Interesting comment about the weight of riders

This was a part of the article here on COTH, regarding the suspension of an FEI level dressage rider:

"The FEI Tribunal report included expert testimony from FEI Veterinary Director Dr. Göran Akerström on the size difference between rider and pony. His testimony indicated the pony was carrying an estimated 34% of his body weight when da Silva was on him, far beyond a veterinary recommendation that horses carry no more than 15% of their own body weight for longer rides.

“[This] must be considered as an extreme overload that would cause unnecessary discomfort, even for a short period of time,” the Tribunal’s report stated. “The effect of the overload is, moreover, exacerbated by the very aggressive riding, the high position of the pony’s head, as well as the rider jabbing the pony’s mouth with the bit.”

I am not sure what a “longer ride” is. However, if you do the math, a 1200 pound horse should not carry a rider weighing more than 180 pounds. I know that there is the whole “fat shaming” issue that we’ve run into here on COTH, but these are the facts, according to the experts.

Any thoughts from the COTHers regarding this? Yes, we know that the guy was a jerk. Poor pony!


I don’t agree with a strict 15% rule, too many other factors. I’ve seen many a thick built 14.2 quarter horse carry weight better than a 17 hand thin built TB that outweighs the quarter horse. Plus beginner weight vs a rider who has amazing balance matters.

To many variables on bone density and fitness to make an absolute statement like that.

But yes, that trainer/rider was a total douche to ride the pony that way. And I think they used what they could to suspend him.


ongoing thread in Dressage forum

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I found that comment interesting too. It’s the first time (that I can recall) hearing 15% as a general rule. Usually people say 20-25% is the general rule of weight limit.

I believe I read a study once that said 25% was when horses started showing signs of extra stress when carrying a rider. At 20% they remained “comfortable,” whatever that means. However, it’s important to consider rider skill and fitness level (weight does NOT equal fitness, and muscle weighs more than fat.). A highly skilled and balanced rider at 25% of their horse’s weight is probably still an easier load to carry than a true beginner bouncing around at 20% of the horse’s weight.

However, pretty freaking obvious in that video that dude is abusively too large for that pony.


Recognizing that a horse must be appropriate for its rider’s weight is not fat shaming. And I say this as a fat person.

The ratio of rider weight to horse weight is a useful guideline, but it shouldn’t be taken as a hard and fast rule. There are some short, sturdy QH and cobs who could carry my weight better than a very tall, long backed, weak-loined horse, even though the taller one might be heavier. Size, conformation, and fitness of the horse all play a role. And of course rider balance and skill does as well.

20% might be fine for some horses and too much for others. 15% might be too low, 25% might be too high. It’s something riders should have honest discussions with their vets and trainers about.

As for the guy in the video? Nothing to do with fat and everything to do with being a macho, abusive, douche taking out his temper on a defenceless animal. Wish he could have been suspended for life.


My anecdotal observation is that the British tend to be more conservative re the rider weight % than Americans & (usually) Europeans. Americans usually say 20% . I’ve regularly seen as low as 10% argued by British members of one FB page I belong to. 10% seems nutty low to me. That would put a 110 lbs jockey with 1 lbs racing saddle over the limit on the average TB.


Which video?

OH DEAR… I don’t even need to watch it, just the still screen on it is bad enough. Poor pony.

eta: ok, I watched it. Forget the weight even, did he draw blood in that poor thing’s mouth?


And, FWIW, just look at the men riding the reining/cutting horses.

I don’t know if there are long term studies on that, but particularly the cutting horses can be TINY.


She is controversial in her delivery, but here is Dr. Deb Bennett’s views on rider’s weight and horses’ welfare:

We have discussed the topic of “how much weight a horse can bear on its back” a number of times here. The basic rules and concepts are:

  1. Total weight of rider plus tack must not exceed 250 lbs. There is no horse alive, of any breed, any build, anywhere, that can go more than a few minutes with more weight on its back than this. Not even the U.S. Army ever packed a mule heavier than this. So if you mean by “plus sized riders” that they weigh more than 250 lbs., including the weight of their saddle, then in good conscience what you must tell them is to look for another hobby activity, or confine their horse activities to either driving or groundwork.

