Study shows that rider weight does not affect horse’s ability

New data from a study in Denmark concludes that rider-to-horse weight ratios may be more lenient than previously thought.

Ever wondered if your weight is negatively affecting your horse? A recent study indicates that acute changes in rider weight do not have an adverse effect on a horse’s ability.

The study was conducted by Janne Winther Christenson and her team at the Aarhus University of Denmark. Twenty horses with 20 different riders were measured for their ability to perform a dressage test under varying weights.

Riders rode first with no additional weight, then wore weighted vests that increased their body weight by 15% and then 25%.

The horses’ performances were measured by heart rates, cortisol levels, gait symmetry and behaviors such as head tossing, tail swishing and mouth opening. The study found that increased pounds did not significantly affect any of these parameters.

The results were shared by Christenson at the 15th annual International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) conference held at the University of Guelph last year.

“Contrary to what we expected…adding up to a fourth of the rider’s body weight doesn’t seem to cause significant changes in the horse’s behavior, cardiac activity, or gait symmetry in the short term,” Christenson said.

Previous studies have suggested that a rider should weigh roughly 15% to 20% of her horse’s weight in order to ride comfortably. This study indicates that those ratios can be expanded by as much as 10%.

The study also measured the effect of a rider’s weight on horse symmetry. Riders who participated in the study were tested in their mobility skills beforehand, and results were compared with their performance on horseback. A saddle pressure mat was used to measure rider crookedness; 19 out of 20 participants had more weight on the right side of the saddle. However, when additional pounds were added with weighted vests, rider crookedness improved significantly, suggesting the additional weight made the riders more aware of their asymmetry.

Other studies have noted that rider weight can still affect a horse’s ability when her weight ratio exceeds 29% of the horse’s weight (Stefánsdóttir et al., 2017). “We only measured the acute effects and at a relatively low exercise intensity,” said Christenson. “It remains to be seen what happens with increased weight over the long term, as well as at higher exercise intensities.”