Obese riders weigh on horses' health care costs

One-third of riders are too heavy, leading to health problems for their steeds. Now plus-size saddles are hitting the market.

By Aimee Picchi Mar 25, 2013 1:31PM

Horse standing in stable doorway (© Thomas Northcut/Riser/Getty Images)The human health costs of the obesity epidemic have been well documented, but a new study is shedding light on another set of victims: horses mounted by overweight riders. 

One-third of recreational riders are too obese for their steeds, putting the animals at risk for health problems including lameness and back pain, reports the U.K.'s Daily Mail, which cited a study from the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. 

That may lead to higher health care costs for horses, which can already be considerable. While amounts vary, horse owners typically spend about $300 a year on routine health care for their animals, although that can increase to thousands if a horse is injured or ill, according to Equine.com.

Overweight riders can also cause the animals to develop behavioral problems, such as bucking and rearing, the Mail notes. (Whether the horses are trying to get the overweight riders off their backs or are just annoyed, the article doesn't say.)

"People tend to think horses are such big animals they must be okay, and not to take notice of the weight issue of riders. But the health impact on the horse can be quite extreme, quite quickly," Hayley Randle, one of the study authors, told the newspaper.

Recreational riding adds $11.8 billion in spending to the U.S. economy, with 2 million horse owners in America alone, according to the Equestrian Channel. To be sure, the academic study looked at the U.K., but weighty riders are likely an issue for American horses as well, given that the U.S. is the third-fattest country on earth, while the U.K. comes in at No. 10.

Adding to the problems of overburdened horses, plus-size saddles are hitting the market. The WOW "Bounty" saddle has a seat that's "designed to offer supreme support and comfort to the larger rider,” according to Horse and Hound. Another company is also working on a saddle for heftier behinds. 

A rider shouldn't weigh more than 10% of her horse's weight, the Mail notes, citing vet guidelines. But weight ratios aren't commonly known in the equine community, Randle said. She added, "People do seem generally to be a bit heavy for horses. That is just a consequence, I suppose, of our average weights going up."

Heavy riders sometimes pepper message boards with questions about which horses are best to carry weight (draft horses are frequently mentioned as potential steeds). When one woman asked what horse her 350-pound husband should ride, one forum respondent wrote, "Develop an interest in driving."

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Mar 25, 2013 1:50PM
At 10% of horse body weight only anorexic super models could ride!
Mar 25, 2013 5:32PM
Darn, where am I going to find a 2300lb horse? I'm really surprised, after all the ten hour rides I' taken him on, my 1200lb quarter horse hasn't killed over.
Mar 26, 2013 10:58AM
I always thought that it was 20% of the horse's weight and 25% of a pony's weight. Where on earth did they come up with 10%. The average man would be riding a draft horse! ;)
Mar 26, 2013 11:50AM

This is so silly!  I mean an average arabian is 800lbs so that horse should only ever carry 80lbs!

Come on, I have over 1000 competitive miles in endurance, she is 850lbs and 14.3 hands, she is one of my smaller horses and she has carried me a heavy weight rider THOUSANDS of miles, training, camping and NEVER lame.  She is now 17 and still running strong, I have kids competing on her now as I have moved on to younger horses, however I just rescued a little arab mare that is 14.1 really short backed and was worried about her carrying me and she carries me just fine, and her recoveries are SUPER fast much faster then some of my bigger horses.  I mean I don't ride super fast but these are miles and miles of serious riding. 

Mar 26, 2013 10:40AM
Hmmm, I guess my fat a** at 165 pounds should not be on any horse at all. That would rule out the 860 Arabian pound one I ride so often.
Mar 26, 2013 3:19PM
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. This has to be the most ridiculous thing ever. And now, I can hear it already, all the non-horse animal activists, 'you can't ride your horse if you are more than 10 percent of his weight, you are hurrrrrrtttttting him', which works out to 100 pounds to a 1000 pound horse, which is a pretty large horse and a nearly dead person. The average male would have to be riding a draft, there goes our Olympic Dressage, Eventing, and Jumping team!  Yes, there are a FEW 100 pound riders, but face it, the majority of people are more than that, and most riders I see are still slim at 150 or below, male and female.  Get a grip msn, this article is bupkis and a WASTE of any money and time that was put into these 'findings'. PLease also note there has been a scientific study that PROVED that a 200 pound balanced and knowledgable rider was causing less damage than a 130 pound novice, unbalanced rider .  My advice, as a 35 years of experience rider, horse owner, and trainer, is ignore this dumb stuff, get a good trainer and a good saddle, and do at least try and maintain a healthy weight.
Mar 25, 2013 11:22PM

