There are so many things to consider when buying your first horse or taking up riding. “What kind of tack should I buy?”, “What does he eat?”. “How much time do I need to invest in her?” are questions likely trotting around in your brain.
Another question sure to be on every new or potential horse owner’s mind is “Is there a weight limit for horseback riding?”.
In short, yes, there is a weight limit for horseback riding. The long answer is: this depends on so many different factors and having good judgment is imperative. In today’s post, we’re going to dig into this a little deeper.
We’re going to explore some of the most important things to bear in mind when deciding whether or not to ride.
Is There a Weight Limit for Horseback Riding?: The Basics
As mentioned in the intro, there’s a great deal to think about when answering this question including breed, health condition, age, and individual countries’ guidelines. According to a study by Kentucky Equine Research staff:
“The U.S. Cavalry suggested a horse should not be asked to carry more than 20% of its body weight. This assumed a combined weight of the rider, saddle, bridle, and other equipment.”
It would appear that the answer to this question is a little murky, especially as this comes from a U.S. study and different countries may have different guidelines. Riding schools may also set their own weight limits. In the UK, for example, many riding schools have a weight limit of between 196 and 210lb.
How Do I Know My Horse Is Fit to Ride?
When you’re afraid to try getting on your horse’s back for fear of causing her discomfort, it can be hard to know if riding is the best thing. As mentioned above, so many factors come into play when answering this question. Every horse and owner is different and has different thresholds and boundaries.
The British Horse Society’s policy statement reads:
“No horse should be asked to carry more weight than it is comfortably able. Failure to adhere to this is a breach of welfare and may cause long term physiological damage to the animal.”. This is the best rule to remember when taking everything into account. Listening to what your horse is trying to tell you is key in the horse-rider relationship.
Let’s break it down and look at a few things to consider when wondering if there is a weight limit for horseriding.
#1. The Horse’s Physical Condition
The most important thing to consider is whether your horse is fit and healthy overall. Does your horse rear or buck due to back pain? Does she have a history of arthritis? How is his musculature? Any spinal issues? Or does he appear to be his usual, happy self when he is ridden?
A horse in an unfit condition may struggle under the rider’s weight. He could also end up with muscle soreness. Be vigilant also of signs of possible lameness, as this is easy to miss in some horses, especially those with mild symptoms. Symptoms of lameness may include an unusual gait and a reliance on one leg over another.
If you’re unsure whether your horse is just acting up or has a genuine health issue that is making riding painful for her, check with your vet. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
#2. The Horse’s Age
A horse still in the developmental phase could become seriously injured by carrying too much weight too young. Likewise, an older horse with a history of joint issues or muscular problems may struggle to carry a rider’s weight. This kind of falls into the above category, as well.
At a young age, horses also haven’t yet developed a solid sense of balance. Likewise, a novice owner may also be unsure of how to balance properly on the horse. The rider and the horse should both be able to balance appropriately to avoid injury to either party. This brings us to our next point.
#3. The Skill Level of the Rider
Another big factor that needs considering is the experience and skill level of the rider. An experienced rider will know the best way to sit and balance when riding. A novice rider is unlikely to have developed the same skillset.
Novice riders who have not learned how to properly balance might have a tendency to bounce around on the horse’s back. Depending on the weight of the rider, this constant motion could be damaging to the horse’s back and musculature.
Faith Meredith of Meredith Manor College writes an interesting article on the importance of balance for riders.
This is why proper horse riding lessons carried out by an experienced professional are so important for novice riders. Once your riding skill toolbox is looking a bit bigger, you will be much more capable of safely riding your horse.
#4. Your Equipment
Just any old saddle won’t do. Every rider and horse has a different body type and therefore needs a saddle that’s going to be comfortable for all involved. A saddle should always be properly fitted for the horse in question. Recruiting the help of a more experienced rider or vet in this area would be the best course of action for novice riders.
It’s also crucial to ensure your horse’s hooves are well-taken care of. The Blue Cross recommends oiling the hooves regularly during the summer and daily foot-picking with a hoof pick. Frequent shoe checks should also be in place to ensure they aren’t worn down and still fit as they should.
#5. The Horse’s Breed
Some horse breeds are known for being able to carry larger loads. The University of Minnesota Extension’s horse care page mentions that a study by Ohio researchers found that horses with wider loins and greater bone circumference were less likely to suffer from muscle soreness.
So, let’s read a little about some of the possible horse breeds for heavier riders.
Possible Breeds for Heavier Riders
A horse known for its ability to carry more weight is the Irish Draught. The Irish Draught was once bred for farm work, and its sturdiness and easygoing temperament make it a much-loved breed today. A robust breed like the Irish Draught could be a good choice for heavier riders to look into.
The American Quarter Horse is another popular choice. The American Quarter Horse is famous for its docile temperament and, despite having a smaller body type, is known for being capable of carrying riders with a heavier build.
The Shire horse, also a former workhorse, is the largest horse breed. Like several large breeds, the Shire is a docile, even-tempered breed and is more than capable of pulling its (and others’) weight under the right circumstances.
Regardless of the breed you choose to go for, you will still need to take into consideration all of the factors mentioned (physical condition, age, equipment used etc.). For example, a 1,500lb Irish Draught with spinal or muscular issues is going to struggle with too much weight the same way a less sturdy breed would.
If you’re unsure if a particular horse or breed would suit you and your body type, always consult a vet first.
Sum Up: Is There A Weight Limit for Horseriding?
- In the U.S., it is generally recommended that a horse should not carry more than 20% of its own body weight. This includes equipment like saddles.
- The guidelines for how much weight is safe for a horse to carry may differ depending on the country.
- The most important factors to take into account are your horse’s age, physical condition, breed, your own skill level and the riding equipment you’re using.
- If your horse expresses discomfort when riding, always be safe rather than sorry and avoid riding again until he has been checked by a professional.
- A qualified horse vet is your go-to person if you have any doubts or concerns at all.
There seems to be no clear-cut, straight answer to the question “Is there a weight limit for horseback riding?”. This is because every horse and rider is different, so a large part of the decision to ride comes down to using common sense and being aware of your horse.
Ultimately, if your horse appears distressed or refuses to move when you’re sitting on him, this could be the first indication that something isn’t right. Back problems in horses might be difficult to spot, so it’s a good idea to be vigilant. This article on back pain in horses has lots of valuable information if you’d like to learn more.
If you’re thinking of getting your first horse, sit down and really research the best breed for your body type. Get your horse (and yourself) properly fitted out with the right size of saddle. Take out the guesswork and make both your lives easier!
These things can really mean the difference between a smooth riding experience and an uncomfortable, traumatic one.