Hi Julie, Some of my "Mom's" that ride are overweight. I asked one vet, he said, go with the 20% rule -- a 1000 lb horse can carry 200 pounds. Another vet friend said, it all depends, I'd rather have a 240 lb. guy who can ride, than a lump of mashed potatoes at 180. Hmmmm. I have rather smallish horses. One appaloosa is only about 900 pounds, and she's one of my good beginner horses. But when I took a heavy woman off of my Big John last week, the appie really made a face, and kicked her back leg out, and pinned her ears. I've never seen her do that before, and this woman is not only heavy, but has very little balance or muscle control.
In fact, I've wondered sometimes if I'm really being professional letting some of these moms think they can ride, when they are in such sorry shape. They could never maneuver well enough to be safe, and frankly, I think its one thing to be thirty pounds overweight, and have ridden all your life, and be 45 years old! and 30 pounds overweight, and think you are going to take up horse back riding! Do you agree with this idea of mine? On the other hand, these wealthy women are paying my salary! How can I be professional, responsible, and still make a living?
I've only got one big dufus quarter horse with the bone to support really large-weighted people. Should I put a weight limit on the others? Am I being overly cautious? Is there a way to tell when you've put too much weight on the horse? And what about bareback? Seems like a good way to learn balance, but can be VERY hard on the horses back, don't you think? I value your advice, very much. Please let me know how you handle this.
Hi Katherine, First of all, let me say right off that weight limits are certainly a real and important safety issue. I had the ugly experience of seeing a death caused by this very thing, when an overweight woman, rusty in her riding skills, tried to mount horse. With help from a block and her friend, she finally managed to swing her leg over the horse's back, only to slam down into the saddle. The horse, having had back problems in the past (but was otherwise very calm and compliant), fell to its knees in pain, causing the woman to fall and hit her head on a post, resulting a fatal head injury (sadly, no helmet). There is no question that weight limitations for riders are an important safety issue.
I agree wholeheartedly with the 20% rule and in fact, it is CHA's recommendation that the weight of the rider does not exceed 20% of the weight of the horse. While veterinarian B is also correct in that how well a rider is capable of balancing her weight also has an effect on the horse, for purposes of riding programs and policy, you should adhere to the 20% rule. You cannot really make the determination or judgment about how athletic or balanced a person is without seeing them ride first. You should certainly establish weight limits for each horse in the herd and make it policy not exceed the established weight limits. As for how you accommodate riders, you have two choices: A) publish a maximum weight in your literature and rules, and enforce this rider requirement, or B) furnish large horses in your herd that can accommodate any size rider. Obviously, the latter option is more inclusionary and politically correct but may put a strain on a small program such as yours. Lucky for you, one of your horses is already big enough to handle large riders, so you can use him when necessary.
As for your final question regarding bareback, this is a topic worthy of its own article. In my opinion, bareback is not a good option for teaching balance to beginner riders. Not only does it encourage bad habits in beginners riders, such as holding on with the lower leg and perching forward, leaning on the hands, but it increases the risk to riders, with no stirrups to balance on or saddle to hold onto, to prevent the rider from slipping off. I think riding bareback is a reasonable teaching tool for intermediate and above riders who have already developed balance and proper position, but I would not recommend it for beginners (this is my personal opinion, not a CHA policy or recommendation). I think that answers your questions, if not I am sure you will let me know ;-) Keep the questions coming, they are very informative to everyone and you have a good knack for asking pertinent and interesting questions. Keep up the good work!