Study questions effect of rider weight on horse welfare
By Katy Islip
28 March 2013 09:51
Research into how rider weight affects equine welfare and performance has shown one third of recreational riders could be too heavy for their horse, risking behavioural and welfare problems.
A team from Duchy College, Cornwall, studied 50 adult riders from Devon and Cornwall, applying a suggested ‘ideal’ rider weight of 10% of their horse's weight, with up to 15% classed as satisfactory and above 20% as a welfare issue.
Their results showed 63% of the riders fell into the satisfactory category, while 32% weighed more than 15% of their horse’s weight, which is considered to be a welfare risk. Just 5% of the riders met the ‘ideal’ ratio.
Equitation scientist Dr Hayley Randle, who carried out the study with Emma Halliday, said the impact on a horse’s health from an overly heavy rider could become quite extreme quite quickly, meaning behaviour such as bucking and rearing could result.
However, the weight guidelines did not factor in things like the age and breed of the horses, the kind of riding undertaken, or the experience of the rider.
Dr Randle said the riding weight guidelines were not widely known within the horse industry, and said while riding schools often had limits in place, it was often private owners who were at risk of harming their horses.
The authors wrote: “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.”
They added they hoped their findings would help enable the development of scientifically-based advice on weight as they noted there are currently no industry-wide guidelines, which could allow informed decisions to be made on rider-horse suitability.
“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.
The findings of their study have been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour.
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