To date, there are no legal regulations regarding maximum passenger weight. The reason for this is the complexity of the topic, because a variety of factors such as the type of horse, training and physical condition of the horse and rider are decisive.
Horses are not bred to carry jockeys – but they can be educated and trained to do so. A balanced horse is capable of carrying a human, but the rider’s weight is important. However, the actual weight a horse feels does not depend solely on the number on the scale.
How much can a horse carry?
In addition to a horse’s body weight and size, other factors such as age, training, and muscular condition also play a major role in how much a horse can carry in a healthy setting. There are many formulas for calculating the maximum weight of a horse. Most commonly it depends on the height at the shoulders or the weight of the horse. But beware! These weight formulas do not apply to overweight horses. The musculoskeletal system of animals has already been sufficiently stressed due to the extra weight. Even with underweight horses and weak muscles, the rider should weigh less.
Cannonball circumference is crucial to a horse’s endurance. This affects the basis of the horse and varies by horse type.
The cannon bone index is calculated as:
The RI (Cannon Index) for Shetland Ponies is an impressive 7.4. This explains why animals are able to bear more weight than other breeds compared to their own body weight. For example, the Hanoverian, the Warmblood breed, by contrast has an RI of 3.7. The cannon bone indicator not only gives an indication of how much a horse can carry, the broad and muscular flank (between the last rib and the hip bone) of the horse also speaks of high flexibility.
However, it is also important to determine what kind of work the horse is using, how intense it is and for how long. However, a horse’s resilience can also depend on the day and be influenced by weather, hormonal phase, and soil conditions. Another factor that should not be underestimated is the skill of the rider. It is important to the necessary body tension and a balanced seat.
Relaxing the horse’s back
According to the Swiss Riding Federation (SVPS), there are ways to reduce a rider’s weight, especially in young horses. This does not change the rider’s weight, but rest can help the horse keep its balance. In addition, the forces acting on the horse’s back change. The forces include not only the weight of the rider, but also the speed: when trotting, the force can be twice the weight of the rider.
To cushion the horse’s back, the SVPS recommends using its knees and thighs as shock absorbers, or riding in a light seat. The prerequisite for resting the horse is a ‘good seat’ for the rider. The body’s tension and balance are essential for this. The seat should be flexible and the pelvis should move with the movement of the horse.
A rider’s physical condition is important to having a good seat and riding ability. SVPS designed a specific fitness program for their well-being and that of the horse.
The saddle is also critical to a horse’s welfare. This should be convenient, so there are a few things to consider. An improper saddle can create pressure on the horse’s back and increase the effective force of the rider’s weight. The Federal Veterinary Office and the University of Zurich draw attention to the most common defects of the saddle in a video.
How a horse should be properly trained is a topic of ongoing debate. Different riding styles and philosophies don’t always agree. In addition, not all training methods are suitable for every pair of horses and jockeys. However, according to Animal Welfare, it is indisputable that a horse can offset a portion of a rider’s weight by properly tightening their abdominal muscles and arching the back – this should be the goal in every riding style. It is important that the horse has sufficient muscle, which can be achieved through regular training.
If the rider is too heavy, the horse’s spine will droop a lot. This leads to stiffness in lateral movement and pain. Stiffness can lead to chronic changes in the back and legs. Therefore, overloading should be avoided in any case.
There is no upper weight limit under the Animal Welfare Act, as there are many factors that influence this and each rider pair of horses is different. However, Animal Protection recommends a maximum weight limit of 15% of a horse’s weight. In 20% there are already significant changes in the muscles in the form of tension and stiffness.
In addition to animal welfare recommendations, vets, trainers, and saddlers are ideal contacts for determining a horse’s resilience.