Reality Of The Horse Issues

I’m going to start off this post by strongly saying I love animals. Anyone that knows me personally knows for a fact that my animals eat before I do, and I have gone without so that they had what they needed. It’s not just a love of animals, but a sense of responsibility of doing the right thing, a work ethic of sorts, and being a good steward. Being a good steward is also having a sense of reality and the big picture.

Now that I got that out of the way, let me also say that was I have to say is going to be hard to read for many of you, but it needs to be said — on a frequent basis. Some I’m sure will be filled with hate, but taking the emotion out of it, they’ll realize there’s at least some truth to what I’m saying.

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Horse slaughter, horse racing, and BLM Mustang round ups have been the topic of hot – or rather over emotional – talk here lately. I say “Talk” because it’s either bashed or supported but NO ONE on either side is even remotely offering some kind of realistic, workable solution.

The only solution that’s ever mentioned is let them all live. We can’t feed and house the rescues that are out there now without donations from the general public.

A few years back, I wrote two articles on my old blog, Musings From The Leadrope, that offered at least a potential partial solution to the horse slaughter issue. One point was for the Horse Rescues to start a registry so that a market for rescued horses could be broadened a bit. The reality is in order for a horse to be marketable and have a chance, they need to be usable for more than just a trail horse.

The other post caused quite a stir as it suggested that maybe the Horse Rescues could run the slaughter process and profit from the sale of hoofs and hides from those horses that did indeed need to be humanely euthanized. Go actually read the post before you judge!

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Rescues running horse slaughter? But slaughter is CRUEL! 

Before you jump on that band wagon, keep in mind that there’s a whole other world out there that thinks what YOU do is cruel and should be outlawed if you –

  • Keep your horse in a stall any part of the day
  • Ride with a bit
  • Ride at all
  • Clip your horse’s whiskers

Like I said in my post on why I Support Rodeo, there’s examples of (truly) poor horsemanship in every aspect of the horse world. By the way, the examples listed above are not abuse. The problem is that the people that are hollering the loudest don’t have a sound argument at all — only emotion and drama. If they keep hogging the platform, they will get their way and we won’t have a horse industry left, and you won’t be able to put your horse in a stall or clip his whiskers. On a side note, I do believe they have made attempts to ban clipping whiskers in some countries in Europe.

These over dramatic, emotional people that have the ear of the general public that generally don’t know any better, go around loudly bashing horse slaughter, BLM Round ups, Rodeo, and Horse Racing.

Not that being a back yard horse owner is a problem, but for the majority of these passionate loud people the back yard is really the end of their experience. Their view is limited and they don’t even know it and they’re the voice that’s making the loudest noise. The voice of more experience is busy wading in mud feeding horses or cattle, or cleaning 50 stalls at a time.

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The other problem is that these loud passionate folks NEVER offer realistic workable solutions. Take the recent case of dog racing. These emotional people got dog racing banned but they were never responsible enough to also take care of where these thousands of dogs would go, or find jobs for the families displaced because of the ban. If they really loved dogs and were compassionate, they would have taken care of that as well – but they didn’t. Which is why we need more experienced, sensible people voicing their opinion, or this could happen again to the rodeo industry, the race horse industry, the show horse industry, and yes even the trail riding industry.

No matter how much you love horses, you can’t change reality. There is no Hollywood ending where all horses have a home with some little girl in the back yard of their subdivision home. I’ll say it again — we can’t feed the rescues that are out there now that are not earning their keep.

The reality is that it comes down to a choice of the lessors of evils – until someone can offer solutions that change human behavior, the way people train – or rather don’t, and can find a way to house and feed a lot of horses.

Having horses race on the track is better than thousands of horses headed off to a slaughter house in Mexico to be cut up alive which is what would happen if racing were banned.

Having horses rounded up by BLM or stallions gelded is better than them starving to death.  By the way, have you ever tried to personally round up 50 head of truly wild horses? It’s not easy to separate out tame ones, let alone a few wild ones.

As I said in the rodeo post, it’s better for a bucking horse to work for 8 seconds and have feed and vet care than to have them all headed for the slaughter pen, which is exactly where they would be headed because nobody needs a bucking horse on the trail.

Remember I said it comes down to the lessor of the two evils? These are the lessor of the evils until someone can offer an optional solution like maybe the rescues being in charge of slaughter and being self supporting through that.

Like it or not, if there is no horse industry, there is no need for horses and no reason to take on such a huge expense, or a way to support such a huge expense – most horses cost at least $100 a month minimum to feed. Multiply that against just the rescue horses out there, let alone all the others. That’s the reality of it.

