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Horses and weight carrying ability

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  • Horses and weight carrying ability

    Please NOT a thread about bigger riders, but about factors to consider for when considering weight carrying abilities.

    Questions I have been wondering about.

    The 20% rule, has been around since the days of the cavalry, and appears to be backed up by more modern research, but does that apply to being the maximum comfortable weight to ride all day and compete, or for any sort of riding?

    It is often said that Arabs, native ponies, Icelandics, Haflingers etc. are better weight carriers does this mean that the 20% can be stretched for them?

    Does a western saddle mean that a horse can carry more weight than he can in an English saddle because of the weight distribution?

    What is the most important factor to consider, short back or good bone?
    I'm not sure if I grew out of stupid or ran out of brave.

    Practicing Member of the Not too Klassy for Boxed Wine Clique

  • #2
    Like you, I've heard the 20% of horse's body weight most frequently as an estimate, assuming a sound horse and a healthy horse's weight (that is, can't fatten him up beyond a normal weight and suddenly say he can carry more!), but

    I like this formula because it accounts for total weight of horse, rider, tack, et al. as well as "bone": http://www.gaitedhorses.net/Articles/HRiderGuide.shtml

    but then there are the discussions about things such as broadness of back/loin, length of back, height of horse, etc.:

    http://horsetype.com/text.php?id=98 (note within this the link to Deb Bennett's site).

    It's a compelling topic. I don't know that anyone has pinpointed a single or even a few things that are indisputably the best indicators of weight-carrying ability -- that is, I don't know if anyone has an answer about bone vs. length of back, but it seems reasonable it's probably multifactorial and it all plays a part. I do find Bennett's work generally persuasive.
    Last edited by Rallycairn; Nov. 5, 2012, 09:17 AM.
    If thou hast a sorrow, tell it not to the arrow, tell it to thy saddlebow, and ride on, singing. -- King Alfred the Great

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    • #3
      The 20% Rule was NEVER a Rule for any national cavalry that I'm aware of. It is constantly "cited" but neither my research nor any that I've ever seen from others demonstrates its existence.

      The amount a horse can carry depends on a variety of factors including, but not limited to (and in no particular order):

      Conformation
      Condition
      Fitness
      Rider Ability
      Rider Strength and Fitness
      Rider Balance
      Nutritional Status
      Farrier Care Status
      Tack Type
      Tack Fit
      Etc., Etc., Etc.

      I suspect the "rule" developed because it's an easy to apply mathematical calculation. It relieves the horseman of the burden of thought.

      There has been some attempt at "scientific validation" of the "rule" but it's unpersuasive if you consider the myriad of factors involved.

      Think then do.

      G.
      Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão

      Comment

      • Original Poster

        #4
        Here is one attempt at validation http://www.j-evs.com/article/S0737-0...413-3/abstract which is a small study.

        It makes me ask more questions than giving answers, when we are working on our own fitness we are told to work out one day, then rest or change the activity the next to give the muscles a chance to recover and strengthen again, it is by the continued stressing that they get stronger over time. That research is looking at soft tissue damage, so surely that would kind of negate some breeds being better weight carriers than others.
        I'm not sure if I grew out of stupid or ran out of brave.

        Practicing Member of the Not too Klassy for Boxed Wine Clique

        Comment


        • #5
          We ride ponies for mounted games, and use the general guidelines from Pony Club -
          • Any rider over 117 pounds in weight may not ride a pony
          12.2 hands or under.
          • Any rider over 150 pounds in weight may not ride a pony
          13.2 hands or under.
          • Any rider over 190 pounds in weight may not ride a pony
          14.2 hands or under.

          I ride a 13.2 1/2" pony, who is super sturdy with big bone, and although I am tall and probably look big on her, I feel she handles my weight fine. (I am within the normal range for my height, not overweight.) I'm looking for a new pony in the 13.3 to 14.1 range, as my pony is getting old.
          blogging at HN: http://www.horsenation.com/
          check out my writing: http://jeseymour.com
          Just out: http://www.barkingrainpress.org/dd-p...ead-poisoning/

