by Laura Crum
I read an article the other day that asserted that horses should only carry 10% of their weight. I stopped and thought about it. This would mean that a 1000 pound horse should only carry 100 pounds. Uhmm…half the horses I know, make that a lot more than half, are carrying quite a bit more than 100 pounds. My horse included. Are we abusing them?
Well, I can’t answer that definitively. But I can give an answer of sorts. Let’s look at Twister. Twister belongs to my friend, Wally. A registered QH, Twister is 15.2 and not particularly heavily built. I haven’t weighed Twister, but I owned a horse named Burt who was 15.3 and built stouter than Twister and Burt weighed 1250. It’s safe to say that Twister does not weigh more than that—I’d guess him to weigh 1200 or a little less.
Now lets look at Wally. Wally is 6 foot 2 and weighs 230 (I’m sure he wouldn’t like me telling you this). If you look at the 10% rule, Twister should be carrying no more than 120 pounds. Instead he is carrying almost double that. Certainly double that if you include the heavy roping saddle. Is this wrong?
Below you see Twister and Wally, along with my son and Henry, at the beach. This isn’t a great photo, but it gives you an idea what they look like. Wally does look big on Twister, though they are far from the most extreme examples of this that I have seen.
Now, to answer the question. Twister is 16 years old. Wally has owned him and ridden him since Twister was 6 years old. Twister has, on average, been ridden three days a week for this entire time. Mostly team roping, some trail riding. So, ten years of steady riding, carrying about 20% of his own weight. Has it hurt him?
You tell me how you would determine this. I can tell you this. Twister is 100% sound. I’m good at detecting lameness, and this horse has never once been the slightest bit lame (knocking on wood). Not stiff, not body sore, not off…nada. He goes barefoot in the winter and is shod in the summer. He gets nothing to eat but ample grass/alfalfa hay. No supplements, no injections, no Adequan, no Legend, nothing. Never had a chiropractic treatment or anything of that kind. Never had any bute. For ten years.
Now it’s my contention that, if packing Wally was hard for him, Twister would show some sign of a problem. Sore back, most likely. But he has never once shown any sign of this. In ten years of reasonably hard riding, if packing this much weight was a negative, there should be SOME sign. But there is not. Twister is a free moving, sound, sixteen year old horse, still going strong. Of course, he’s just one individual.
But I have, over the years, known many horse/rider pairs with a similar weight balance to Twister/Wally, and I have to say that I think the weight is a very small part of the staying sound equation. Horses go lame if they have obvious structural problems (sometimes), they go lame if they are overworked (sometimes), they go lame if they have a genetic predisposition (sometimes), and they go lame because they have a freak accident. I will add that its my belief that horses often go lame if they are not happy, but this is just my own belief, I can’t prove it. I have not seen any correlation between the weight of the rider and a horse going lame.
Now I believe it is possible for a rider to be too heavy for a given horse. I think this actually has more to do with a horse’s build than with his weight. Our pony, Toby, came from a home where he regularly packed adults. I am sure that Toby weighed less than 1000 pounds, (he was 13.2 hands), but he was sturdily built and stayed absolutely sound until he died at 22 years of cancer.
So it’s my contention that the idea that a horse should not carry more than 10 percent of his weight is bunk. Anybody else want to weigh in? (And yeah, that pun was intentional…)
On another note, we have turned on the word verification on this blog because we were getting so much spam. I know a lot of people dislike this, so I’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you find the word verification off-putting enough that you would not comment if you had to jump through that hoop? We are concerned that the spam comments that show up on our posts from time to time may have links that, if clicked on, would put a virus on our reader’s computers. Any thoughts on this?