse body-weight ratios varied between 14.2 and 16.6 per cent, the suggested 10 per cent guideline appears unrealistic within the general riding population,” the authors noted.

They said they hoped their findings would go some way toward allowing the development of a scientifically based guideline allowing informed decisions to be made on horse-rider suitability.

There were currently no industry-wide guidelines for the suitability of rider weight to horse size, they noted.

Simple measures of rider weight can be used effectively to develop sensible rules upon which decisions about rider suitability for a particular horse can be made,” they said.


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  1. Lumière says:

    What a crock… someone had better tell the US Cavalry back in the 1900’s that they were overloading their horses and strangely enough they managed to stay sound over distance and many days use…
    Their maximum was for approximately 480kg horse, 75kg rider and 41kg of gear… so 116kg of gear and rider on a 480kg horse comes out at 24% of the horses body weight maximum.
    I suspect the Cavalry had a much better idea about what horses could carry and stay sound due to experience, because they needed their horses sound. Those horses worked and weren’t just paddock pets who got ridden maybe an hour a day :P
    Someone had also better let those riding endurance know that their minimum weight to be carried is also over 10% of the horses body weight. Those horses also seem to be just fine given the very strict criteria they have for vetting after each loop for completion.

  2. Leah says:

    American Tai Chi instructor Kris Garrett did a thermo graphic comparison of an unbalanced light rider compared to a heavier balanced rider and the balanced rider had far less effect to the horses back. Where is the proof that this is the case or is it just someone else’s say so. Many people would be over horsed if they were at a 10% ratio to their horse. Many other factors have to be taken into consideration over the horses welfare before this, a well cared for horse with a correctly fitted saddle that is fit, healthy and fed properly should come first.

  3. laura says:

    Agreed this is the stupitest thing I have ever heard of, these kind of people need to stop wasting time & money on all their reserch on something they know nothing about.

  4. Sandy Wallis says:

    I’m glad to see that there was an actual study comparing a heavy, balanced rider against a lighter unbalanced one. Because it’s common knowledge where I come from that a balanced rider, whatever their weight, is much, much easier on a horse’s back than an unbalanced one. Rearing as a response to overweight also seems highly unlikely to me. If the horse was strained, he would only strain himself more. It also seems a very unscientific study when it starts out, “an industry practitioner PROPOSED a 10 to 1 ratio.” A 10 to 1 ratio is about the ratio of a jockey to a racehorse, and they have to starve themselves to make the weight. I weigh 130, so I’d have to ride a draft cross to meet their criteria. Ridiculous!

    • Stacy Livermore says:

      I had to crack up about the part that said a horse with a far too heavy rider would buck or rear. If the rider is really too heavy, that horse will be unable to do all of the above. I do agree that common sense should prevail. The 1100 to 1200 pound trail horses that are common around here carry riders up to 200 pounds and tack weighing up to 50 pounds. It comes down to conditioning and exercising the horse, not just slapping a heavy rider on them and telling them to go. And yes, an educated, balanced rider of any weight will always be easier to carry. As a trail rider I try to keep my weight under 150 pounds, and I also try to keep myself in good enough shape that I could walk out on my own two feet at least 8 miles, should my horse have an injury.

    • jess says:

      The only problem is that many riders don’t realize how unbalanced they are and when a heavy rider is unbalanced for a short time it can cause quite a shock, I’m not a small rider and I’m not picking on anyone but I see a lot of big riders who say they are balanced but so often their weight will shift slightly and they are risking the horses back. Just last week a girl who weights about 130kg rode my little mare and she has been sore for 3 weeks after despite only walking and she claimed to be a good rider. The saddle I use fits and I ride her in it for evening but she was still very sore. The same horse two months ago did a 4 hour trail in walk trot and canter with 2 teens(one behind the saddle) on her and wasn’t sore at all(both weighed about 60kg) because they were small enough and not unbalanced. Every horse and rider combo has different results , it think that’s what I’ trying to say.