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If any of these hot issues are going to progress and become better, the emotions need to be put aside and realistic solutions be put on the table. Honestly, there needs to be a new rule — don’t complain unless you offer an idea that’s realistic as a solution. As Chris Ledoux said, if you’re complaining without a solution, you’re whining.

We need to hear more of the voice of sensible, experienced people like Bedlam Farm. Horse industry professionals such as trainers, grooms, ranchers, cattlemen all need to weigh in with their experience and common sense that was earned from hard knocks, not just being an arm chair protester. Folks like this are the think tank to get these issues fixed, but they’ve been so beat down and berated by the crazed activist that they’ve walked away from the table.

With as many talented, smart, folks as we have in the industry, surely solutions could be found or at least improvements made if we all brainstormed.

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Why Do You Show?

Being honest – why do you show? What is your own personal reason for showing up at a horse show or competition?

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The horse industry has been weighing heavy on my mind after seeing, hearing, and experiencing a few separate incidents this last year to the point that I need a break and I’ve decided to stop judging as a result.  

 “For the most part, horse people are great one on one, but get them together and they’re like a bunch of piranhas. “

This comment was made to me by a husband that’s not into horses, but is extremely supportive of his horse wife. The sad part is that there’s a ton of truth to that observation, and I’ve seen it in action.   

Earlier this year, I watched an advanced vet student judge an open horse show. Even though he knew more about soundness than most horse owners and was very familiar with all the different disciplines, he spent several late nights studying rule books of breed associations to prepare. He did a fabulous job judging the entire night, placing emphasis on quality and consistency of movement, willingness of the horses, softness, and good equitation. He was a good judge.

At the end of the night, he was cornered by a local gaited trainer and his entourage. They were extremely disrespectful, even cussing him at one point and telling him he didn’t know what he was doing. Keep in mind, this was an open show – this wasn’t the national championships.

Another fellow judge I know who is extremely fair and has tons of experience in gaited and non-gaited had the same type of experience at a local saddle club this year. A few years back, I had the same type of experience at the same venue and that’s when I vowed not to go back.

This past summer, I didn’t place a gaited rider in a Go As You Please bareback class because his horse was off in the hind end. I wasn’t the only one that saw it – two others saw it as well. As a rider, I know you can’t always feel a hind end gait deficiency, especially when a horse is smooth. Trying to be helpful I told the rider his horse seemed sore in the hind end and wasn’t moving equally in both directions. This grown man got mad and told me that when it came to gaited horses I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

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Over the years of judging, and years ago in putting on horse shows I’ve seen that sadly, this kind of behavior is not unusual.

I’ve seen congress champions haul to a small horse show and then complain about the ground for pleasure classes when they get there. I’ve seen barrel racers come to a small show with limited resources and equipment complain about the ground for barrels when it’s the exact type of ground that they started racing on in the first place. If these experienced riders are the ones the new riders are looking up to, what kind of example are they setting?

These riders forget we’re lucky to have open shows. If we didn’t have these small shows, the only place to get any experience would be the bigger shows which costs a minimum of a $100 to just step in the ring once by the time you pay an entry fee, office fee, etc.

People that put on open shows and other small events don’t make any money. They’re fortunate to just break even, and sometimes don’t by the time they pay $300-$700 for an arena, pay $3-$7 for every ribbon, and then pay for a judge, secretary, announcer, and insurance. Putting on a horse show is a labor of love but yet it’s not uncommon for riders to gripe and complain about the limited resources.

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It’s the same thing with judging. When a judge steps into the ring, especially at a small or open level, they want to help and share what they see and what they’ve learned. They’re there to help a rider become a better horseman and become a competitor in their event. While the pay might vary per show, judges spend hours on their feet, a lot of times in hot temperatures and high humidity in long sleeves, giving every bit of their attention for hours on end. By the end of the show, they’re exhausted mentally and physically.

I was taught to always have good horsemanship and never disrespect a judge. I also didn’t show for the judge – I showed to get the experience for me and my horse. It wasn’t about the judge – it was about me becoming a better horseman regardless of the placement. If I had a better ride than I thought I was going to, or my horse improved in some small way, I was good! After all, in the big scheme of life, it was just a horse show. It wasn’t life or death, or work for that matter.

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If the ground wasn’t good, I didn’t fuzz up and throw a fit or pack up and go home. I rode anyway and safety-ed up and went a lot easier. As the old saying goes, bad ground makes for great riders. It makes you learn how to keep your horse up and pay close attention to how you’re riding and your horse is responding.

After the house is finished, I fully plan on running barrels and doing some ranch events. I might even pull on a pair of breeches and attempt some schooling event stuff with my barrel horses – I just love trying a little bit of everything and seeing what they can do and having fun with it – that’s my reason for showing and competing.

