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  • Erin Long

What Being Too Big For Your Horse ACTUALLY Looks Like



So often I hear riders stating that they aren’t too big for their horse when they are. When pressed, they state that they aren’t overweight, so how could they possibly be too big for their standard sized horse??

The answer is simple: weight is weight is weight. Whether you are overweight or not from a health standpoint has no bearing on the weight your horse’s body is physically having to hold up. 

Think of it this way: I place two sets of objects on your back in a backpack. The first set fills the backpack all the way up, but weighs 20lbs. It’s made of wood. The second set is made of water, so takes up less space, but still weighs 20lbs. At the end of the day, your body has to do the EXACT SAME amount of work to move that weight from one place to another. 

A recent pilot study indicated that a horse’s weight-bearing capacity is lower than we once thought. In the study, they looked for small, low-level lameness cues and indications of pain from the horse’s. They found that these indications started at 16.7% of the horse’s body weight. This stands in stark contrast to the 20% typically recommended. 

Keep in mind as well that this includes all of your clothes, boots, and saddle - this isn’t just the number you see on the scale when you get out of the shower in the morning. 

The moral of this story is you can be fit and still be WAY too big for a horse. Here are some simple calculations: Under 12hh is 550lbs on average. This means they can carry 92lbs.  12-13hh ~650lbs can carry 110lbs.  13-14hh ~775lbs can carry 130lbs 14-15hh ~1000lbs can carry 167lbs 15-16hh ~1200lbs can carry 200lbs 16-17hh ~1350lbs can carry 225lbs 17-18hh ~1600lbs can carry 270lbs 18-19hh ~1900lbs can carry 315lbs

Keep in mind that your average quarter horse weighs ~1100lbs, which means your average quarter horse should only be carrying 185lbs TOTAL. When you factor in that your average western saddle weighs anywhere from 35-45lbs, your rider should be at a max of 150lbs fully dressed. Yet we regularly see 180+lb riders riding 14hh cutting horses as if it’s nothing.

These calculations don’t even factor in the fitness of the horse. A heavier horse may be obese, and therefore even less able to carry that 16.7% due to the lack of muscle supporting his frame. 

A common argument I hear is “well if the rider is BALANCED that’s all that matters”. I got news for you folks - at the end of the day weight pressing down is weight pressing down. In an ideal scenario, every rider is balanced and does not exceed these weight ratios. Less balanced or learning riders should be given even bigger horses than their weight alone states to allow the horse to more easily compensate for their lack of balance.

The purpose of this post is not to “body shame” or “fat shame” anyone. In complete transparency, I currently weigh 165lbs. My old saddle weighed 48lbs. Sid weighs ~1400lbs. That meant I was very close to his weight limit. That’s on SID! My giant dinosaur of a horse!! That’s part of the reason I sold my old saddle and am purchasing a much lighter one. I am also eating better and working out to give smaller horses I ride an easier time. Have you ever run the numbers on your horse’s weight? Where did you come out with all equipment? Step on a scale holding your saddle sometime - it might surprise you. 

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Parker, CO 80134

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