  2. Horseback riding is not a right: it is not a right for small people, not a right for large people. It is a privilege. If the person is too big to be on a horse’s back without doing the animal harm, they should in ethics and courtesy acknowledge that as a fact – not demand that they ride anyway. To do this would be like demanding that, because they dream of being Superman, they should be permitted to fly when they dress up in a red cape and jump out of a fifth-story window. In other words: what they dream of is a violation of natural law, to which there are no exceptions.

  3. It is a lie to tell any child that he can be anything he wants to be. You cannot be anything you want to be. You can only be what you are fitted to be. If you have a tin ear, I don’t care how much you practice; you are never going to be Mozart, and you are also never going to be pleasant to be around when you are practicing your clarinet or your voice lessons. If you are short, you can love basketball with all your heart and learn to carry the ball aggressively and shoot like a demon, but you still aren’t going to get on a professional basketball team. If you are long-limbed and not very strong, you’re never going to be a gymnast. Unless you have knees that bend both directions, you’re never going to be an Olympic medalist in the butterfly or freestyle. And unless you weigh less than 250 lbs. including your tack, you will struggle on horseback, you will fall more often, you will get hurt worse every time you do fall, and you will slowly ruin your horse’s back. If you are a plus-sized person, find an activity that you like and one that you have an aptitude for.

  4. A “plus sized person” is not one that is necessarily overweight. However, many large people are overweight. The more anyone is overweight, even if they have talent for horseback riding, the more they limit themselves. I know this from my own case. A decade ago, before my knees became so painful that I could no longer run (except in a therapy pool), I weighed 20 lbs. less than now. I am aware that the extra 20 lbs. costs me in the areas of stamina, flexibility, timing, balance, and feel, both in ground schooling and in the saddle. Another way to put this is that for every extra 20 lbs. you’re carrying, you lose 1 “dressage level”. I know several obese upper-level riders who would be KILLER if they would or could lose weight. Sometimes, for whatever reason, weight loss isn’t going to be possible, and if that’s the reality, and the total is above 250 lbs. rider + tack, then the person needs to re-structure their horse activities in such a way that they stay off the animal’s back.

  5. The maximum weight-bearing capacity of 250 lbs. already mentioned applies only to horses with weight-carrying conformation to their backs – and this by no means includes all horses. Some horses cannot comfortably carry even 175 lbs. rider + tack; so that if the rider rides ‘western’ where the saddle typically weighs at least 20 lbs., then the rider is going to have to be below around 155 lbs. Horses that cannot pack the maximum have long backs and, more specifically, narrow, tubular couplings – they are what we call ‘dog backed’ because the span from the last rib to the hips is rounded and narrow as in a dog. We do not ride dogs and this is the essential reason why. To be a weight-carrier, a horse needs a strong loin coupling, which is short, smooth, pathology-free, broad, and deep. See my conformation series in Equus Magazine, the issue out this month, for helpful specifics on the coupling.

  6. The ability to pack weight does not increase with height. Tall horses in fact often have weaker backs than shorter ones. Ponies often have the strongest backs of all. It is a question of absolute breadth across the loins, secondarily of depth from loin to groin, which indicates whether the horse makes the effort to arch its back and oppose the rider’s weight with every step he takes.

  7. The ability to pack weight does not relate specifically to the size of the feet or the amount of “bone”. If you have been following the Equus Magazine series, you will already have learned that the heavier the horse (or horse + rider + tack), the more “bone” the horse needs in order to stay sound over the long haul. However, to be a weight-carrier the horse always has to have the short, broad coupling. If he is long-backed and dog-loined, he can have the recommended amount of 8 inches or more of bone-tendon circumference per 1,000 lbs. of weight, and it won’t help him: his back will still go down over time, the weaker the sooner.

  8. The ability to pack weight does relate heavily to how well the horse carries himself. Many, many horses ridden by people plenty small and light enough to fit below the 250-lb. cutoff weight slowly ruin their horses over time anyway, because they either do not know how, or do not care, to insist that the horse round itself up the entire time they’re in the saddle. “Rounding up” is the minimum requisite effort that fills the rider’s seat and opposes and neutralizes the downward force of her weight.

  9. The ability to pack weight comfortably over the long haul also relates heavily to riding technique. If the rider bounces when trying to sit the trot, intentionally jabs the horse with her seatbones, sits all the time to one side of the saddle, hangs on the reins, or believes in “breaking the horse back at the root of the neck” in order to obtain high head-carriage, these things are recipes for a short useful life for the horse, and again, the weaker the back to begin with, the sooner it will go down.

