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Weight and horse performance

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  • Weight and horse performance

    ...Rider's weight that is....

    I've been curious to how a rider's weight affects a horse's performance in dressage. For example would a heavier person (whether overweight, tall, or more muscle mass, or all the above) make it harder for the horse to accomplish certain movements, sit, collect, lead changes, etc...Does a lighter rider have an advantage in the grand scheme of things?
    Last edited by Zugabe; Jan. 15, 2011, 08:03 PM.

  • #2
    No....weight should not bother the horse is it is using its back correctly.
    Ask and allow, do not demand and force.


    • #3
      If the rider, no matter his/her size, cannot sit well and control his/her own balance and body, he/she WILL affect the horse's performance.

      I once watched a cute little 7 year-old girl slowly aggravate the full-sized horse she was riding, just bouncing along in opposition to the horse's trot. Horse slowly became angrier and more sullen. Fortunately, the child was taken off the horse before it got really mad.

      Small, light people do not have an advantage. People who treat riding as an athletic endeavor and strive to be supple & fit and ride in harmony and not in opposition to their horses have the advantage. People who get their horse's backs working up and swinging will have the advantage.

      I have seen heavy riders ride well and sympathetically. I have seen slim riders ride who could not do so. It's not the build of the rider, but what that rider does with his/her body that makes the work easy or hard for the horse.


      • #4
        Yep, it is not solely about weight. A stick-figure rider who cannot ride well, bounces all over the place, has no balance, will hinder a horse a LOT more than the same horse with a 250lb rider who is "light" in everything, and very quiet.

        It has to do with conditioning too. It's not quite fair to take a 110lb rider by which the horse has been schooled/ridden for the last year, and suddenly ask him to perform to the same level with a 250lb rider of the same riding skill.
        The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


        • #5
          I don't think the OP was saying it is solely about weight, and I think they were assuming everything considered equal (ie, the rider is riding correctly, horse is using itself properly). Maybe I am wrong though, I don't mean to misunderstand the question or put words in the OP's mouth, but that is how I understood it.

          I think weight DOES matter. Of COURSE it is not the sole factor, and a light rider can do as much (or more!) damage as a heavy rider, and it DOES depend on how the horse is using himself. That said though, a heavy rider is NOT going to have the same athletic capabilities (ie, core, etc, that allow them to ride correctly, etc) as a light and fit rider (I know I don't have the same athletic capabilities when I am unfit versus when I am fit, and it DEFINITELY makes a difference to my riding which makes a difference to my horses' performances). I think a rider with say more muscle mass or who is simply taller, thus adding weight, will make less of a difference (perhaps none?) over a lighter rider because they are likely more athletically fit. The horse might be using its back correctly but extra weight IS going to have some sort of effect, particularly if the rider is not conditioned (the person's conditioning I believe bears a greater effect than additional weight, to an extent, after a certain point I do think additional weight certainly affects performance adversely, both because of the extra weight AND the lack of athletic fitness). Hence the reason this is a SPORT that requires physical fitness. The higher the expectations of your horse competitively or elsewise, the higher the rider's level of fitness needs to be. This is NOT a slam on heavy or unfit riders though, by ANY means!!
          ....horses should be trained in such a way that they not only love their riders, but look forward to the time they are with them.
          ~ Xenophon, 350 B.C.


          • Original Poster

            I was starting to think this was a stupid question. I'm glad to receive some insight.

            I don't think the OP was saying it is solely about weight, and I think they were assuming everything considered equal (ie, the rider is riding correctly, horse is using itself properly). Maybe I am wrong though, I don't mean to misunderstand the question or put words in the OP's mouth, but that is how I understood it.
            Yes naturalequus, this is what I meant.


            • #7
              "That said though, a heavy rider is NOT going to have the same athletic capabilities (ie, core, etc, that allow them to ride correctly, etc) as a light and fit rider "

              WEIGHT does not neccessarily correspond to FITNESS.
              Lighter does not mean better core strength.
              To say that just shows ignorance and prejudice...
              Last edited by mishmash; Jan. 16, 2011, 02:49 PM.


              • #8
                Mishmash, I don't think any one was saying that.

                Yes, one can be heavy but still have good core strength. Yes, one can be thin and have no muscle tone and little control. The reverse is also true.

                It's a case by case situation.


                • #9
                  mishmash@ no one just said that.

                  Fitness first then weight.

