Higher rider to horse bodyweight ratios can induce temporary lameness and discomfort, say researchers.
Results of a new pilot study, which were presented at the National Equine Forum on 8 March 2018, show that if the rider is excessively heavy for the horse, it can have a negative impact on the horse's performance.
Researchers looked for lameness and behavioral changes in horses when ridden by riders of different weights. Rider weight was defined as light, moderate, heavy and very heavy.
The riding tests for the heavy and very heavy riders were all abandoned, predominantly because of temporary horse lameness.
It's hoped that the study will help with the development of guidelines to help all riders assess if they're the right weight for their horse to enhance both equine welfare and rider comfort and enjoyment.
Dr Sue Dyson, Head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust’s Centre for Equine Studies, Newmarket, who led the study said: “While all the horses finished the study moving as well as when they started, the results showed a substantial temporary effect of rider weight as a proportion of horse weight.
"The results don't mean that heavy riders shouldn't ride but suggest that if they do, they should ride a horse of appropriate size and fitness, with a saddle that's correctly fitted for both horse and rider.
“We must remember that this is a pilot study. Further work is required to determine if horse fitness, adaptation to heavier weights and more ideal saddle fit will increase the weight an individual horse can carry. This should help us further in our quest to develop guidelines for optimum rider: horse bodyweight ratios.”
Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, said: “These pilot results are certainly not surprising but are very significant in adding vital evidence to inform an appropriate rider to horse weight ratio.
"It is common sense that rider weight impacts equine welfare, however many might not fully understand or recognise this. What's desperately needed is basic guidance to help riders identify a horse or pony that is right for them and this research is a vital step in that direction.”
We'll be featuring this study and exploring the issues associated with rider weight in more depth in issue 439 of Your Horse magazine, out 3 May.
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