Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How big a horse do you need?

FIRST, the shameless self-promotion segment.  My Editor's Choice Award-winning book, Horse Bound, is available RIGHT NOW from iUniverse, Amazon, and all those other book places you like to frequent.  So don't waste time thinking about it, just click one of these links or go wherever you like and buy it.  My other books are available too and they're part of a special purchase deal on Amazon. Woo-HOO!  And those other books at the bottom of the list that don't seem to be mine? Those are anthologies with my stories in them.  Fewer giggles  and more Kleenex.  Just sayin'.

END of self-promotion.

And now, our feature presentation:

Method for estimating maximum permissible load we... [Anim Sci J. 2013] - PubMed - NCBI

Rider weight is a touchy subject.  I have no desire to destroy anyone's body image or self-esteem.  What I do want to do is help all riders understand that there truly is a difference for the horses when they're asked to carry heavier riders.  It's important, especially in this climate of too many horses and too few owners, to keep the horses in the equation from breaking down earlier than necessary and from displaying behaviors that make them unpleasant co-workers for humans.  So, here's a different approach.

Let's begin with the numbers.  The breed chosen for the study--the Japanese native horse--isn't actually a stand-alone breed identification.  There are many breeds native to Japan.  All have some characteristics in common.  They are small (12 -14+ hh ), stocky ponies with necks that tend to grow parallel to the ground.  Those are important points, because horses built like that can tolerate more weight because of their conformation that puts the weight in a better place for balancing.  And they were mostly developed as pack horses, so they tend to be very calm and easy-to-manage.


Not at all like the average horses in the US.  Not even close to what I've got in my pasture.


The average QH weighs between 800 and 1200 pounds.
Zip (right), at a scant 16 hh, weighs in at about 1200 pounds most of the time
except during the winter when he swears the extra 50 is hair.

According to the weight tape (because he's such a diva he won't stand
on the bathroom scale), Dakota, 15.1 hh, weighs in at about 1100 pounds.
So breaking it down, the researchers picked horses that could probably carry weight better and be the least likely to take to bucking, rearing, and other fussiness than the average saddle horse in the US.

What they found was that these wonderbeasts could comfortably carry approximately 29% of their body weight.  Figuring the average 13 hh pony probably weighs in at about 850 pounds (yes, I'm guessing based on adding Duke's chunkiness at 8.5 hh and Leo's sturdy gracefulness at 15 hh and noting that there are two of them...and then math happens and I get 800 pounds and add 50 for jollies), that means the average rider of one of those ponies, plus tack and sandwiches, should weigh in at about 246 pounds.  Deduct 40 for the saddle and pad, and that's 206 pounds for rider and sandwiches and water bottle and cell phone and couture riding togs.

Not too shabby.  I feel better already.

Of course we're not all riding stocky ponies.  Many of us are riding animals that defy description.  The lower on the equestrian totem pole one lurks, the less likely one is to own a horse that fits into an easily-recognizable category.  I, for one, eschew pedigree in favor of big butts and "soft" eyes.  And it's not just because I'm cheap.  That's just my taste in horses.  Give me your tired, your learning disabled, your huddled OT Paints yearning to be left alone....

Digression over.  The average horse in the US has been shown to be comfortable carrying about 20% of its body weight.  So if the average horse weighs in at about 1000 pounds, that's easy enough to figure out.  If you and your saddle and all your necessities weigh more than 200 pounds, odds are you're either going to wind up with a horse with back issues or with a rodeo experience on the occasions when Flufferbutter decides he's had enough and opts to attempt non-surgical removal of his back irritation.

Yes, everyone should be happy within their own skin.  But if that skin is going to be safe on a horse and the horse is going to be safe and happy under it, then it really shouldn't weigh more than 20 - 25% of the horse's body weight.  There's nothing wrong with buying horses that fit one's style and body mass.  There are ample big horses out there in need of homes, and no one will point a finger if the rider's butt makes the horse's butt look big.  Think about it.  Getting in shape is certainly key to riding, but if you're Big and Proud, look around and find a horse that will happily tote you and your stuff into the sunset.  They're out there, I promise.

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