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by 4cornersfarm View Post
            We ride ponies for mounted games, and use the general guidelines from Pony Club -
            • Any rider over 117 pounds in weight may not ride a pony
            12.2 hands or under.
            • Any rider over 150 pounds in weight may not ride a pony
            13.2 hands or under.
            • Any rider over 190 pounds in weight may not ride a pony
            14.2 hands or under.
            Can't speak for ponies, but these numbers are irrelevant to Paso Finos, which typically run 13.2-14.2 hh and 700-900#. We regularly do long weekend rides (4-6 hours) in varied terrain, usually quasi-mountainous, since we are in mid-Virginia. Typical rider plus gear is going to be in the 220# range. If we used the 20% 'rule' no-one but children and small adults would ever get on a Paso! Not only are the Pasos able to handle the weight, but they typically go out the second day as fresh as the first. Not sure if this is due to the gaiting (less suspension = less downward force on the legs??), or the fact that these horses were bred to travel and may have denser bone than some other breeds, but most pasture-fit Pasos can carry well north of 200# for days. Heck, some of the FL Paso trainers weight over 250# without gear. Fortunately they are usually only riding in the show rings.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by BarbaricYawp View Post
              Can't speak for ponies, but these numbers are irrelevant to Paso Finos, which typically run 13.2-14.2 hh and 700-900#. We regularly do long weekend rides (4-6 hours) in varied terrain, usually quasi-mountainous, since we are in mid-Virginia. Typical rider plus gear is going to be in the 220# range. If we used the 20% 'rule' no-one but children and small adults would ever get on a Paso! Not only are the Pasos able to handle the weight, but they typically go out the second day as fresh as the first. Not sure if this is due to the gaiting (less suspension = less downward force on the legs??), or the fact that these horses were bred to travel and may have denser bone than some other breeds, but most pasture-fit Pasos can carry well north of 200# for days. Heck, some of the FL Paso trainers weight over 250# without gear. Fortunately they are usually only riding in the show rings.
              I think the way the animal is built makes a big difference. So, I think I agree with you.
              blogging at HN: http://www.horsenation.com/
              check out my writing: http://jeseymour.com
              Just out: http://www.barkingrainpress.org/dd-p...ead-poisoning/

              Comment

              • Original Poster

                #8
                Great case in point, what exactly is it that makes Pasos able to punch above their class, and I'm speaking as a person who has never seen a real live one, do they have tremendous bone, or what, the ones I see in pics don't look particularly stocky. I wonder if the researchers would find the same sort of changes as they did with the undisclosed "light horses" they tested. By your figures your guys are carrying 25 - 30% without much issue.
                I'm not sure if I grew out of stupid or ran out of brave.

                Practicing Member of the Not too Klassy for Boxed Wine Clique

                Comment


                • #9
                  It could be that Pasos are "short coupled" as a breed, not a stretched-out body style. Having the tighter muscle over the loin area, along with a bigger tree area, like on Western saddles, spreads the load out a lot more for weight carrying.

                  Most of the Pony breeds, tend to be short-coupled in body styles, which can aid in weight carrying ability. These would include the Icelandics, Haflinger, Welsh, which are similar in being short backed.

                  In larger horse breeds, the Cleveland Bay is noted for being short-backed, having the ability to carry large people for all day, working outings like Hunting all day or Trail Rides. Part of the breed brag is that short back, which holds up well over the years of work. Having had to fit Clevelands, Cleveland crossbreds with saddles both English and Western, they ARE short backed for their height. You can't have any skirt length because it rubs on the loin area during movement. Their short backs are still extremely bendable, not stiff to turn or ride, gaits are comfortable. They don't really "look" short backed, because they are well proportioned overall. You find it as you fit the tack.

                  The above named breeds also tend to have substantial bone to go with the rest of the animal. Not coarse or clunky, or even drafty type bone. But their bone is proportional to the rest of the animal size, DENSE, and they tend to have hooves that are fit to carry the load above. None are bred for dainty feet, not desired in these breeds, as the small-hoof look is promoted in other breeds or crosses. Some registries REQUIRE inspections for keeping hoof and bone quality up in size and able to withstand heavy work during the life of the animal. Can't get bone and good sized hooves on youngstock, if the breeding stock doesn't have it to start with.

                  The short backed animals do tend to NOT have the sag in spine as they age, even when they routinely carry big riders and loads (pack horses) that are way up past 200 pounds of goods. I would pick a short-backed horse for my jobs, over an equal quality, long-backed horse. They hold up better in the long run for ME, in the variety of jobs our horses do. Some disciplines do need horses with longer backs to do well, win at the top levels. So for those activities, a longer-backed animal would be the better choice for use.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Speaking for my Paso, no, he doesn't have tremendous bone. His little legs and feet are very tiny (size 00 shoe). Maybe the Puerto Rican Pasos are stockier - I believe they are.
                    What's wrong with you?? Your cheese done slid off its cracker?!?!