  10. The exact same may be said of tack: the heavier the rider, the more crucial it is that the saddle fit the horse well. And the more inexperienced or clumsy the rider, again the more crucial is good saddle fit. A rider’s mere presence on the horse’s back hyperstimulates the muscles that HOLLOW the back; so the last thing we want to do is add to this by hyperstimulating them further through bouncing on his back and/or jabbing it with an ill-fitting saddle.

These are the truths that I can share with you concerning rider weight and the horse’s weight-bearing abilities. I am not lecturing anybody to lose weight. What I am doing is reminding you that not everyone is cut out to be a rider; there is a limit above which we cannot go and still claim that we care about horses’ welfare. There are plenty of satisfying high-skill activities around horses other than riding, which makes it even more wrong to use these beautiful animals as vehicles to fulfill an unattainable fantasy. – Dr. Deb


which is one of breed characteristic of a Lippitt Morgan

The back of the Baroque horse (as well as the Lippitt) should be short and
broad owing to well-sprung ribs. The coupling of the hindquarters at the
point of the loins is strong and short’s%20Baroque%20Horse.pdf

Gawd! That was horrible! And I suspect it was his 20 year old son filming and laughing…? Find someone more the pony’s size to discipline it for goodness sakes! And “half-halt”? I think not!

" The technique used was called ‘half-halt’, i.e. that ‘the commands were obeyed when the animal was ridden by the children’."

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There is something really wrong with any one who would do what was done to that pony.

I am a firm believer that a good pony is worth their weight in gold, and a bad one isn’t worth the lead in the slug, but even if the pony had been bad, he sure as certain didn’t deserve that.


This was always a standard as I grew up with horses. The problem is that our culture has changed, our lifestyles have changed, out activity levels have changed drastically for the majority and most importantly our eating habits have changed.

We are a fat nation. If you look around when shopping the vast majority of the people are significantly overweight. It is not “fat shaming” to protect our horses from having to carry riders that weigh too much for them to safely do so.


I have a good friend who manages a therapeutic riding program. One of the significant challenges they deal with is that many of the students that come in are overweight. Sometimes significantly. They search for short, stout horses and ponies that can carry these people safely, and hold up. It is not an easy task to find these horses.


I guess there could be governmental restrictions limiting the size of saddles. The airlines sort of have by reduction of the standard seat size (I remember back in the old days the airlines had scales to weigh the passengers …in front of the world to see.,In%201985%20none%20of%20the%20main%20four%20US%20carriers%20offered,as%20low%20as%2016.1%20inches.

It is interesting, because you can’t always tell the weight of someone by looking at them, particularly if they are a taller person. And so when I see these threads I always cringe a little bit, because I know that there will be some public shaming of people based on people’s eye.

For instance:

This is a 5’9" tall man at 190 lbs

This is a 190 lb woman at 5’9"

This is a 180 lb woman at 5’2"

Add a western saddle, and the first and 2nd example no one (nor really many horses) will bat an eye at. But the last example will cause people to look askance even though she’s 10 lbs lighter. And if she dares post a picture on social media, whoo dog. (None of these people are riders so far as I know, I was just using them as examples, and I picked the weight at random, based on using a western saddle).

I do think there’s something to weight distribution, and I also think there’s something to balance. I also think that individual horses have conformation that either allows for the weight to be carried or not. It also depends on the way the horse is ridden, the fit of the tack, and the terrain, and the care overall.

But yeah, that guy is a jerk. It definitely doesn’t excuse him.


Here’s the problem. A short person, with short round legs has a whole different way of sitting on a horse. And, it is not easy for them to unweight their thigh, and let a horse lift underneath of them, especially unless they are really an experienced rider. So, when they go to close their leg to hold on, they do it from the thigh down, and the result can be really challenging. I had a student who was a really good rider, balanced and talented, but if she closed her thigh on a sensitive horse, she could chase them right out from under her. The effect was like a nutcracker on a horses back.


Leg length is an issue. In general, given average weight, riders with longer legs relative to their torso balance better than ones with shorter legs. Most really good riders have a basically athletic body even after they put on a bit of middle aged spread.

I see enough petite or slim riders break down their horses through poor training choices. I’m not sure a heavier rider who could ride correctly is any worse for rgev horse.