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    Weighty issue

    - September 2nd, 2021 - Trainer Tips

    By Sheryl Lynde | Horsetrader columnist

    When pairing a horse with a rider, consider several factors that can help ensure the rider’s safety as well as the horse’s well-being.

    In previous columns, we’ve looked at the planned use of the horse. If you are looking for a good-minded trail horse, finding a horse that has been used in that capacity would be your best bet. We’ve also explored the ability of the rider and the amount of training the prospective horse has had. Again, if the rider is green, the horse needs to be well-seasoned, and if the horse is green, the rider needs to be more experienced. Also, lifestyle plays an important role. If a demanding career or family require most of your time, purchasing a young horse to start is not optimum for either you or the horse.

    But, there is another factor of equal importance to the longevity of your horse’s riding career: the weight of the rider.

    A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour suggests that the rider should weigh less than 15 percent of their horse’s body weight. You can have a conversation with your vet; I have spoken to many. I have found that, as a general rule, the most commonly offered advice is that the combined weight of the rider and saddle should not exceed 15-20 percent of the horse’s body weight. This means if a horse weighs 1,000 pounds, the combined weight of the rider and saddle should not exceed 150–200 pounds. If your saddle weighs 40 pounds, then the weight of the rider should not exceed 110–160 pounds. Again, this is a generality. When I lean more toward the 15 percent body weight of rider and tack, factors that I take into consideration are the horse’s age, intended use, and overall soundness and well-being of the horse.

    The horse’s reaction when asked to carry weight above their physical ability varies depending on the temperament of the horse. I’ve witnessed an obvious swaying of the horse’s back, losing their balance under the rider once mounted, the horse splaying their legs underneath them in an attempt to stay upright, and bucking or bolting to rid themselves of the weight.

    I understand that the horse’s health and well-being are at the forefront of the owner’s concerns. However, as evidenced every day, the path to injury is paved with good intentions.

    Imagine that someone put a backpack on your shoulders that far outweighed your ability to carry it for any distance. It may cause you to fall backward, splay out your limbs to find your balance. You may lean forward into the trail only to find yourself stumbling, unable to right yourself until you eventually hit the ground.

    Now, add to that the issue of balance. Try carrying a pack that pulls you to the left or the right. I’ve observed many riders that lean to one side or the other, unaware of their imbalance. When brought to their attention, unfortunately, the saddle is unduly blamed or perhaps the cinch isnt tight enough. The stirrups of the saddle are intended to rest the foot lightly. When riders depend on their feet for balance instead of their seat, they press with their strong or favored leg and foot into the stirrup, causing their saddle to shift, regardless of how tight the cinch has been fastened. Imagine the soreness and misalignment that would cause your body over a period of time. Additionally, what if the backpack didn’t fit properly? It still carried the same amount of weight, but was too small or too large for your back. Feeling a bit uncomfortable? So is your horse.

    Weighing the proper weight for your horse, having a good-fitting saddle and mounting properly can save your horse’s back.

    To protect your horse’s withers, use a mounting block. Hold onto the mane with your left hand while you insert your left toe into the stirrup. This is not an upper body pull, it is a lower body push. Push up off your right leg to elevate yourself enough to clear the cantle as your throw your right leg over your horse’s back and lower yourself nice and polite into the saddle

    When you get on, sit in the “pocket” of the saddle, not on the cantle. Two fingers should fit between the swells of the saddle and your leg. If you can fit your entire hand, the saddle is too big. If you can’t fit a finger, the saddle is too small. It’s better to have a slightly bigger fit than too tight.

    Owners openly express their aversion to particular bits or disciplines due to a perceived risk of injury. However, weight remains a sensitive subject.

    How do you weigh in?

    –Sheryl

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