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  • Writer's pictureFiona Tothill

Rider's Size

This is an emotive and difficult subject. No offence is intended at any point, we are not being critical or weight / height / size shaming

(indeed as a rider who has lost a fair few stone I have a lot of empathy for those who find themselves “too xyz”) however, the issue of rider weight and other factors around horse/ rider matching has become more important as we look at our social licence to operate.  

I am following the work of the “suitably mounted research group” and will input and feedback where appropriate.


My team and I are here as advocates for the horses in our care, we are our horses voices when they cannot speak.  Their welfare is paramount, and we are responsible for them. 

We get many people asking what is our weight limit ( fewer people ask about height). A little more worrying some people are totally unaware that both height and weight and ability can impact on the horse and limit what they can do; our job is to educate.  

We also get asked “am I too heavy for xx”.  Sometimes this is a clear answer but sometimes it’s not obvious.  Equally some people assume the horses will carry them regardless, again our job is to educate. 


We have always avoided having an arbitrary weight limit as we know there are multiple factors that may affect the way a horse carries a rider and these needs are constantly changing . Of course this limit doesn’t just apply to our bigger horses. All our equines, big and small have maximums ( and minimums)!  Some children are too ‘big’ for Gizmo ( sad as that may be).


Not only are we having to consider the size of each rider we need to look at what we ask the horses to do.  Our horses are asked to carry riders of all abilities/experience levels on a variety of rides.  There is a very different demand if going down the lane or having a 30 minute private walk / trot lesson to doing a two hour hack or group lesson with jumping.  


The horses are working horses and generally they seem to enjoy helping us teach you.   We in return need to manage their well-being, we therefore cannot put our

(or your) needs ahead of their comfort.


Rider weight, balance, BMI, fitness, core strength, confidence, ability along with frequency of riding all play a factor in how the horse feels about their riders.


There is much debate as to how much is too much and the science suggests we set a limit based on the % of the horses body weight.  Of course there is discrepancy and the recommended % varies enormously.   I also find that a blanket rule falls short of ideal, as there is more to it than weight alone (I have already mentioned, height, balance, workload).


We also need to consider the horses overall well being, their conformation, their age, as well as fitness and soundness, we need to consider whether they have other health issues or old injuries we have to manage.  We will also need to think about the horses feet as they “carry the load”.  What the horses can do will depend on whether are they shod, barefoot or needing specialist shoes or hoof boots, as again this will impact on how they feel and where they work best. 


We obviously make sure our horses are fit for the job we are asking them to do.  Some horses are slower or stronger and with endless stamina whilst others work harder and faster for shorter durations.  If they need time off, they get it and then we will bring them back into work. 


Rider need to be as committed to being fit as you are better placed to helping your horse ( this is one reason we say no to irregular riders joining longer hacks, once the rider starts getting tired the horse is carrying an extra burden). 


Saddle Fit

We then have to consider the saddle fit.  Riders weight is transferred to the horse through the saddle.  Fitting a saddle to a horse can be a challenge at the best of times.  In the perfect world you would fit the saddle to both the horse and the rider; as you can appreciate this simply is not possible in a riding school.  Saddles must sit correctly and not extend beyond the horses rib cage, saddles come in 1/2” variable length which allows us to be accurate with length however this can mean a saddle may be too small for a rider.  Whilst our saddles are fitted  correctly and checked regularly they don’t always suit the rider and sometimes how the rider sits has a negative impact on them or the horse.  Sitting perched on the back of the saddle with your legs out front (as if slouched on a sofa) puts your weight over the horses kidneys, which is not acceptable.  Whereas sitting too far forward, the typical nervous position, can cause weight to restrict the shoulders. If a rider sits off to one side the saddle can be pulled over, onto spinal processes, causing pain or bruising. Floppy riders, who have a weak core can cause the saddle to move which can make the horse uncomfortable and more reluctant to work.   This is one reason why our coaches spend so much time on position and balance, it helps you and the horses.


Riders have a responsibility to the horse as do our coaches.  We are happy to educate our riders; however we do sometimes have to say no (or not now!).  We like to prepare our riders carefully this may be more lessons in walk and trot before cantering, it may be more shorter hacks before going out for longer, it may be more lessons on a slower horse or a lunge lesson or or or!  As I have said before our role is to educate, unfortunately we don’t have magic wands!


Whilst we have been talking about horses and upper weight limits; the same applies to our ponies, children will eventually outgrow their favourites, luckily they usually have another pony to move onto ( even if some what reluctantly).  Parents can support us by explaining this to their children when the time comes.

All this has to be considered when we allocate a horse.  The horses welfare is important. We factor in the riders ability, age, height and weight, how fit they are, how they sit, how they help the horse, their core strength.  

This is why we cannot answer the question “what is your weight limit” or “can I ride …”

Our policy - we ask any rider over 15 stone or 6' or taller to speak to us before booking so we can ensure you and our horses are well looked after.  We only have a limited number of horses and would need to consider the other variables, including what your experience is and what you are wanting to do before saying yes!

Want to discuss any of the points in this blog? Please get in touch


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