One of the trickiest balances that the equestrian world has always had to tackle is the issue of size, weight, mounts, and horses. No one should ever fat-shame someone or assume that “horse riding isn’t for them” based on their size. On the contrary – equestrians come in all shapes and sizes, and as do horses, and that’s part of what makes this community so remarkable. It isn’t the size of your body but the size of your love for horses that counts, and that’s the way it should be.
Still, for the safety of yourself and the horse, you do want to make sure that you have a horse that can support a rider of your size. This isn’t just for larger riders, either – children and very small riders can sometimes find very large horses too unwieldy to handle.
Hence the timeless equestrian question, how big of a horse do I need?
No matter your size, there’s a horse out there that should suit you just fine, you just need to find out what the perfect size ratio is for you – and here’s how.
The 20% Rule
Once you start searching for answers to the question of “is my horse the right size?” one of the most commonly-cited rules you’re bound to come across is the so-called “20% Rule.” In essence, this unofficial states that the combined weight of both yourself and your equipment should total no more than 20% the weight of the horse you plan to ride. For example, a horse that weighs 1,000 lbs should not be carrying more than 200 lbs total between the rider and equipment.
One of the unfortunate side effects of this visa vi the aforementioned comment that people of all sizes should be able to ride is that some establishments will set a hard limit of 200 lbs on riders for this very reason. That said, this is far from universal, and some places do go higher. Again, it’s a formula that is dependent on the weight of the horse, rider, and equipment.
As such, there are plenty of variables to play with to try and get under the 20% Rule and ensure your horse isn’t taking on too great a burden for their backs or will get too tired too quickly, which is the real concern here.
Don’t forget to weigh the weight of your equipment in your calculations, either. While people understandably fixate on personal weight as the greater portion of the 20% rule, using different kinds of gear can make a definite impact on where you fall on that spectrum, especially if you are closer to 200 lbs. For example, there’s the weight of different saddle styles, with Western saddles weighing far more on average (around 45 lbs) than a classic English saddle (typically between 12.5 and 14.5 lbs), a Dressage saddle (11 to 15 lbs) or Australian saddle (19 to 29 lbs.)
That being said, while it may be a fair starting point, there is a lot more to picking the right horse for you than the 20% Rule. We’ll talk about some other variables you’ll need to keep in mind as well, but even with regards to weight, you might want to use an online horse weight calculator to get a more accurate idea of what you can expect when searching for the right horse for you.
That naturally begs the question of which horses can carry the most weight. Some of the best choices here include Mongolian Horses, Icelandic horses, Morgans, and Mustangs. That said, every horse is different, so you’ll still want to ask about the size of an individual horse and see how well it fits with your size requirements.
Of Height and Horses
While we typically imagine weight being one of the biggest stumbling blocks to some people being able to ride some horses, height can also be a problem. If you are too tall for a horse, you can again create strain on their back, not to mention the difficulty you might have keeping your balance.
There is less of a formula for this than with weight. Some horses are built very muscularly and can handle a broader or taller frame, whereas others have much more specific height and weight requirements. What’s more, horse weight and height itself can be misleading. One common trap new equestrians fall into is thinking that bigger is better, and that’s simply not always true. Sometimes shorter, stockier horses are the real heavy lifters and are able to handle bigger, taller riders.
You’ll really just need to try them out for yourself and consult with the keepers of the horses to find one that fits you best.
That being said, if you are considering purchasing a horse, particularly for a young rider who is not yet done growing themselves, you may want to buy on the larger side so as to accommodate them not just now but as they grow. We all “outgrow and replace” clothes, but doing so with horses is both far more expensive and rather reprehensible given the fact horses are beloved companions, and not simply something to “replace” when you decide you’ve “outgrown” them.
Your Level of Experience
Younger, still-growing riders are likewise still growing in their degree of riding expertise as well, which is another key factor when it comes to determining the right horse for them.
The more inexperienced the rider, the harder it is on horses. Let’s be honest – when we start learning how to ride horses, we aren’t very good at accommodating their needs. How you sit and lean can have a huge impact on how heavy you feel to a horse, but when you’re just starting out, you likely aren’t thinking about any of that – you’re just trying to hold on for dear life. As a result, your weight becomes “dead weight” for the horse, more of a burden than something that is fluid and moves with them in such a way as to be light enough to allow them to move naturally as a full partner.
One of the best ways to lessen the burden on your horse and thus enable you to ride more different kinds of horses is simply to gain experience and learn the finer points of balance and posturing.
On the flip side, if you’re a beginner, the answer to the question of “what size horse should I be riding?” should be something that is similarly-sized for beginners. The bigger the horse, the harder they are to control.
“Experience” can also play a role for horses as well. Putting a new rider and young horse not used to being ridden together is a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, putting a new or heavier rider on an older horse toward the end of their life is also likely giving them far more than they can handle.
As you can see, there are many ways to approach the size of the question of horses, weight, height, and you. There are many variables at play, and you need to consider all of them to find the pairing that works for you and your horse.
Consider, calculate, consulate experts, and soon enough you should be able to figure out what size horses are right for you.