                    Comment

                    • Original Poster

                      #11
                      In my research I'm now finding some interesting things put about as fact, but as ever trying to actually find out where these things come from is darn near impossible.

                      First statement often reprinted, but I can't find the source

                      Comparably, a study of 374 competitive trail riding horses compared horse/rider weight relationships. They concluded that these horses can easily carry over 30% of their body weight for 100 miles and not only compete, but compete well. As would be expected, good body condition and bone structure were found to be paramount. Bone structure was evaluated using the front leg cannon bones as representative of general structure.

                      Also the statement that Arabs can can carry 25 - 30% of their body weight seems to be accepted by some, but I can't find any foundation for that either.
                      I'm not sure if I grew out of stupid or ran out of brave.

                      Practicing Member of the Not too Klassy for Boxed Wine Clique

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Not mentioned, is that Arabs have the shorter back, with one less vertebrae in their spine. This allows a bit different muscling, to support that spine under a load. I am thinking there is some line of mustangs, which also show purity of blood with that one less vertebrae like the Arabs, for getting in their registry. This trait was pointed out often in the past, as the reason for Arabs and mustangs being able to manage their larger riders well in hard work.

                        You might want to go back in the U.S. Cavalry rules and regulations, about how they picked horses for the Troopers. The perameters were fairly specific in how they chose animals in height, body size, bone, so they were of a "type" to stand up under heavy use in their career. Horses in a Troop were very similar looking. Civil War photos of famous Officers with their equally famous horses, show a GREAT similarity in what was chosen as a mount to ride day after day, was able to withstand the work in those harsh conditions. Horses were NOT PRETTY in most cases or groomed to perfection. Had straight legs, big hooves, short backs. Troopers themselves, came in all sizes, a horse still had to carry man AND his kit to reach the battle and be able to fight. I expect there are quite exacting rules for picking new Cavalry mounts because of the extensive experience gathered over years of horse buying, seeing horse styles that lasted, horses that washed out from bad builds. But looking at a lot of historical photos, I don't think I have ever seen a "weedy" looking, small footed horse under a Civil War soldier.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          also important is balance of the rider. if a heavier rider has a lot of good balance and body control, that is helpful to the horse. someone who is unbalanced and without good body control can be a hinderance.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            This conversation comes up a LOT in therapeutic riding. We have to determine how much weight a horse can carry 1) if the rider is unbalanced or physically involved, and 2) if the rider is a non-disabled beginner, like many of our volunteers, or 3) if it's a staff person riding the horse, or another experienced rider, and asking more of it. While we don't exactly make a grid with those 3 categories, over the years you develop an instinct. The 20+ year old Arab with Cushings probably could have carried 180 lb when he was 10 or 12, but now his back has dropped and he's not fit, so he gets a limit of 140, and we try to stay below that. The 20+ year old Clyde cross could have carried well over 200 a few years ago, but we'll probably lower his limit significantly as soon as we find another horse to carry the bigger riders; for now, we make sure he only does 30 minutes with a 200 lb rider once/day. So the number itself is part of the picture, but what the rider is doing and how long they're up there makes almost as much difference. I can put a 200 lb young man on our Fjord for 20-30 minutes and she handles it with grace; I can put a 45 lb squirmy, very very involved child on her and she's grouchy from the beginning because that little child is in constant motion and never truly balanced. Numbers aside, you have to watch your horse for the subtle signs that they're unhappy and consider all the factors - saddle fit, shoeing, all the stuff G. mentioned above - because they all contribute as much or more than the numbers on the scale.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by goodhors View Post
                              Not mentioned, is that Arabs have the shorter back, with one less vertebrae in their spine. This allows a bit different muscling, to support that spine under a load. I am thinking there is some line of mustangs, which also show purity of blood with that one less vertebrae like the Arabs, for getting in their registry. This trait was pointed out often in the past, as the reason for Arabs and mustangs being able to manage their larger riders well in hard work.