I always told the nervous competitors I was judging, “Smile. They can’t kill you and eat you. It’s just a horse show.” Even if it is the nationals, it’s just a horse show – it’s not life or death. Life is short, and we need to be thankful to just have a horse, let alone throw a leg over one – there’s a ton of kids and adults out there willing to give anything to be in our shoes, and yet as blessed folks they gripe and complain about a judge call, the ground isn’t good enough, or that our horse or tack isn’t good enough.

We need an attitude adjustment in the horse industry so that the new folks coming into the industry see it. We lead by example. We need to be thankful, and appreciative and helpful. We need to have the right reasons to show and we need to have the right attitude before we step into the ring. While we’re at it – we need to hug the show management’s neck because without them we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.

Why do you show? Who do know that is under-appreciated in the show world? Have you told them “Thank you”?

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Hot Weather Considerations

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We’re at the start of summer and the temperatures have already hit record highs in some places. The high temperatures can impact your horse’s health, especially if they have any issues or if you compete. The key to making it through the hot weather is knowing your horse’s health, good planning, and diligent maintenance.

While fans are the choice of many owners to keep their horse’s cool, there are a few things to consider when using fans in your barn on a regular basis throughout the summer.

One is that fans are one of the top contributors to barn fires. If you use fans in your barn, make sure you check the wiring and clean them on a regular basis.

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Another thing to consider when using fans is conditioning of your horse, especially if you’re showing or trail riding. When you’re showing in the arena, out on a course or trail, your horse isn’t under a fan Additionally, depending on the venue, you may not have access to a fan or shade while you’re at your trailer waiting on your class.  If your horse is used to being under a fan all day they may struggle in the heat without a fan because they’re conditioned to being cooler.

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Last, consider the ventilation in your barn. Good air flow is important during hot weather. If your barn does not have good ventilation, you’ll want to consider using a fan to keep the air flowing through your barn, especially if you have a metal barn roof without insulation as they tend to heat up even more.

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Adding electrolytes to the water or feed and keeping salt available are the two top tips for hot weather. While both do help a horse stay hydrated, there are a couple of things to consider.

If your horse is not drinking enough water, you’ll want to be careful about adding salt to their feed. If a horse isn’t drinking, there’s usually a reason behind it such as their gut being irritated. Horses with issues may still not drink even with the additional salt and can wind up dehydrated from the additional salt.

One thing to consider when adding electrolytes is whether you’re feeding a complete feed. Some feeds already have salt and electrolytes in them. Feeding additional electrolytes can cause an imbalance which results in “Thumps”. When an imbalance occurs, dehydrated can quickly escalate.

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Three year old mare at her first ranch clinic fall of 2013.

Wetting your horse’s feed down or adding soaked alfalfa cubes or beet pulp is a great way to help keep your horse hydrated, especially if they’re not drinking as much as they should be. Not only will it help your horse stay hydrated, but it’s a good colic preventative as well.

If you’re committed to competing throughout the summer, be sure to keep your horse conditioned and acclimated to the heat. If they’re in good condition and used to the warm temperatures, they’ll have an easier time adjusting on show days. Talk with your vet about your horse’s health and develop a game plan for your region to keep your horse ready to compete.

What are your plans for riding this summer? How are you going to help your horse stay healthy through the heat?

 

Keeping Weight In Winter On A Budget

We still have a few months to go before the grass comes out and hay is ready to be cut. Winter is the most challenging time to keep horses healthy, and the most expensive when considering the added expense of hay.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of my own horses to feed. At one point in time, we had not quite five acres of pasture and seven horses. When you work a regular job and have that many horses to feed hay to, you figure out ways to keep them fed well on a short budget.

The first rule of thumb is don’t forget to keep up with worming and teeth schedules. You can feed a ton of the best hay and feed in the world, but if your horse isn’t actually digesting it because they can’t chew or they have a heavy parasite load, you’re wasting your money because they’re not actually utilizing it. Be sure to look at these two things first when reviewing your management program for the winter.

Colic and Dehydration

One of the biggest challenges during freezing temperatures is getting horses to drink. It’s also the most common time for colic from impaction due to dehydration. Feeding soaked cubes or beet pulp is a great option as it adds water to their digestive tract in addition to providing a forage source.

While folks will often advise feeding salt or electrolytes, I have found that doesn’t always work – especially in cases where a horse might have an undetected gut, stomach, or tooth issue going on. I’ve added salt and wound up with a horse at the vet school for a week from getting dehydrated even quicker. I will keep a salt block or loose plain salt out so that they horse can self-regulate how much they need, but I don’t add salt to their feed.

