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Rider size

Every rider is unique, and your shape and size will influence the type of horse that suits you best.

  • Last reviewed: 22nd July 2022
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Are you and your horse the right fit?

Riding a horse that you are too big or small for can have welfare issues, so whether you are a horse owner, looking for a horse, or rider at your local centre it is useful to know how your size and shape can influence the type of horse that can carry you comfortably.

Find a horse to suit your size

If you have ever sat on a horse that is not the right size or shape for you, one of the first things you will notice is you don’t feel comfortable. If you aren’t comfortable on a horse you will constantly change your position which affects how your horse moves as he has to rebalance himself each time your balance changes.

To ensure you are the best match for a horse there are several points you need to consider including your height, weight, general fitness and the riding activities you want to do.

Rider weight

Weight can be a sensitive subject, but it is crucial that as a rider you consider the weight the horse has to carry. This includes the weight of the tack and equipment, as well as the rider.

All BHS Approved Riding Centres will have rider height and weight limits in place for each of their ponies and horses to help protect their welfare. If you ride at a BHS Approved Centre, you will be matched to a horse based on your size and riding ability, so it is important that you are accurate with the information you give, to allow the centre to choose the most suitable horse for you.

How do I know if I'm too big for my horse?

A horse carrying a load that is too heavy for them will start to show signs of stress and pain due to the extra strain placed on his back.

Immediate signs of discomfort

  • Tension through the neck and back
  • Reluctance to move forwards
  • Reduced performance
  • Intermittent lameness
  • Stumbling
  • Increased breathing
  • Tiring quickly

These signs may disappear as soon as the rider dismounts but if the horse is repeatedly placed under excess strain, permanent damage will occur and his long-term soundness affected.

Other signs include:

  • Pain or discomfort along the back
  • Longer periods of lameness
  • Reaction to being tacked up
  • Change in muscle tone
  • Change in behaviour
  • Altered movement

Seek support from your vet if you notice any of the above signs. They may also be indicating other issues in your horse’s physical and mental wellbeing and should always be investigated. 

How much weight can a horse carry?

This is a question with many variables to the answer as there is no one formula fits all. It is not simply based on the size of the horse, although some breeds have a natural ability to carry more weight than others.

Each horse should be looked at as an individual and their age, conformation, muscle development and fitness assessed.

A horse who has suffered previous injury or illnesses (such as tendon damage or arthritis) will benefit from carrying a lighter load. However, the horse should only be ridden within its workload limits and following a vet’s approval. 

Duration and intensity of the work they will be doing should also be taken into consideration. For example a horse who only does 30-minute walk hacks has a different energy demand than a horse working in an arena.

The fitness and ability of the rider also plays a part. Beginner riders tend to be more unbalanced than more experienced riders. An unbalanced load is harder for a horse to carry as it places more strain on the horse. The uneven weight distribution caused by an unbalanced or unfit rider can lead to lameness and other issues as the horse has to alter the way he moves to compensate for the rider.

Rider height

If the rider feels too tall or short for the horse they are riding, they will find it more difficult to achieve a balanced position and control the horse.

It makes sense that tall riders need tall horses and smaller riders need smaller horses, but it isn’t only the height of a horse that needs to be considered.

The width of the horse also plays a part. Some horses have a wide barrel which provides more room to ‘take up’ the rider’s leg, meaning a shorter horse can accommodate a tall rider. A shorter rider might find a narrow horse easier to ride whereas a bigger rider might feel top heavy and unbalanced on a narrow horse.

If the horse is too big for you

Riding a horse that is too big for you places extra strain on your hip joints and muscles which makes it harder for you to absorb the movement of the horse. When the rider can’t absorb the movement of the horse it affects the horse’s ability to move correctly.

Also depending on rider ability, they may not have the body strength to be effective on a big horse which can lead to feeling over-horsed and a potentially dangerous situation if the rider can’t maintain control.

If the horse is too small for you

If you feel too tall for the horse, you will end up compromising your position by leaning your upper body forward and lifting your lower leg up every time you use it. 

When the rider isn’t sitting in a balanced position it has an effect on how the horse moves. If the horse has to comprise his movement over a period of time it will have an effect on his soundness.

Size of saddle

The length of saddle a horse can carry comfortably is influenced by his size and conformation, but in general the bigger the horse the longer the saddle they can carry. But not every big horse is capable of carrying a big rider. A saddle must fit your seat comfortably and allow you to sit in the centre of the saddle in a balanced position.

Your body proportions need to be taken into consideration too. Riders with long legs or long thigh measurement often need longer saddles to accommodate the length of leg and stop their knee going over the knee roll.

Continually riding in a saddle that isn’t the right size for you will have a detrimental effect on both you and the horse you are riding, no matter how well fitted to the horse it is.

Your weight will be distributed unevenly through the saddle and across the horse’s back creating pressure points and restricting the horse’s movement. Over time this can lead to uneven muscle development and soreness, and potentially long-term injury to the horse. Learn more about the correct tack fit for your horse.

At BHS Approved Centres, the horses will have their saddles fitted to them and they will be suitable for the type of work the horse does. If you find the saddle uncomfortable make sure you tell your coach.