                              You might want to go back in the U.S. Cavalry rules and regulations, about how they picked horses for the Troopers. The perameters were fairly specific in how they chose animals in height, body size, bone, so they were of a "type" to stand up under heavy use in their career. Horses in a Troop were very similar looking. Civil War photos of famous Officers with their equally famous horses, show a GREAT similarity in what was chosen as a mount to ride day after day, was able to withstand the work in those harsh conditions. Horses were NOT PRETTY in most cases or groomed to perfection. Had straight legs, big hooves, short backs. Troopers themselves, came in all sizes, a horse still had to carry man AND his kit to reach the battle and be able to fight. I expect there are quite exacting rules for picking new Cavalry mounts because of the extensive experience gathered over years of horse buying, seeing horse styles that lasted, horses that washed out from bad builds. But looking at a lot of historical photos, I don't think I have ever seen a "weedy" looking, small footed horse under a Civil War soldier.
                              Prior to the establishment of the Remount Service (circa 1906) Government horses were acquired through various means.

                              Prior to the ACW (and later in the IW period) horses were purchased by each Regiment through agents. The Regimental Colonel established the standards (IAW any guidance from higher authority). A board of officers (and senior non-coms) would examine mounts presented by sellers and negotiate the purchase. Sometimes a Regiment would hire an agent to "pre-screen" offerings and present them to the board. The agent was paid a commission on each horse purchased. The type of horse could vary from regiment to regiment. You could start a pretty good fistfight in the Mess by opening the subject of "the ideal cavalry horse."

                              During the ACW and in the later part of the 19th Century the Quartermaster General did the buying. During the War the Union authorities bought what was available and some it was not very good. Large drafts of very green horses of indeterminate breeding and conformation and temperment were often issued to regiments in the field (or fitting out). "Horse wastage" during the War was monumental. The quality of horse in the Army was frankly poor by the time of the Spanish-American War. The deficiencies in Army procurement were embarrassingly apparent during that conflict.

                              This lead to reforms (in many areas of Army practice); the Remount Service was born as part of those reforms. Procurement was restricted to TB-type geldings, 900-1100 pounds, 15-16 hands. The Army acquired (by purchase and donation) good quality stallions that were placed with agents. An owner could breed a mare to these studs for a very small fee. They had to record the birth. If the horse were a male at three years the Army had the option to buy the horse at market value. The program eventually produced such a uniform conformation that when the Phillips Officer's Saddle was introduced in 1936 it came in only one tree size. This program functioned until 1948.

                              In any discussion of remounts you have to talk about Morgans and Arabians. Some very wealthy people (including Dr. Kellogg of corn flakes fame) donated farms to the Army. The Morgans were mostly in New England and were very popular with the Artillery branch as light draft horses and mounts for Officers and soldiers. The Arabians were in CA and were popular with some officers. Both breeds were relatively rare in the Cavalry where the TB-type horse was believed to be superior for field service. In the Remount Service, over its lifetime, the mix was 90%+ TB/TB-Type, 9% Arab or Morgan, and <1% American Saddle Horse.

                              Officers could draw a government horse or provide their own during the entire era of the Horse Cavalry; ditto for tack.

                              During most of the life of the Horse Cavalry the American load standard ran 230-250 lbs. (rider, tack, weapons, gear, food, etc.) Do some math and you'll find it was a rare horse that would be carrying 20% of its weight or less. The British load was much heavier (by about 30 lbs.) as the tack was heavier and there was more gear. European cavalries ranged from lower than the U.S. standard (but not by much) to well over 300 lbs. for German and Austrian units. Horse size and type also varied considerably.

                              The only written reference I've ever found for a U.S. Cavalry "20% Rule" was in an equitation book authored by a retired Cavalry officer in about 1940. I don't remember the specific name or title. The pertinent section referenced a "cavalry rule." I've never found such a rule or regulation and I've really done some searching (including the reference libraries of the U.S. Cavalry Assn. and the Cavalry Museum at Ft. Riley). IMO it never existed.

                              G.
                              Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Thanks G, for the specifics. I was sure the weights carried by the horses were at least 200 pounds with the total outfit and rider. Easy to be over that weight if they carried food or winter gear. Details kind of ran together in my head for what took place when, with the improving done over a period of time. By the end of the mounted Cavalry period, the U.S. Army had a very consistant buying and training program for horses that turned out good results.

                                Those Remount stallions located across the nation, did a lot of horse improvement for the local folks that used them. As you said, those horses available to buy got lots more consistant in type, similar, for easy matching in the troops. Crops of young horses were sold to the Army for cash to keep the farm or ranch going in those times. Horses needed to match somewhat in striding along, to keep together when riding in formation, when training and covering distances, which was easier using similar bodied animals. We had a very good horse system going in the Cavalry, when things turned to being mechanized.

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