How heavy is too heavy?

The controversy of rider weight has long been a popular topic for equestrians and the media. While we all want what is best for our horses, it is important to recognize the relevant factors that should be used in determining a healthy weight that a horse is capable of carrying. Things like the type of work being performed, horse breed, suitability, riding ability and gender of the rider all should be considered. 

Scales.jpgThe Studies

Studies performed by Powell et al. (2008) have determined that it isn’t until horses carry 25 and 30% of their weight that heart rates remain higher, plasma lactate concentrations are faster, and muscle soreness and tightness are more significant. A study by Halliday and Randle (2013) at Duchy College, Cornwall, recommends that a rider should be 10% of the horse’s bodyweight – somewhat unachievable considering that this percentage should include the weight of the rider and tack.

Type of Work

Before worrying that you are too heavy for your horse, remember to consider the type of work being performed. Remember that the more strenuous the work, the lighter the rider should be in order to achieve optimum performance.

Horse Breed

Not all horses are created equal. The list of breeds is incredibly long and, within each breed, horses will vary. Different horses and breeds have different characteristics and weight-carrying abilities. Additionally, age, fitness, condition and conformation all contribute to a horse’s ability to handle a heavier rider.

Riding Ability

Yet another argument revolves around riding ability. Lighter riders typically are less capable, more unbalanced and use “heavier” riding. A heavier rider tends to be more competent, balanced and rides with a lighter seat.


It has also been argued that gender is a significant factor in a horse’s weight-bearing ability. A heavier woman riding a horse is more quickly condemned than a man. Some have made the observation that men – not even those who are overweight – typically weigh more than women. This theory suggests that an overweight female may not weigh much more than an ideal-sized man.

Fat Shaming vs. Taking Responsibility

Some in the equestrian society think the answer is simple: A person should take responsibility for his or her own weight. Riders should be encouraged to be happy and confident while keeping the horse’s best interest in mind. If a rider is too heavy for a particular horse, simply don’t ride that horse.