  5. Barbara says:

    Also, look at eventers back in the day, when they were doing the full 3 day event, with a compulsory weight, of I think it was 75kg? And if that was a lighter rider, some of that was made up with lead. Was there general assessment that horses were struggling to make it round the course due to the weight they were carrying? Because I really do not think that an in training event horse would weigh 750kg?

  6. Tiffany says:

    If a horse is sound, has a good suspension system in front, has a heavier build for his size and good strong back, shorter rather than longer and no other health issues he should be able to carry 20% or more of his own weight. Now if he’s a 2000 lb draft, he probably can handle a 400 lb person on his back, but how many 400 lb people ride regularly and balanced? If there is an issue it would be with the riders ability which can’t be optimum at 400 lbs. A 14 hand cob type horse weighing in at 1000 to 1200 lbs with a size three foot should have no problem carrying 200 lbs.

    And then there is the use. That is important. Lots of babyboomers here in the states want to get out on the trails, they only want to walk or walk and trot for less than five hours a week. A healthy horse should be able to do this at 25 or 30% of its own weight if the rider is balanced and light and manages their time in the saddle wisely. I think the absolute most important items is the health of the horse, the balance of the rider and the fit of the saddle. The last can be difficult because there are so few people knowledgeable about fit and these draft cross types often need a very expensive saddle or several saddles tried before the fit is right.

    Here at my farm, the only requirement for my riders that will only ride at a walk for one hour or less is that they have enough physical balance and strength to mount alone properly from a mounting block. I’ve had heavier riders that were ex-athletes such as football players and the horse looks happy and content under almost 280 lbs of rider but I’ve had 130 lb women with stress and bad balance make a horse cringe.

    Weight is not an issue by itself. The problem is that few people put into action all three issues that need to be addressed to properly mount a heavier rider.

  7. Karen says:

    I wonder why they havent taken horse breeds and their bone mass into account. Weight is different when build is added as a variable!

  8. Sue says:

    Some friends of mine on an equestrian discussion group have been trying to track down the research backing this 10% recommendation. Despite obtaining the original abstract of the girl’s paper – the full paper is not yet published – there is no citation of source.

    Basically, this poorly conducted, unsound research forming part of a PhD thesis to be presented to people who don’t really have much idea either.

    • Jack Enright says:

      Sue – there is no citation of source for a simple reason. There is no source of those quoted percentages and their significance.

      It took some digging, and a bunch of . . . ‘factually inaccurate’ e-mails from Hayley Randle before we established that.

      First she said the figures were proposed by an Austrain, Dr T Licka. But another friend e-mailed Dr Licka – who replied that, despite years of research into the effects of various loads on horses’ bodies, she had been unable to arrive at ANY meaningful guidelines!

      Hayley Randle then agreed that, in fact, those figures had not been proposed by Dr Licka – but saiid that other people had expressed agreement with them, but still she failed to provide any references to published research on which such figures were based!

      If you’d like to read up on what we found, after some ruthless digging, have a look at this thread, on which I post as Brown Bob. It honestly barely qualifies for the title of junk science.,49298.0.html

  9. mustangsaver says:

    the folks that are saying this is a crock I’m assuming are ALL overweight it’s funny how everyone has an (opinion) why don’t you Nay Sayers get down on all fours and strap a bunch of weight on your back and go for a nice long walk, trot/gallop/up/down/over/through/jump/etc….. AND THEN YOU CAN MAKE AN EDUCATED STATEMENT….

    • Sandy Wallis says:

      Well, maybe some of the people who are saying it’s a crock are overweight, but that doesn’t make them wrong. I weigh 130 and I say it’s a crock. Your analogy is faulty. The horse carrying the rider’s weight would be comparable to a person carrying a backpack. If the person is sturdier-built, he can carry more weight. A 280 lb. football player can carry more weight than a 280 lb. sedentary office worker. A fit person can carry more weight than an unfit one. And if the backpack is well balanced, the weight is easier to carry than if it’s unbalanced- no matter what the weight of the person carrying it. I’ve made a living working with horses my entire life, so I do know a little about the subject.

