A client`s mum asked me over the weekend about an article she`d read about overweight riders. She has considered taking up riding but is concerned that she is too heavy. Fortunately, at that moment on the yard were two of our horses, one a 16hh Thoroughbred, the other a 16.2hh cart horse, so I could illustrate the different builds of horses and how that affects peoples mount. I explained the difference in bone density and size, which she found very enlightening, but also that the issue around weight is they type of horse people choose to ride, what they do with their horse, and how often they ride, as well as their riding ability. I find it incredibly difficult, when trying to put clients onto suitable mounts, to get the weight to height ratio correct. We have some clients who are short, but rather rotund, which means that if you put them on the horse who can carry their weight (16.2hh) they feel over horsed because their legs barely come past the saddle flap, which hinders their riding progress. The obvious answer is to lose weight. But times are hard so I have to encourage clients, rather than insult them.
There are hundreds of examples of mis-matched horse and rider combinations if you just look around; one of my working liveries is owned by a woman who knows she is too heavy for him. But she only rides once a week and just goes for a pootle round the woods to catch up with her friends. Hardly taxing work, which means that her horse doesn`t suffer too much. However, the story would be different if she wanted to event. At the other end of the scale we often see tiny little petite women riding great big 17hh dressage horses. Surely this means that their work is jeopardised because the rider isn`t physically strong enough or big enough to use their seat and legs to ride the horse and subsequently ride through the hand?
I regularly, however, put the taller teenagers onto the ponies to school them, or squash them if they are getting too big for their boots. These girls are balanced riders, and only ride the pony for a short amount of time so I feel no harm comes to the pony. And the benefit means that my next few lessons run smoothly because the pony is mild mannered and accepting of their small jockeys.
When I look at the magic 10% theory; that is, that the rider should weigh 10% of their horses` bodyweight I feel it is a little extreme. I look at myself, 60kgs, 5`5, and my horse, a 16hh Welsh Section D, 600kgs, and feel that I am right on him – he could carry a bit more weight, and if I was a bit taller I wouldn`t look massive on him, however he couldn`t take anyone much smaller as they would look massively over horsed. Each to their own, but when deciding on whether you, or anyone you know, is overweight for their mount, we should all consider that it is not black and white, if we are a balanced rider and doing low level, irregular work, then we can afford to be slightly underhorsed. The problems if our horse is too small is that it makes us feel unbalanced – there`s nothing in front of us, which will in turn unbalance the horse. However, for those people aiming at international competition, particularly showjumping and eventing, there is nothing worse than being underhorsed! Plus the vet and physio bills for a horse with a bad back are crippling …