Researchers at Duchy College, in Cornwall, England, studied horse impact from 50 riders executing 45-minute workouts. Afterward, they came up with the weight limit for horseback riding being no more weight than 20% of the horse’s weight.
This was ascertained by monitoring the release of creatine kinase (CK), an enzyme present in the muscle and released into the blood to restore muscle damage. This enzyme is triggered when an increasing heart rate releases plasma lactate to levels the horse’s body cannot metabolize.
This article will cover the importance of proper saddle fitting, the use of saddle pads, and other helpful recommendations. These will ensure your horseback riding experience is both safe and enjoyable for you and your horse.
What Is the Ideal Weight Limit for Horseback Riding?
How much weight can a horse carry? According to The US Cavalry Manual of Horse Management in 1941, a horse should not carry more than 20% of the horse’s body weight. However, these weight limits were routinely exceeded by soldiers and their equipment.
Just like people, a horse that is too tired or is asked to carry more than it can safely carry can temporarily lose its better nature and forget its training.
A horse that is completely docile under normal conditions may become agitated, frustrated, fatigued, irritable, and even unpredictable when over-stressed by excessive weight. This can lead to situations that are dangerous for both horse and rider.
A horse who is asked to carry heavy riders above the average weight they are used to may experience chronic pain, early arthritis, back pain, slower speeds, and lower skill level, which makes sense for horses who are not meant to carry a heavy load.
Saddle Fit While Horseback Riding
Of course, the scientists noted that the impact on the horses varied greatly. Those with wider loins and thicker cannon bones recovered more quickly. Experienced riders know the fit of the saddle is vital.
A properly fitting saddle is an essential part of having a good ride. An ill-fitting saddle may cause a lack of performance or even physical injury to the horse. Fitting the saddle to your horse is an important skill that must be learned.
A properly fitting saddle for a horse may be likened to a comfortable boot for the rider. If the saddle does not fit, especially in the weight-bearing areas, the horse may exhibit displeasure while being ridden, incur muscle soreness, joint problems, or have a performance that is compromised.
Though it depends on the individual horse, most horses will not bend or collect to their fullest potential under uncomfortable or extra weight. In severe cases, actual physical injury may occur with the horse developing saddle sores.
Saddle-Fit Horseback Riding
In order to discuss saddle fit, one must first address proper placement of the saddle. A saddle should ride centered from right to left and positioned so that the bars of the tree are just behind the horse’s scapula. Such placement will prevent interference with the animal’s shoulders.
The saddle should not rock up excessively in the hind end but should pull down evenly on the horse’s back. The angle and the rocker of the saddle trees bars should follow the lines of the horse’s back.
If the saddle does not make contact with the back in the middle of the bars, it is referred to as “bridging.” Such a saddle will cause excessive pressure on the withers and in the loin area.
One must be aware that some horses may carry more muscle or fat on one wither side or the other. Bar contact changes with the addition of the rider’s weight.
Saddle pads offer protection for the horse and the saddle. They should also help the saddle form-fit to the horse, provide shock absorption and help dissipate heat and sweat. In this saddle maker’s opinion, no material accomplishes this as efficiently as wool.
Real wool felt and woven wool develop a memory when used on the same horse with the same saddle. This memory allows the pad to conform to the horse and compress where needed, thereby filling voids and allowing more even pressure distribution.
Wool also is second to none in wicking away moisture from a sweaty horse’s back. Caution should be exercised when using synthetic foam and gel pads as some of these trap heat against a horse.
This is perhaps not a factor for a horse ridden only an hour but may be a problem for the horse in harder work. Additionally, some gel pads actually concentrate pressure rather than spread it.
It should also be stated that more is not always better. Most western horses get along fine with five-eighths-inch to 1-inch total padding. Rope horses and jumping horses may require more for additional shock absorption.
Donkey vs Draft Horse
A draft horse is generally a large, heavy horse suitable for farm labor. While most draft horses are used for driving, they can be ridden as well. And some of the lighter draft horse breeds are capable performers under the saddle.
There is a popular misconception that bigger people should ride bigger horses. The reality is that when it comes to horse breed, smaller horses may be able to carry more weight, as they can carry a higher proportion of their own weight than bigger horses.
In the trench warfare of World War 1, Connemara ponies reportedly carried half their body weight. Mules and donkeys do the same today.
Draft Horse Accommodations
However, as more trail ride operations aim to provide a heavy rider who wants to ride a horse, many have added draft horses to be able to accompany heavier loads. The added weight of the rider and equipment necessary may, however, come with an extra charge.
Other riding operations may have weight limits or weight restrictions set on who can partake in trail rides. Even a well-muscled horse may begin to struggle under a rider’s weight, especially if the riding facilities have a set-in-stone weight limit that their equipment is built to accommodate.
It’s important to find the right horse to carry the extra weight. Many institutions have a set weight limit to ensure their individual horses are paired with the right rider and weight. Whether it be for riding lessons, trail rides, rugged terrain, and more.
Every horse has its strengths and limitations, and as a horse owner, it is your job to consider both. As a result, you can get the maximum benefit out of your horse while ensuring that it stays in the best health. However, 20% of body weight is a safe, research-based estimate.
Horses are strong, spirited animals and are well suited to support an average rider’s weight. But when you add in the weight of horse-riding gear and a huge person, the overall load may exceed the safe weight a horse can carry.
According to research conducted in January 2008, a horse can safely carry 20% of its body weight. So, if your own horse is 1000 lbs. horse, it can easily carry 200 lbs. of weight.
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