Weight is a growing problem in Britain with 68% of men and 58% of women estimated to be overweight or obese. According to research commissioned by the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) and World Horse Welfare, horses are feeling the burden, and may be at an increased risk for injuries. In response, stables will soon impliment new guidelines to better match riders to horses.
The study, led by Dr. Sue Dyson, an equine veterinarian from the Animal Health Trust, involved monitoring six horses while they trotted and cantered with four people of different weights. Despite the small sample size, the researchers noted a ‘substantial impact’ on gait and behaviour when the horses were carrying heavier riders.
They also observed that bearing more weight accentuated the adverse affects of ill-fitting tack on the horses, leading Dyson to conclude,
“This study does not mean that heavy riders should not ride, but suggests that if they do they should ride a horse of appropriate size and fitness, with a saddle that is correctly fitted for both horse and rider.”
There are currently no guidelines governing the ratio of horse to rider, but many veterinary experts believe humans should not exceed 15 - 20% of a horse's weight. The BEF plans to conduct more research to determine the correct human-to-horse ratio as well as meet with its member groups to draw up new guidelines.
A spokesman for World Horse Welfare, one of the groups affiliated with the BEF, told the UK Telegraph:
“If the overall ‘picture’ of the horse and rider looks wrong then it is right to take a closer look and action if appropriate. It makes sense to believe that if a horse is overloaded by carrying a rider of a weight that is too heavy for them, then injuries may be more likely to occur. We are not discriminating against anyone, nor wishing to bring criticism. No matter what size or shape, horse riding is a sport that is and should remain open to everyone as long as you are matched appropriately with the right horse. The issue is one which will always cause much discussion in the equestrian community, but it has so far been welcomed and well-received with everyone clear on the fact that guidelines based on scientific evidence are much needed.”
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H/T to The UK Telegraph