Stop and think ,INSTEAD of being StUPID.....


Humans can easily carry 20% of their bodyweight, on their backs...


And they are not contructed like a beast of burden, hardly.

Age and Health always comes to all, when released to the pasture..

Mar 26, 2013 1:18PM
What??!! My 900 lb horse should only carry a 90 lb rider? This is hogwash!!
Mar 26, 2013 12:57PM
Saddles are getting lighter, better trees made to fit the owners horse, Many good saddle makers have trail saddles between 28-32 lbs., saddle pads that are much more protective for the horse, and as far as the weight, after over 60 yrs. pushing cattle in the high country as long as you take good care of the horse, feed , health wise, my 1000-1200 pound quarter horses have never shown any stress from hauling my 200 lbs. around. Never a sore back or signs of a health problem. I agree if you are a 300 pound rider look for a bigger horse,or look  in the draft type breed.
Mar 26, 2013 4:00PM
Maybe the mayor of New York had something  to do with this
Mar 26, 2013 2:10PM
Another stupid article. Just make stuff up if you don't have anything.
Mar 26, 2013 1:43PM

The biggest problem I've seen, is horses being started too young. Horses bones are not fully hardened and mature till they are 4 or 5 years old, yet too many people start riding them at age 2 and 3 which causes problems for them in the long run.


Otherwise, I was taught that the average horse can carry 250 lbs. give or take. That's rider plus tack.


Some horses can handle more weight than others, and drafts such as Clydesdales, Shires, Percherons, Belgians, Gypsy Drums and others can handle even more weight and were used in the past to carry knights in armor and were also known as "Heavy horses".


But if you're too fat to get up in the saddle from the ground, then maybe you should take up harness and ride in a horse pulled cart.

Mar 25, 2013 11:16PM

Are fkin Vets trying to find a new way to make money now....?


Our old Farm Vet, (long since dead) would be reeling and a rolling reading this..

Oh forgot to mention he was a horse raiser also..


We only did it for about 35+ or so years..

