‘It’s not fat-shaming, it’s horse welfare’: saddle fitter’s warning on damaging effects of excess rider weight

  • A saddle fitter who has spoken out about the damage riders can cause if they are too heavy for their horses says the “elephant in the room” topic of rider weight must be addressed.

    Kay Hastilow, a Society of Master Saddlers master saddle fitter and master saddler with some 45 years’ experience, posted a blog on her experiences, including seeing horses break down under unsuitably sized riders, this month.

    She told H&H she refers to rider weight as “Voldemort”.

    “It’s the name that mustn’t be spoken,” she said. “It’s not just causing discomfort, it’s damaging horses, and it has to be talked about.”

    Kay, who has “more or less retired” now, described seeing horses at different stages.

    “I can think of one client who had a fabulous eye for a horse,” she said “She’d get the horse home and it would go beautifully, and I’d fit it. Three months later, I’d go back and its back would be starting to go; the difference in the musculature is really noticeable in that time.

    “Most of them lasted about a year before their backs or their hind legs went. I’d see the horse going from having a lovely straight, strong back to where its topline had completely gone.”

    Kay cited another rider who competed her sport horse.

    “She was successful to start with but the horse’s topline went,” she said. “She was working it in a Pessoa to build the muscle, but I said all the problems could be solved if she lost two or three stone.

    “She accepted she was overweight but that it was so hard [to lose it]. I think that horse went in the hocks, in the end.”

    Kay said her post was aimed at starting a conversation about rider weight, as it is “one we have to have”. She said she has walked away from fittings, having stated that horse and rider are not of compatible sizes, and believes all professionals should try to have the right conversations if needed.

    “We all need to be singing from the same hymn sheet,” she said. “Trainers should say it as well as fitters, but a lot of fitters are struggling to get going and they think if they offend their clients, they’ll lose business.

    “We have to talk about this. If it’s in magazines like H&H, and brought up at instructors’ conferences as saddle-fitting refreshers, which it is — I always say if someone’s comfortable at the weight they are, it doesn’t bother me, until they sit on a horse that’s not suitable for that weight. That’s not fat-shaming, it’s absolutely horse welfare.”

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    Kay stressed, as has been said before, that the issue is not riders’ being overweight themselves, rather it is being a suitable size for the horse in question.

    ‘If someone asks ‘Have you thought about your weight in relation to your horse?’ riders have to accept it, take it on board and not dismiss it as fat-shaming,” she said.

    “If you put a rider in front of a keyboard and showed them someone riding in rollkur, or trimming whiskers, or thrashing their horse, they’d be up in arms, but if you said they’re being just as cruel as that, they’d be horrified.

    “These people are often good riders who do everything for their horses; the best feed and care and equipment; everything except the one thing that would truly help them.”

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