    • Kim says:

      How long have you being associated with horses? How many have you ridden?
      I have been around horses my whole life, over 40 years, and have competed, and instruct.
      According to this study, children would not even be suitable for riding ponies. That is the absolute definition of a crock of crap!
      This sort of BS, if enforced, would lead to a rash of eating disorders in riders, and/or many horses being destroyed because their rider is overweight.
      And seriously, who the hell is going to force a woman to get on a set of scales in public to be weighed?

    • Jack Enright says:

      Mustangsaver – you can assume all you like. Unlike you, some of us are prepared to dig into the background of this so-called ‘scientific research’, and guess what we found?

      It’s about as scientific as a lucky dip.

      so why don’t YOU read through this thread, read the e-mails friends and I got back from Hayley Randle, and others who, UNlike Hayley Randle, had verifiable published research to back up their claims?,49298.0.html

      And THEN YOU CAN MAKE AN EDUCATED STATEMENT – based on facts and reality, rather than on spite and ignorance.

  10. Heather says:

    So let me get this straight, a 1000 pound horse can only carry a 100 pound rider? And how many adults are 100 pounds? Like 2%? hahahahhahaha. I do think that if you are like 300 you should not be riding, but this article is just ridiculous.

  11. deb says:

    Just an observation but, we guess the horses’ weight and equipment. I wonder how far off people are when they guess the weight of the horse, without putting them on a scale or another accurate method for weight.

    • Jack Enright says:

      Deb – in this study, a friend of mine bought a copy of the abstract of the paper in question. They used very accurate and calibrated digital scales to weigh the riders, but what did they use to weigh the horses?

      A weight tape . . .

      Even the firms who make those things warn that they will only give you an approximate guide!

      And when you start digging into it, it gets way, way worse.

  12. Heather Hayes says:

    Oh please. Not all of us are heavy but this is such a waste of money, money that could be used to save the abandoned, starving horses all over the UK. What about different bone density, different breeds of horses, ages and experience. Some of these guys need to get a life….

  13. hybridhorsemanship says:

    haha, the only ones saying this is crap are the fat ones in denial. You ladies keep telling yourself that your horse is sturdy enough to carry you but don’t ask the people around you.

    • Jack Enright says:

      Hybridhorsemanship – maybe instead of insulting other people, you should try checking the FACTS in this case, eh?

      Unlike you, some of us are prepared to go the extra mile and ask awkward questions – and to keep digging when people try to fob us off.

  14. matt says:

    i am 125-130 lbs. my own horse under a new study on weight is 1250 lbs. my partnered horse at work is 900. are you going to tell me im over weight? cited research states 17-21% is the normal limit on a horse based on breed.

  15. TeamSAXON says:

    Maybe all of you who are saying this is crap need to get off your fat butts and lose some weight. Stop trying to make excuses about it like saying this research is bunk.. because it isn’t. Common sense would dictate that horses can’t cope with fat people on them.

    • Charlie says:

      But that’s just it. You’re so wrong because this ‘research’ isn’t saying that fat people are hard on horses, it’s saying that anyone over 10% of the horse’s weight is. So for a normal 1000 lb riding horse, anyone over 100 lbs is too heavy? Seriously? Only someone who knows NOTHING about horses would ever dream that up.

      • Janine says:

        Is a normal riding horse 1000 lbs? I always thought it would be more. My 14hh weighs more than that and I would say that he was smaller than the ‘average adults horse’

  16. Joey says:

    Someone should take into account endurance horses and riders. Competitive endurance horses cover thousands and thousands of miles over all types of terrain and in all conditions. Their riders are quite fit out of necessity, but come in every body type and size. There are 100 lb riders and there are 220 lb riders, and they almost always ride Arabians, who are known for smaller bodies and denser bone.

    I’m certainly no “fat chick denier” as several have stated above. I’m a competitive endurance rider that sees (and owns) endurance horses that soundly compete into their 20s. An over-stressed horse with an overweight rider would never be able to log thousands of sound miles over 10-20 years of active training and competition.

