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?
I'd always heard from packers that a horse can carry 20% of his weight, and a mule 25%. I recently saw an article on horsesciencenews.com confirming this, and they confirmed this agreed with weight guidelines that the US Calvary Manuals of Horse Management published in 1920. I'll go with the 20% for horses. I've known some Arabians to carry much heavier!! but don't know how they fared later in life.
As for the spam - ARRGGGHH!!! I get so much I could open a store and sell them for cow fodder. I mean - really?????? So far my blogger filters it well, but I might go to the irritating word verification too!
- The Equestrian Vagabond
I don't think it's the weight as much as it's the way the rider sits the horse. I've seen riders that look like sacks of potatoes, usually out-of-balance, and it looks like they're making their horse work twice as hard as the riders who look like they're holding their own bodies upright, in the middle of their horse. I think of riding my horse as teamwork, which means I have to do my share of the work.
And I don't mind the captcha. I too suffer with spammers on occasion.
I believe that 15-20% of weight is often used as a maximum - but as with everything to do with horses, it depends - on the horse's build and conformation, how well balanced the rider is (and does the saddle fit), the horse's fitness and the terrain and the types of things the horse is being asked to do - a horse jumping, for example, is putting extra stress on bones and joints already.
I don't care about the word verification - I've had to put it in place on my blog too - it's a nuisance but not that much trouble.
I weigh in at 180 in jeans/boots/hat.
My saddle weighs about 50 pounds, and you can add another 10 pounds for water/first-aid kit/slicker/pad.
Call it 240 pounds.
My little 14 hand 23 year old mustang weighs in at around 850-900 pounds.
Much over 6 hours in the saddle, and he starts looking for a place to rest and graze, or tells me to get off for a while.
If your horse had a 10% limit, you should go shopping...
I have turned on word verification, also. Miss out on some interesting English as a 2nd language comments, though.
Merri, we used to horse pack in the mountains a lot and the professional packers we knew always said that a pack animal should not carry more than 100 pounds. Since the animals averaged about 1000 pounds, that would be 10%. But they also said that "dead" weight was MUCH harder for an animal to carry than a rider--which references what Gayle and Kate said about rider skill...etc. Based on what I've seen, I'm pretty confident that the horses I've known were fine with carrying 20% of their weight, and even more.
So far nobody seems to mind the word verification?
Bill, is Ranger 23? I had no idea. The photos and stories about him...I always thought he was a young horse. He is aging very well (!)
Also, Twister does not seem to have a problem carrying Wally, but it is true, as Bill pointed out, that on our longer trail rides, Twister gets tired and wants to rest before Sunny and Henry, who are both carrying significantly less weight.
You can tell by looking at a horse if the weight is too much for them. All the factors you mentioned can impact the horse's health and yes, I do think horses, as well as humans and other animals can get injured, as well as sick, for emotional reasons, i.e. they're unhappy.
I was getting a lot of spam on my blog, but it seems to have gone away. My only problem with the word verification is when I can't read what it says. Sometimes, after trying a few times, I've given up leaving a comment. I just looked down and see I can't tell what the word is...
Nope, it wasn't right. Here's try number 2.
We always consider the effects of dead weight vs. a balanced rider when choosing horses for our therapeutic students. The dead weight limit is very low, as even a large horse or draft cross will suffer more wear and tear from such riders. By contrast, a balanced, able-bodied rider can ride most horses, even the small ones, for a short lesson without too much strain on the horse.
Icelandic horses are small and sturdy and well-known for carrying large men across ice and snow AND at speed. Those little guys can live to reach their 40's, so I doubt the weight does them much harm.
I use comment moderation on my blog. I think that spam is a persistent enough problem to warrant the word verification here.
10% weight would eliminate about 95% of our riding population. The only humans I know who weigh 100 pounds are kids!
I can tell I am not a robot because when word verification asks me to type the two words, I realize it's wrong because the second part is a number.
Susan, Val and Alison--I find the word verification frustrating when I can't read the "words", just as Susan says. I will give it two tries and then give up. But I do think it is a shame to have spam comments on the posts--even if we remove them when we see them.
And yeah, my first thought when I read the 10% "rule" was that it would eliminate most horse/rider pairs that I know.
I also saw an article about horses having to carry "obese" riders recently! Is that the article you saw? I think it was on a British website, not sure where I saw it. I think that seriously obese riders would not be much fun for a regular sized horse to carry, but I've only ever seen a, well, seriously obese dressage rider on a normal sized horse once...and yes, I did feel sorry for the horse. But that poor person was really really big. But I don't think horses have a problem with carrying some, err, excess baggage, especially if the person knows how to ride and sits correctly. As usual, it's all a matter of common sense and good judgment; the article I saw was clearly way over the top and taking the excess weight issue to an extreme.
