Weight is one of the biggest welfare issues facing British horses today, according to a leading charity.

World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said both equine and human weight are issues; overweight horses and riders who are of inappropriate size for their mounts are both causes for serious concern.

Mr Owers said that at a recent sponsored cross-country ride, he saw “a lot” of riders who were not of an appropriate weight for the horses or ponies they were on.

“For me, this is a ‘silent’ but hugely significant problem which can be severely detrimental to equine welfare,” he added.

“An initial study by the Animal Health Trust [AHT], in partnership with a number of organisations including the British Equestrian Federation and World Horse Welfare, found there was a definite temporary effect of rider weight as a proportion of horse weight on gait and behaviour, but we need more research.

“The goal is to put together practical guidance which will help riders assess if they are an appropriate weight for their horse, as current guidelines related to bodyweight ratios are quite crude and can be misleading – particularly as an overweight horse is certainly not more capable of carrying a heavier rider – in fact the opposite is true.”

The research, which was carried out in September at World Horse Welfare’s Hall Farm, Norfolk, involved six horses and four riders.

The riders all rode “to a reasonable standard”, and their weight was variously classed as light, moderate, heavy and very heavy.

The AHT said that although the data collected is still being analysed, initial findings confirmed a “substantial temporary effect of rider weight as a proportion of horse weight (but not necessarily body mass index per se) on gait and behaviour”.

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“This study highlights the need for further research for which additional funding will be required,” said the AHT spokesman at the time.

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