Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

The great debate: How heavy is too heavy?

Presented by Larissa W. Cox, M.Sc. Applied Equine Science

The great weight debate:  How heavy is too heavy? 


While most healthy horses can easily carry a rider and saddle, they do have their limits.  How much weight can a horse comfortably carry?  It’s a difficult question and one that science can only provide some guidance.  There isn’t a simple formula as there are just too many variables in the equation, many of them are quite subjective

However, in a recent study in Cornwall, England from Duchy College, suggested that only one in 20 riders may be within what they described as the optimum weight range for their horse. 

This study found that a third of recreational riders were potentially too big for their horses leaving their horses at risk for back problems and lameness.  Equitation scientist Dr. Hayley Randle, suggested guidelines be put into place to protect horses from overweight riders.  She noted that guidelines for riding weights were not widely known by those in the horse industry and that there is no industry-wide guidelines for the suitability of rider weight to horse size. 

Research found that horses carrying 15 and 20% of their body weight, showed little indication of stress.  When they were packing weights of 25%,  physical signs changed markedly and these signs became accentuated under 30% loads. 

The heart rate when horses carried 25 or 30% of their body weight remained elevated for longer after exercise.  In additional these horses had noticeably faster breathing rates as well as showing greater muscle soreness and tightness.  The serum CK level was also higher immediately after exercise and also 24 and 48 hours later in horses carrying 30 per cent body weight compared with those carrying 25% or less. 

However, research would seem to suggest that once a rider and their tack presses into the 15 – 20 per cent range of their horse’s body weight, they need to start paying close attention to all factors that have a bearing on their animals’ ability, from fitness to conformation.  For example, a 900 pound horse can carry a maximum of 180 pounds (rider and tack).  And, it was strongly recommended that horses not be loaded with greater than 20% of their body weight.  As an example, a 1200 pounds horse would then be best off carrying no more than 240 pounds of tack and rider!

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