Like most plus-size riders, whenever I see a new article or study about the effects of rider weight on horses posted online, I break into a cold sweat. Not because of the article content itself, but because of the inevitable comments that ensue on social media. They range from the insensitive to the stupid, and often venture into the territory of downright cruel.
So when Eurodressage recently posted an article titled "The Influence of Rider Size on Changes in Equine Back Dimensions, Muscle Tension, and Pain," I clicked with no small amount of trepidation. You can read the article yourself and draw your own conclusions about the limitations of the study design but here are mine: there are a few key points which plus-sized riders (and those who teach them) should take away from this study, even as the study acknowledges it’s hard to make clear correlations from the data gathered.
1. We all know this, but it’s imperative to ride a horse whose size, conformation, and soundness is appropriate for your weight. Check in with your vet and your coach / trainer regularly and ask for their honest feedback whether your weight is making your horse uncomfortable.
2. Ride in a saddle that fits not only the horse, but you as well. While this applies to all riders, it’s particularly relevant to those of us who are large / heavy. There are fewer saddles with large seat sizes on the market, especially in the used market, and not all horses have the back length to accommodate a bigger saddle. Big riders are used to sacrificing our fit for correctly fitting a saddle to the horse, but this study suggests that riding in a saddle that’s too small for the rider may create pressure points on the horse’s back, even when properly fitted to the horse. It’s worth the investment to get a saddle that fits you both.
3. Be prepared to face the uncomfortable truth - your horse might not always be appropriate for you. As age and injuries take a toll on your partner's strength and soundness, or if you weight increases, compromises might be required. This may mean reducing workload and / or ride frequency, committing to losing weight, or focusing more on activities like ground work or long lining.
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.