The Animal Health Trust (AHT) is asking owners to volunteer their horses to help in a “ground-breaking” study on rider weight.

The AHT aims to develop guidelines for the appropriate rider to horse weight ratio, a topic which has been hitting the headlines in recent years.

“There is an apparent growing problem of riders who are oversized for their horses,” said an AHT spokesman. “It has become a hot topic within the industry and has thankfully drawn attention to the welfare risk to horses, which the AHT seeks to help resolve.”

The spokesman said there is currently a lack of “reliable” scientific research on which to base guidelines for appropriate rider weight.

The Great Yorkshire show last year asked riders to dismount if they weighed more than 20% of their horses’ weight, while Retraining of Racehorses set the maximum at 17% at its competitions.

“However, excessive rider size has clear welfare implications for horses and ponies in all types of work,” added the AHT spokesman. “Riders who are too heavy for their horses or ponies can cause chronic back pain and lameness, as well as giving the horse a negative association to being ridden as they pre-empt pain.

“There is therefore an urgent need to start to provide some evidence-based guidelines to the equine industry as to what constitutes excessive rider size, under different circumstances.”

Horses put forward for the study must weigh 450-550kg, (approximately 15-16hh) be in regular work and capable of two 30-minute sessions per day. They must be vaccinated against flu and tetanus, capable of working “on the bit” in walk, trot and canter and available from 3-8 September.

Horses will be stabled at World Horse Welfare’s Snetterton base throughout the study and travel costs will be reimbursed.

“The aim of this study is to investigate whether there are any short term measurable differences when horses are ridden,” said the spokesman. “During the study each horse will be ridden by four competent riders of different weights.

“Owners of the horses will have access to free advice from experts, including vets, saddle fitters, nutritionists and professional riders. Your horse will be given a free saddle-fit assessment and any adjustments will also be carried out free of charge.

“Whether you have a happy hacker happy to help, a youngster in need of some life experience, or a riding school horse who would enjoy a change of scenery – the AHT needs volunteers. If you horse is able to take part, they would be helping to take the weight off many other horses’ shoulders, for which they and the AHT would be very grateful.”

Email equine.centre@aht.org.uk or call 01638 751908.

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