                  But I do believe that at equal fitness, for the same well trained and muscled horse, a bigger rider will need to have that same horse used to his/hers size and trained accordingly to achieve the same kind of fitness result in the horse.
                  It will have more to do with endurance and strenght than being able to perform the movement, showing expression or so (which both rider can achieve independently of their size but from their riding skills)
                  ~ Enjoying some guac and boxed wine at the Blue Saddle inn. ~

                  Originally posted by LauraKY
                  I'm sorry, but this has "eau de hoarder" smell all over it.
                  HORSING mobile training app


                  • #10
                    I've been 90lbs heavier than I am now with the same horse. I've been riding 30 years, and was fat about 8-10 years ago, and had ridden under some amazing instructors before and while I was fat...it makes a difference. My horse is thankful I'm 16% body fat now

                    can a fat person be a balanced effective rider? yes, but not as effective as they would if they were of a fit body fat percentage.
                    chaque pas est fait ensemble


                    • #11
                      Good for you PSJ! That's fantastic!

                      I hope this doesn't deteriorate into a "heavy versus skinny" thread. It's been done before and it's not fun.


                      • Original Poster

                        I've been 90lbs heavier than I am now with the same horse. I've been riding 30 years, and was fat about 8-10 years ago, and had ridden under some amazing instructors before and while I was fat...it makes a difference. My horse is thankful I'm 16% body fat now
                        Petstorejunkie - What changes in your horse's performance did you notice as you became lighter?

                        This is not at all intended to be a fat vs skinny...I want to focus on horse's performance.


                        • #13
                          I would imagine if weight variations in identical fitness levels were unimportant, horse racing wouldn't specify weight and have handicappers trying to make some races end in dead heats.

                          I imagine if you're asking a horse to carry itself, it's going to be easiest for the horse to do with no rider, and each pound can make a difference. However, I also think that it's a rare horse who will be willing to do what is asked (whether that's collected trot, canter, passage, piaffe, etc.) who has trouble doing so with the weight of a capable and fit rider. I'm guessing once you reach that point it will more be a matter of a horse not requiring as much warmup to reach its best performance level.

                          I agree with everyone else in thinking fitness is far more important than weight. I think most people are more fit when thinner to an extent, but there is also a point where an individual starts to lose fitness as they lose too much weight. I think the same can be seen with our horses, and I am always interested in the horses I see who are overweight, undermuscled, and still try to perform when their riders seem to be oblivious to their lack of condition. It only makes sense that if physical fitness in the rider enhances performance, also having a fit horse will help performance.
                          If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.


                          • #14
                            I'm sort of a stick, so I'm not coming from a place of personal knowledge with my own horse.
                            But I have a dear friend who is heavier, and she is a lovely lovely rider whose horse does very very well.

                            In fact, back several years ago when she was considerably thinner, the horse was not performing as well!!
                            Now, here's a thought on that, and it goes to what Petstore Junkie had also said.

                            Perhaps it was less her weight, but more the fact that after more years of good training, the horse is just better....weight having no bearing whatsoever? Blame weight or applaud it on either side, but maybe the actual time and training was what made the horses' performance better and the weight issue was a total non issue to the horse??
                            Last edited by Xfactor; Jan. 16, 2011, 08:19 AM. Reason: cap key stuck


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Zugabe View Post
                              Petstorejunkie - What changes in your horse's performance did you notice as you became lighter?

                              This is not at all intended to be a fat vs skinny...I want to focus on horse's performance.
                              When I was fat he developed some nasty habits. One was if he was overwhelmed with what I was asking for, he'd stargaze and take off he also was really reluctant to seek contact; which consequently took years to help. Also canter departs were never straight, he'd throw his inside shoulder in, turn his nose out... and if i worked harder to straighten him, he'd either pick up the outside lead or leap.
                              Oh! AND he used to yank off his shoes under saddle... which got really expensive
                              I was having to get him adjusted by a chiropractor monthly, and he treated anything higher than a 2ft jump like I was asking him to jump the moon.
                              I'll see if I can find some pics of him under saddle and his conformation from this era.... it's scary

                              Now he can jump 3'6" with minimal involvement from me, schools 1st level, and is a JOY to ride. Every ride is a good ride, his attitude is fantastic, and no longer causes me crazy vet and shoeing bills. His topline is easy to develop and maintain. we can do simple changes down the diagonal line, and if he weren't 16 already i'd be having high hopes on this one for collection work. It's a shame I didn't lose the weight sooner, I'm positive we'd be showing 3rd, schooling 4th by now.

                              In response to X Factor: I could agree with your hypothesis if I had either A. not been an experienced rider when I was going through my fat phase or B. the time with the horse was short lived in the fat phase.

