Food for thought: Many UK riders too heavy for their horse according to research

Food for thought: Many UK riders too heavy for their horse according to research

A report in the Sunday Telegraph says a third of recreational riders are too fat to be using their horses, sparking fears that animals could be injured.

Researchers who carried out a survey found that only 5% of riders were the optimum weight for their mounts.

Dr Hayley Randle, an equitation scientist involved in the research, said the findings should alarm horse owners.

She said: "People tend to think that as horses are such big animals they must be OK, and not to take notice of the weight issue for riders, but the health impact on the horse can be quite extreme.

The study of riders' weight was published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour.

Around 150 horses and their riders from stables in Devon and Cornwall were assessed.

Researchers found that just eight of the riders weighed less than 10% of the weight of their animal - the amount considered 'optimum' by vets

Ninety-five (62%) weighed between 10% and 15% - the amount considered 'satisfactory'.

Forty-nine riders (32%) weighed more than 15% of the weight of their horse, the ratio at which welfare experts say there is an increased risk of injury.

Ms Randle, who carried out the study with her fellow researcher Emma Halliday from the Duchy College Cornwall, said it showed horses needed to be protected.

She said: "The problem is that these ratios are not widely known to people in the horse industry. People do seem generally to be a bit too heavy for horses. That is just a consequence, I suppose, of our average weights going up."

As well as back pain, the consequences of an overweight rider being carried by a horse can include lameness and behavioural problems.

Keith Chandler, president of the British Equine Veterinary Association, said that many of the problems seen by its members were caused by riders using the wrong horses.

 Randle noted that although those are “broad-brush guidelines” which don’t take into account all factors, such as the age of the horse, its breed or the experience of the rider, “they are still important and helpful, and people are not taking enough notice of them.”

 And while a riding school won’t let you ride a horse if you are too heavy for it, it’s often private owners who are harming their own horses.

“But the health impact on the horse can be quite extreme, quite quickly. It seems to be a growing problem,” she added.