  17. Neil Clarkson says:

    The story describes 10 per cent as the optimum weight. Seems to make good sense to me. The optimum weight is surely one where the animal can perform to the absolute best of its athletic ability with a rider. I imagine most jockeys would weigh roughly 10 per cent of the weight of a thoroughbred? Optimum. I’m a runner and have a healthy body mass index. It’s certainly not the optimum for running, which would be much lower. The report describes up to 15 per cent as satisfactory, which puts a 75kg rider on a 500kg horse. Seems reasonable to me.
    People seem to have go it into their heads that if they weigh more than 10 per cent of the weight of their horse, they shouldn’t be riding it. Not so, on my reading of the report.

  18. Kira says:

    I concur with Nell and will expand on Nell’s comments: If the “performance” being considered requires speed or agility, then lighter and leaner is typically optimal. Consider competitive runners — light and lean, also in the sense of % body fat (and yes, there is eventually a decline in performance when an athlete reaches too low of a weight or % body fat, but that is not applicable to the “horse vs rider weight” because a rider only can increase the “total weight” felt by the horse). Does this mean that a heavy person cannot run for an hour every day? No. It just means that their ideal performance would be more likely attained at a lighter weight and leaner body composition. Furthermore, it is a commonly accepted rule among runners that running performance increases with EACH pound of weight loss: 2 sec per pound per mile (losing 10 lbs means an automatic increase in speed by 20 sec per mile, without actually increasing fitness — this is a substantial performance gain). Fitness and body composition go together to achieve optimal performance. So considering all of this, a light and lean horse who is in peak body composition and fitness, will be essentially hindered by EVERY pound that is placed on its back. If a horse could execute a flawless Grand Prix dressage test without a rider, would it be less effort for the horse than if it had a rider on its back? Yes. But, a horse would not execute a flawless Grand Prix test without a rider giving moment-by-moment guidance and feedback. And, if two riders are matched in skills and ability, the lighter rider will essentially impede the horse less. There is a reason that light jockeys ride horses in races, where optimal athletic performance by the horse is necessary. A trail horse going for a weekend ride is not being conditioned athletically to win the next race and peak for optimal performance. However, if those goals change and that horse is now being conditioned for such an event, then the “entire package”, rider included, needs to strive for a total/combined horse-rider peak performance. The overall point is that *optimal* performance, just like in human sports, tends to gravitate toward a certain weight, height, body composition, etc.

  19. Kim says:

    This load of nonsense would also rule a lot of children out of riding ponies. Who seriously believes that a Welsh Mountain Pony is incapable of carrying an adult?
    And what the bleeding heck would a damned Tai Chi instructor know about horses?
    We’ve had our 12hh Welshy, and 12.1hh Riding pony weighed, and according to this study, my 9 year old nephew would be too heavy for both of them.

  20. erik says:

    the boere in the anglo-boer war won but never looked at their weight, just being good riders was their succes!!

  21. Charlie says:

    Like someone else – what a complete waste of money and what utter nonsense. And those of you who are agreeing with this study – obviously you have no idea what you’re talking about either. I have Arabians and none of them weigh more than 1000 lbs. According to this study, my 850 lb horse (who is built like a TANK) should carry 85 lbs max? hahahahahahhahahahahahaha, seriously? Guess I had better sell her to a 6 year old kid because that’s the only person who can ride her.

  22. Jack Enright says:

    Along with some friends on a British horse owners forum, I started digging into this – specifically, to try and find out who was the “industry practitioner” Hayley Randle quoted; when and where did he or she “propose a 10 per cent rider-to-horse ratio for optimum performance, up to 15 per cent as satisfactory and a level of 20 per cent to be a welfare issue”; and exactly how were these figures arrived at.

    When first asked, by e-mail, Hayley Randle stated that the figures were quoted by an Austrian veterinarian, Dr T Licka. However, a follow up e-mail by a friend to Dr Licka drew the response that, despite years of study of the effect of loads on a horse’s body, Dr Licka had been unable to arrive at ANY weight ratio guidelines!

    More e-mails, more digging, more waffle from Hayley Randle – in the end, we find that NOBODY has proposed such guidelines as those quoted, and the research paper which, the authors said, “would go some way toward allowing the development of a scientifically based guideline allowing informed decisions to be made on horse-rider suitability” is quite incapable of doing any such thing – as it made no objective assessment of the effect of various weights on the horse at all! All it did was to establish horse / rider weight ratios which are in common use. What a load of garbage!