                              Before becoming fat I was an upper level dressage rider who had spent time performing on baroque horses. I wasn't some Sally Snaffle that couldn't sit a trot. To go from half passes and levades to not able to obtain contact with my own horse, yet during the "fattening period" I never stopped riding was disappointing.
                              chaque pas est fait ensemble


                              • #16
                                I am always sensitive about this subject. I was told many years ago (more like about 20 years ago when I was eventing) at a clinic that I was "too fat". I don't remember learning anything else that day because that comment really wasn't helpful, but instead was quite hurtful. I was, and still am, what I would consider a successful rider. I have never considered myself as "too fat" to ride. I am not tall and thin, nor will I ever be. I have thighs!!

                                I have, however, made a change after acquiring a nice dressage prospect about 3 1/2 years ago. At the time neither of us was fit. We were very successful at Training level, but after the first year I decided that if I wanted to sit his trot (we were moving up to 1st level) that I needed some core and cardio work. Why should I ask him to be stronger if I was not stronger myself?

                                I joined a gym 2 years ago. I started working with a nutritionist about a year ago. My weight (on the scale) has not changed. By the way, I hate the scale!! However, in the year working with the nutritionist, I have dropped 2 pant sizes and lost 18% body fat I started at 32%. I also started running in June. I was never a runner and never thought that I could be a runner. I have successfully completed 3-5k races and 1-4 mile race and plan to run a 1/4 marathon (6.55 miles) in April.

                                My horse and I have been successful all along this journey, however, I do feel that slimming down and getting stronger have only improved my riding, which can only improve my horse. The running has given me another goal, especially during the winter when riding is difficult at best, so that I can pick up where I left off after last season.

                                My plan this year is to qualify at 2nd level with the hopes of moving up to 3rd level by summer?

                                I think lack of strength and balance is a bigger deal than what you weigh with regards to the horse's performance!
                                Mirror Image 2001-2007


                                • #17
                                  Big Spender, that is a PERFECT example!

                                  It's not all about the weight. Yes there WILL be a difference if you have a little jockey rider on a 13h pony vs my 6'1 200lb husband

                                  But on a typical horse, if you have 180lb of a high body fat person, vs 180lb of a lower body fat/higher muscle weight person, of equal riding ability, physics says there is a difference. Fat jiggles, and you cannot control it to nearly the degree that you can control muscle.
                                  The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by JB View Post
                                    Fat jiggles, and you cannot control it to nearly the degree that you can control muscle.

                                    But all kidding aside- it is 100% TRUE!!!

                                    I'm by no means- big... or tiny for that matter.

                                    At 5'9", I'm pretty much "stuck" at 135 lbs... I work out 6 days/week: 135lbs in shape makes A HUGE difference in my riding vs. 135lbs not in shape.
                                    That and I just feel so much better when I ride that it's worth the effort...
                                    Balance is probably the biggest player here- if you are more balanced, horse performs better (and I'm a jumper rider... but 90% of my riding is dressage)
                                    Proudly living in my "let's save the world bubble"!


                                    • #19
                                      Well it's been pretty much said by most of you

                                      But yes, while fitness (core strength and muscle strength) is more important than how much you weigh, if the strength is there less actual body weight make you an easier burden to bear while doing movements.

                                      I'm like BS, I have not lost weight, according to the scales, but I have gained a lot of core strength and muscle tone in the last 2-3 yrs, and it has made a difference.

                                      Before I had trouble sitting a big trot or holding a strong horse in canter. I rode an okay 1 st level but had trouble at 3rd and above.
                                      Now we are doing PSG and getting ready for I1, and I am sitting way better and being much less of a burden.

                                      I also joined a gym, and worked out. I am a nutritionist, so I applied my 'expertise' to myself, and it has helped. (cobbler's children and all that).

                                      I concentrate on core strength exercises, stretching and limbering exercises and weight training, with some cardio.

                                      I am by no means fit as in cardio marathon fit, nor am I any kind of skinny (size 12/14), but I can ride far better than I did before.

                                      I'd say joining a gym and working out is well worth the effort.
                                      Melyni (PhD) PAS, Dipl. ACAN.
                                      Sign up for the Equine nutrition enewsletter on www.foxdenequine.com
                                      New edition of book is out:
                                      Horse Nutrition Handbook.



                                      • #20
                                        I'm pretty sure in the less then uberfit horse it has got to make a difference. They'll fatigue quicker under more weight, use their muscles incorrectly due to earlier fatigue and so on.