UPDATE: We were all so shocked by this study, that the International Society of Rider Biomechanics has asked Professor Fernanda Carmargo, University of KY to speak at the Society’s Symposium in Lexington, Kentucky in October, 2015 on this topic. Dr. Carmargo combines not just the science, but also a “commonsense” approach to the topic, being a well horse owner, rider and property owner in Lexington KY. Come and listen to her presentation. Details here
Overweight riders: Am I too fat for my horse?
Study shows that TEN PERCENT is the “new rule”. Can this really be true???
Again and again I have been asked, especially by trainee coaches while I’m doing teacher training courses “how fat is too fat” for horse riders?
Problem was, until recently…I didn’t know! In fact I didn’t have a real clue!
It wasn’t until an event some time ago that I really set about to find out:
What do the scientists say?
Is 20% an “Old Wive’s Tale”?
Obesity was never a problem when I was a kid, we were on our horses for so many hours we’d barely have lunch! We were all skinny and fit, we rode for hours and hours and our horses were all super fit, but that’s just not the case anymore with overweight weekend riders being seen more and more. The only thing I recal from back then is that you shouldn’t be able to see a rider’s foot hanging down from the other side of the horse, but obviously with the very tall riders we have now, that doesn’t work either! And, even if it does, there was no science to back it up.
I had heard the old wive’s tale “20% of the horse’s weight was OK”…but I hadn’t heard of any real studies that had been done to prove (or disprove) the old wive’s tale.
Shocking collapse of horse while mounting
The incident that got me started researching the actual science and the studies that had been done around the world was I had a client who was both elderly & overweight, and after asking to see their walking pattern on the ground I realize that with poor stability they would have difficulty mounting. So, I was embarrased and ‘hid’ our normal mounting block and got a large tack trunk to mount, rather than the little mounting block we had that I knew would be too short, and far less stable than a huge trunk.
But, I’ll have more courage next time.
It really didn’t occur to me it was going to be a huge problem, as I do teach lots of overweight people and they can mount safely. I REALLY hate offending people, it just kills me, but next time…I’ll know better!
Don’t get me wrong….
YES… I think that old people should ride (I am one remember!)
YES… I think overweight people should not be exempted from sports…(remember I was 192lbs [87kg] and only 5ft 2 inches)…and…
YES… I remember when 3 people had to help me mount at Perppercorn Park Riding for Disabled in Melbourne Australia when I was a para-equestrian in a wheelchair, and sadly yes I was BADLY overmounted compared to this study.
But, after this study I ask myself: is it more important that I feel good because I’m riding…or
is the horse’s welfare more important?
Finally my client, with a LOT of help was able to crawl onto the box. Once standing on the box …I stepped back to let my client on…and I was just HORRIFIED.
The horse literally “sat down” in the hind quarters collapsing underneath the weight above. The hocks literally banged together and the horse virtually “sat down” and collapsed in the hind quarter.
I was so horrified, and I did not know the answer, so I just had to find out…
What do the scientists say?
That led me to hours and hours of research on this topic. From my research I’ve found that most people feel that 20% is the limit. But, to my absolute shock, their extensive study found that TEN PERCENT IS IDEAL.
It’s not just the rider’s weight, it’s the comparison
It’s not so much the weight of the rider alone, it’s HOW HEAVY IS THE HORSE compared to the rider’s weight.
After all this research, I now think about it this way…ANYONE is too overweight, even a tiny child, to ride a teeny dwarf/miniature horse. Remember… Thumbelina is only 26 kilograms (57 lb).
On the other hand Mammoth was estimated to be 1,500 kilograms (3,300 lb) and 21.2 hands.
Guess which horse I need (lol!)
What’s the answer?
Based on this science, (not on my opinion as I was obviously very wrong) it’s quite obvious there’s only two answers….
- Get fit/lose weight (this is a SPORT after all). This is why I’m not 192lbs any more, Doesn’t take me reading a study to know my horses are sure happy I’ve already lost 60lbs (27kg). (Sadly still working on the rest!), but going from Size 20 to Size 6…of COURSE my horses are happier (and safer)
- Get a bigger horse! I did that too. Gone are horses like my little “Misty” that the Gold Coast Polocrosse Club would remember me playing several seasons from a million years ago (and, that some will remember actually fell in one game in Ballina NSW)….and now horses like “Saint” are perfect for me. Sure not going to tip him over!
Ignore the scientists…
Can you imagine how horrible I felt having to tell my client.
I was “stealing” their dream. But, the horse is more important than my horrendous embarrassment. Sadly, I had to let the client know they need a “Mammoth” and not a “Thumbelina” if they cannot work on getting fit and losing weight.
I had always said to myself “a fat stable rider is better than a skinny wobbly one”, but the science just doesn’t back that up. I was wrong.
Ignore the scientists if you must, I’ve already had some comments such as “well too bad, I’ll do what I want”, but it’s my duty to warn people that….
Coaches may be at risk
Should a rider have the same accident I had years ago…get ‘stuck’ while mounting and getting dragged…the coach would be at risk – especially now we have the science to back it up – of being sued for not warning the client and preventing them for riding. Horses can trip, or rear or literally buckle under the pressure above. Should that happen, now you know the science says “TEN PERCENT”…then you really are putting your coaching at risk. You know insurance companies pay experts all over the world to help them NOT pay claims…let’s just not let that happen to you, and your business!
How do I tell my client?
We will be including this as a topic at the International Society of Rider Biomechanics International Symposium, and anyone is more than welcome to contribute to the discussion.
We will not be discussing the science behind it, as that is not our role, and the studies have already been completed. What we will be discussing is how to tell your clients and not steal their dream, not lose them to riding altogether, and of course not lose the income for the coach.
My only real tip:
Set your client up for success…
One of the suggestions has been to “set the client up for success” in ADVANCE of the lesson by links to these studies, links to this article, putting up articles on your website, and have it in your terms & conditions that they can see on your website before they come, or at perhaps up on your “stable rules” on your wall.
We would love to hear your opinion of how to tell your clients to a) “get fit” or b) “go bigger”.
This is certainly a case for consideration for both the welfare of the horse, and the safety of both horse and rider.
Thank you for sharing, and for your positive comments.