    If you would like to follow how we dragged the truth out into the open, take a look at this forum thread:,49298.0.html

    It’s quite a lengthy thread, but a real eye-opener into the sort of junk science which is peddled as ‘serious academic research’.

    (I post on that forum as Brown Bob)

    Jack Enright

  23. Ed Anderson says:

    While I have read the 20% weight limit before, it does not apply to all horses. For your interest, I rode an Arabian endurance horse over 2000 miles from Mexico to Canada. I went solo and virtually unsupported. Primo is 14.3 hands and weighs about 900 pounds. He carried up to about 275 pounds (around 36%) after a resupply – less as we used up the food and as I drank water – down to about 225 pounds. Arabians are stronger than other breeds – they have stronger, shorter, backs and strong hind quarters. They have one less vertebrae and two fewer ribs. Primo had no problems with that much weight.

  24. ponypal says:

    Y’all need to stop being so damn sensitive!!! Relax! This is a suggestive article to those of you who maybe be pushing 20% and above on their horses weight. Quit making excuses to why its okay that you can still ride your horse even if you tip the scale. The 10% thing may be considered “ideal” for eventing and other high risk, high jumping and or high speed sports. If you want the most out of your horse as far as upper level eventing or other sports the 10% figure may be a fair guideline. Other than that I agree with you both that consideration when it comes to purchasing a horse is crucial and considerate.
    Why can’t people take this article as an incentive to get in shape? Instead of wasting you’re time trying to debunk the articles research validity? Common sense should be all you need.

  25. Kelly Phelps says:

    Had to laugh when I read the comments from the true people that should be taking these tests. So you are telling me the over history, just about every army and every rider was too big for their horses? And that now that our horses are breed bigger and larger than those days we should have light weights on them at all time? What a load of crock. I think they need to take another look at that and see what the american idians and the mongalians would think if they turned up there and said they couldn’t ride their horses because they were too big for them.

  26. Paul says:

    I expect most of the riders moaning about this article are heffers!

  27. Lexi says:

    So what are some horses that would be able to cary a 260 pound rider? I am about 6 feet and weight 240 pounds and I figure 20 pounds for tack. I used to ride a Tennessee Walker and a Percheron, but now I am kinda worried after I have seen so many articles saying that I am too heavy.

    I am not really too overweight, I am athletic and tall so I don’t think that I could healthily lose enough weight for the recommendations this article is saying. At 160pounds I would be a skeleton.

  28. Brittany says:

    A lot of fat people complaining here, eh.

  29. abc says:

    What a load of rubbish. There’s many other factors, a light but unbalanced rider will be much more harmful to a horse than a heaver good rider. The horse’s conformation, work load and the type of work will also play a part. I’d be over the 15% with gear and have had the same horse for many, many years. He’s still very sound and acts half his age. I’m usually the one asking for a slower pace. Go harass someone actually mistreating their animals.

  30. paula says:

    All these comments tell me is humans care more about themselves than they do about the horse, the life of the horse, the longterm affects weight causes, or the welfare of horses and with that humans just dont want to know or protect horses for the future from seriously overweight people insisting on riding – if you could rely on common sense being the weight guideline it wouldn’t be an issue. So often we see appallingly overweight people riding lightly built park harks and justifying it with comments similiar to these…claiming they are balanced riders, or someone else rides that is heavier than they are anfd that horse is fine?? Well if only horses could speak and there welfare wasnt at the mercy of all these ‘experts’ putting their two cents worth in – NZ is an overweight society and trying to make it the horses problem!….Good on Horsetalk for raising the issue.

  31. gail says:

    The theme of the article is correct- some of you may need to undertake some exercise off the animal to get within a healthy weight range.
    The facts presented are disputable.

    Historical studies average around the 20%- and this actually depends on the breed and use of the horse.

    Your emotional statements only indicate your immaturity, and an invalid sense of entitlement.

    Perhaps you should either give your horses to someone who cares about them, or go for a walk and lose some of the poor attitude-(and weight).

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