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Obesity and Horse Riding

You cannot fail to have noticed that obesity is becoming a serious issue. People in the UK have been getting larger in recent years. The extra weight they are carrying has caused a raft of health issues. Obesity impacts almost every aspect of life and that includes equestrianism. Horses are having to cope with heavier and heavier riders but, as yet, there are no official guidelines as to the appropriate weight for horses to carry.

Hot Topic

Obesity is a hot topic and now The Animal Health Trust (AHT) is asking owners if they would be prepared to volunteer their horses to take part in a . The aim is to develop the much-needed guidelines to the appropriate rider to horse weight ratio.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are now many riders who are too heavy for their horses. This situation puts horses’ welfare at risk and so the equestrian community should address it as soon as possible. The lack of scientific research into rider weight has prevented equestrian bodies from issuing any guidance.

What is the Right Weight?

The right weight is difficult to define as it depends on a lot of variables. Consider a horse's age, fitness levels, breed, conformation as well as rider ability and tack. However having some sort of limit or guideline is probablyHow better than nothing.

Last year at The Great Yorkshire show, riders had to dismount if they weighed more than 20% of their horses’ weight. Retraining of Racehorses has now set the maximum rider weight at 17% at the competitions it organises.

But these are just two of many organisations that are involved with competitions and what about leisure riding? Obese riders will be causing chronic back pain and lameness. This experience may cause horses to have a negative attitude towards someone riding them because they learn to anticipate pain. Evidence-based guidelines could make all the difference.

The Study

First of all, the horses that owners volunteer for the study must weigh 450-550kg. They also need to be in regular work and capable of undertaking two 30-minute sessions each day. Horses must be up to date with vaccinations against flu and tetanus, capable of working "on the bit" in walk, trot and canter and available to take part in the study 3-8 September this year. The research will take place at World Horse Welfare’s Snetterton base in Norfolk and owners’ travel costs will be reimbursed.

Researchers will look at whether there are any short term measurable differences when horses are ridden by people of different weights. So, they will use riders of four different weights to assess this. Owners who are generous enough to volunteer their horses for the study will benefit from free advice from vets, nutritionists, saddle fitters and professional riders. Each horse will receive a saddle-fit assessment.


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