Mar 26, 2013 9:38PM
I think maybe the 10% rule must go back to jockeys.  They are supposed to be tiny.  But in real life...Let's face it....the average cowboy riding the range weighed more than 100 lbs!! 
Apr 22, 2013 9:56PM
I am one of those fat people they are talking about. I weighted at the time 320 when I had my Quarter Horse. He was fifteen hands and carry me just fine. We did trail trials, rode and camp on the beach and rode in the hills. You condition your horse which I did five days a week. Most large people don't ride because balance problems. I have MD and it help me a lot with my balance. I rode at a stable where the people were great and didn't treat me any different then a thin person. As far as my horse's health he never had back or leg problems and just last month I had to put him down at 26 years old because of a tumor. You just have to find the right horse.
Mar 27, 2013 11:52AM
While it is true that it is better for the horse not to carry such hefty weighted riders, I disagree like many here do. Would it be better if folks lost weight for both their sake and the sake of their horses? Definitely, however if your horse is healthy and fit, is able to exercise for longer periods without having to "catch their breath" so to speak, they should be able to carry up to %25 of their weight without much problem. If your horse is not in shape, just coming off of winter pasture & hasn't been used the last 3-4 months, getting them conditioned FIRST before jumping on & riding off into springtime will give them the best chance of NOT coming up lame or have back issues. I'm losing weight both for my sake and to be able to ride, however if I hop on for an occasional short ride, my horse is in far better shape than I am and can handle it. She hasn't given me any problems of bucking or rearing unless I'm asking her something she either doesn't understand or I'm asking the question wrong.  The most you should ever "pack" on a horse, mule or draft is 250lbs. They have to work harder to keep their feet under them, carry weight up and down hills which puts strain on feet, legs and back. Be considerate of yourself and your horse if you're heavy. I mean would you want to carry your weight, plus saddle all over Jericho for a long period of time? Probably not and if you tried, you would be sore, tired and plumb worn out. I realize not all share my enthusiasm here, which is fine, you have your opinions and thoughts. I won't ride my mare out on long trails until I've gotten my weight down and under control for her sake and I'd like to live long enough to see my grandchildren. 
Nov 26, 2013 10:42AM
Horse our wonderful creatures,and we should respect them.This more about the growing obesity problem in America.Truthfully I never struggled with weight but have friends that have.Food is an huge addiction and we getting worse as a nation.Allot of big corporations,commercials,and defunding of proper health education in schools or huge factor.I have had depression for many years and do not take any prescription of any kind.What works for me is eating properly,exercise,take daily vitamins,music,art,riding and animals.I also try seek out eastern teas and droppers remedies .Life hard it always testing us and we all slip up some how.Loving yourself is the number one most important thing.We all have self esteem issues but  the help you get from others is always there.Family,friends,church,community,doctor,teacher,psychiatrists, or find something positive to do in your life.I am not saying that been over weight should stop you from riding.Instead should inspire to be healthy,and motivate you.If there is something in your life really want  to do  then do it. You will never no if like something different if just give up.Its not always easy and it take hard work.patience,support,love, and hope.Animals have saved my life for many years and the gives so much.The love us no matter what ,and inspire us to  care for something beside ourself. The give love unconditionally and make me laugh.So ride or don't ride but don't pass up something life because someone says can't.Show people that your stronger and better then that.Getting  in shape is a good thing in end but it  hard work yet it worth it .Being happy with yourself on the inside and out that what matters.To me it sad to see people several over weight because want help them feel loved and better about themselves.There huge difference between been some what over weight ,verse  150 pound or more your normal weight for your height and size. People the  are mean  and bullies about it they don't help  at all there ignorant .They think that by make you feel bad it will help but just make you feel worse .Then their our people  that  are truly concern for you and  extend an olive branch .The want better health and life for you,in end there afraid of losing you.People need love no matter what size you our .Love is lives driving force in everything.I hope by me posting this some one reaches out friend or family member in need.We all need each other love and support in the end. Peace Christina
Oct 14, 2013 10:43PM
Sounds like a mistake, I have always heard 20 to 25 %. I have seen many people on horse that shouldn't be. For the horses and your own sake lose the weight if you are too big to ride. 
Mar 28, 2013 1:01AM

People are getting heavier, but why not give to heavy riders these big horses called: Percheron weighting around 2000lbs +, they are very strong and can handle anything. They may not be as elegant as a nice horse racer, but when the Jockey is not, why the horse should be.

Mar 27, 2013 3:26PM
10% .....seriously......

How on earth did Dan Blocker (Hoss Cartwright) & John Wayne ride?  All I can say is come ride w/ me @ LaRiviere Horse Park, Prairie du Chien, WI -- we have extensive trails that cover all types of terrain.  You are able to ride several hours.  

My horse is never stalled, he lives 24/7 in a hillside pasture; he's well fed & maintained.  My horse is part draft but being over 200 lb lady I was looking for a strong horse with good bone along w/ a wonderful temperament. 

But my horse also just plods along, he's not forced to perform unnatural gaits or any jumping.  My horse is my best friend - one of the people who I ride with is also my veterinarian and would think that she would I was being detrimental to the health of my horse.

If these 'experts' are so smart then why are we riding horses and not members of the bovine family?   See cattle can actually carry more weight than a horse pound for pound than a horse because their backs are not as flexible as a horse's.

Finally, these people who spout out numbers/percentages also don't take into consideration the horse's conditioning as well as the 'plus-sized' persons riding ability.   Would think that getting us overweight people off of the couch & out doing something physical would be a positive thing.
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