As an obese rider myself, this topic is always in the forefront of my mind. My mare is not large at 14.3 hands and typically she weighs around 950 to 1000 lbs depending on the time of year and how much she is being ridden. I have only owned her for 6 years and when I bought her we were both very green so I'm sure my balance was horrendous. Within the last year or two it has improved drastically and in the last 6 months I have gone from 244 lbs to 210 lbs and am now walking approx. 2 miles 4 to 5 days a week. I used to be so scared when I was heavier that if I asked her to make too small of a circle too fast, she would fall over just from the weight of me. So I wouldn't ask her. If I knew we had a big trail ride coming up, I would condition her for a few weeks ahead of time so I felt comfortable asking her to carry me for a longer amount of time. I tried to be responsible about my weight in comparison to her size and I think it worked out well. I still have another 26 lbs I'd like to lose, possibly more and I'm sure my little mare is loving having a little less baggage to carry these days.
I've always heard/read 20% as well, with a saddle. My English saddle weighs about 10 lbs. *I* personally wouldn't want to tote a 50 lb. Western saddle just to put it on the horse, LOL! Build your arm muscles right quick.
I have a friend who's on the short and stout side, and she is a heckuva rider. She used to get FAR more out of a TB mare we both rode! Now she owns her own very average-sized TB mare, and the two of them are just fine. However - if she was a bad rider, I bet that mare's back wouldn't be doing too well. Your riding ability and fitness surely has something to do with it.
I have no problem with the Captcha system as I've had to get used to it on lots of other blogs. Spam is the pits.
Cesca, Summersmom and Riderwriter--Thanks for the interesting feedback. Based on what everyone has said and my own observations, I'd say 20% is more accurate, and it really matters if the rider is trying to take care of the horse. Both by riding well, giving the horse a rest when needed, and just not asking too much. Makes sense to me. Most of the time our horses will let us know when something is too much for them.
The US Cavalry Manual reckoned on 25% including rider, saddle and equipment. Now, yes, they were talking about fit, trained riders on horses in good condition. And the manual emphasises that most work would be at a walk. But those horses had to gallop or jump when required.
Running a trail riding outfit I used to work on 25% too, taking into account everything that the horse was carrying, for experienced balanced riders. That worked on stocky weight-carrying horses. We did canter a bit of the way, and there was no jumping. I was particular about the condition and fit of the tack, and washing off of backs after work. I never did beginner rides. The biggest problem was riders not being truthful about their weight, sometimes by as much as 30lbs, which made a difference especially in the mountain terrain that we rode. A couple of times really imbalanced riders caused sores on horses, and another couple of times riders tightened the girths really hard when I wasn't looking causing nasty girth galls.
For jumping and some other performance disciplines perhaps a lower percentage might apply. But up to a point that might be a matter of riding a bigger horse. Some eventers look a whole lot larger than my nice compact trail horse.
WHP--Don't you think the most important factor is how sturdily the horse is built? Our pony, Toby, had no problem carrying adults and stayed completely sound, and yet these great big warmbloods routinely break down, the cause of which seems apparent to me when I look at their long, sloping pasterns and all the weight they carry WITHOUT a rider. I'm all for the sturdy, compact horse, at least for the use that I have for a horse.
As I mentioned I was applying the formula to reasonably well conformed and robust horses, mainly native breeds and crosses between 14 and 15 hands, plus a couple of Arabians - but no TBs or big sport horses. I'd never have bought one of those big gangly things for trail riding in the mountains. One has to start with a horse that is suitable for trail riding carrying a bit of weight. Over here that would lead me in a certain direction, imagine the sort of horse that could carry a farmer hunting all day, with you presumably towards the sort of horses that does a good days work on a ranch.
The other thing, which I forgot, is that the saddle must not only fit but provide sufficient bearing surface for the weight of a rider allowing not more than 1.5psi on the horse's back. That may be easier for you with a Western saddle than it is over here with English saddles.
I had never heard anything like this before, but it makes a lot of good common horse sense--- i'm weighing in at 223 lbs, and will not get on my daughter's just turned 4 year old, 15 hand, Morgan gelding until I'm down many more pounds- he's still growing and developing, and doesn't need my heiny swaying his back and splinting his shins. I was a tiny petite junior rider back in the 1970s and never had to think about what I was doing to my horse's back and legs. This is just more incentive to keep losing adult onset tonage so I can enjoy riding a horse guilt free, once again-
I agree with you! Obviously it would not be sensible to put a large adult on a tiny pony, but as long as the horse is not visibly suffering or lame, I don't see a problem. Horses are brilliant weight carriers, especially ponies.
And about the spamming, I think turning on the word verification is very sensible.
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