Am I Too Big for My Horse?

Horsewoman riding an Icelandic horse in the snow, Hagen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, Europe
Small but sturdy, many pony breeds can carry an adult comfortably. Hans Kuczka / Getty Images

One of the most common questions people ask when buying a horse is: am I too big for this horse? The size of the horse should be proportional to the rider, but weight alone is not the only factor to consider. Height and riding skill come into play when it comes to making the horse's job easier and the rider feel secure and comfortable. So, in some cases, a smaller horse will do just fine with a heavier rider. Conversely, a smaller but less skilled rider can be more difficult for a larger horse to carry, making a larger horse's back sore and create leg soundness problems. When selecting the right size horse, it's important to consider a number of factors.

Riding Skill

An important element that influences how easily a horse can carry a rider, is the rider's skill. This may be almost as important as the rider's size. A rider who is a skilled equestrian, balanced in the saddle, and has a good seat will be easier for the horse to carry than a rider who is inexperienced and sloppy in the saddle. If you've had the experience of carrying a child while it is awake and then while it's asleep, you'll know what a horse feels like when carrying a rider who holds itself up, compared to a rider who is loose and unbalanced.

It won't take long before a horse who must carry an unbalanced rider to develop back and soundness problems; these can also lead to behavior problems. Improving your riding skills makes your ride more comfortable, safe, and secure. It will also allow your horse to be more comfortable, sure-footed, and stay sound much longer. Make an effort to improve your riding skill by taking lessons and paying attention to equitation when you ride.

Weight

When people wonder if they're too heavy for their horse, their main concern is weight. A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour suggests that the rider should weigh less than 15% of their horse's body weight. There is still some debate about this percentage, but the general rule of thumb is that a horse should carry between 15-20% of their weight. Remember that this weight also includes the saddle and other riding equipment, in addition to the rider. An overweight horse cannot necessarily carry a heavier rider. The calculation should be made with the horse's ideal weight.

The Horse's Age

When a horse is very young it has developing joints and bones and when a horse reaches its senior years it will likely begin to become arthritic. Very young or very old horses should carry less weight. The overall workload of young horses that are still growing and older horses that may have joint issues needs to be lighter. This refers to the weight of the rider, along with the time and intensity of any workload.

Height

Height is another factor that impacts a rider's security in the saddle. If you are tall, you may feel very top heavy on a shorter horse with fine bones. A solidly built horse, such as an Icelandic, or Fjiord might be more comfortable, even though it is short in relation to many other breeds like Arabians and Thoroughbreds. Anything that makes you unbalanced will make it harder for your horse to carry you.

Selecting a Horse and the Right Equipment

When you are selecting a horse, try many different sizes out. If you're on the heavier side consider a breed like a foundation type American Quarter Horse or a draft or draft cross. If you're slender, then an Arabian or Thoroughbred might be ideal. If you have your heart set on something like an Arabian, look for a horse with thicker bone. Bone is measured at mid-canon on the front leg. The higher the circumference, the more sturdy the horse is. On Arabians, eight-inch bone is considered quite sturdy.

It's also important to make sure you have the right sized equipment and a properly sized saddle. The saddle is essential to distributing your weight correctly on the horse, keeping you balanced, and will make sure the horse does not become sore. With the right match, both you and your horse will be more comfortable and less stressed during your rides.