If you do a search on beet pulp and cubes, you’ll find several articles that state neither have to be soaked. I personally have had a horse choke on a palm full of beet pulp shreds so I always soak them both. Tooth issues make a horse more prone to choke. Not all tooth issues are easy are outwardly detectable. In my opinion, it’s better horsemanship to err on the side of caution and just soak.

To soak cubes and beet pulp shreds, I cover them in an inch of water and let them soak at least thirty minutes if the water is cold. If the water is hot, fifteen minutes will work. Ideally, I like to let the mix soak for at least eight hours so that the cubes get soft.

One thing that I’ve learned is that if you soak the cubes overnight by themselves, they break up completely. If you soak them with the beet pulp shreds, the cubes still get soft but they don’t disintegrate as well.

If you’re in severely cold weather, you’ll want to either soak with hot water for a few minutes, or take your feed tub into a heated environment so that it doesn’t freeze. If neither of those options are doable, feeding Chaffhaye might be a good option. Chaffhaye is fermented chopped hay. It contains probiotics that are beneficial to digestion and it does not require soaking and can help with weight. Another option would be adding a natural oil like Cocosoya to your to help keep their gut moving. Oils are high in fat and will help replace calories lost maintaining body heat.

Shreds and Cubes –vs- Pellets

Availability plays a big role in whether I feed shreds and cubes or pellets. I like the beet pulp shreds and alfalfa cubes better than the pelleted form for horses without teeth problems just because they’re bigger in size which means they’re less likely to get compacted in the digestive tract. There have been years where pellets were the only option and I’ve fed those as well after soaking. I will say that the pelleted beet pulp does require a longer soaking period than the shreds. For older horses that lack teeth, pellets may be a much better option – just remember to soak!

Benefits

Most articles will tell you that you can replace up to a third of hay with beet pulp. Cubes can replace hay pound per pound. Both make a great option for stretching your hay supply. While hay may be cheaper, if you’re limited on hay storage or getting a consistent supply, cubes and beet pulp are an affordable option.

One thing I’ve noticed is that horses get slower on their hay when they’re fed beet pulp than they do when they’re fed just cubes. The drawback is that beet pulp doesn’t have the same level of nutrients as alfalfa cubes do, so if you’re worried about them getting their required nutrients but need to stretch your hay supply, you might want to consider feeding both.

Weight Issues

While beet pulp if often recommended for weight gain, I’ve always had much better weight and topline results by feeding alfalfa cubes. Rice bran is also an inexpensive way to add fat for weight gain. Beet pulp can help some with weight in that you can feed less hay, however when it comes to truly hard keepers, I focus more on adding alfalfa cubes and rice bran.

On a side note, if you’re having trouble keeping weight on your horse, you may want to weigh what you’re feeding your horse. Often owners will think they’re feeding the amount that’s recommended on the bag, but when they actually weigh what they’re feeding it’s less. A general rule of thumb is that a 3 quart scoop will hold 3.8 pounds of pelleted feed in most cases. Most of the pelleted feeds on the market today recommend 7-10 pounds for a 1,200 pound horse, and 15-18 pounds if you’re replacing part of their hay.

A horse requires a minimum of 1-1.5% of bodyweight a day in forage. This means that a 1,000 horse needs between 10-15 pounds of hay or another forage source. I’ve found that most hard keepers will require twice that amount even when fed good quality hay. Keep in mind, the lessor the quality of hay the more you’ll need to feed.

Also, pay attention to the weather when you feed. Horses generate body heat from digesting forage. The colder it is, the more hay they need. If the temperature is less than 40 degrees and it’s raining, they need more hay than if it is not raining. If your horse has weight issues, it will be even more critical for them to get enough hay. If your horse is shivering, it’s a good idea to give them more hay as well.

Picky Eaters

If your horse is a hard keeper and slow on their feed, there’s a few things to consider. The first is to make sure they don’t have any teeth issues.

One thing that I have learned over the years with these types of horses is to let their appetite dictate what works. One common thing that I have repeatedly learned by process of elimination is that molasses, beet pulp (including the non-molassas kind) and joint supplements can irritate their gut and cause some horses to go off their feed or get slow on it. I’ve also found that they usually won’t stay on pelleted feeds because they contain beet pulp.

With these types of horses, I usually feed straight oats, flax seed meal, rice bran, and soaked alfalfa cubes along with free choice hay. I’ll add a non-molassas based mineral supplement to cover the rest of the nutritional base.

Managing horses through the winter months can be tough, but by implementing a few changes and focusing on keeping them hydrated and their weight up you can make it through with a healthy horse.

What are some of your struggles for keeping your horse fed well during the winter? What are some of your solutions for that?

Plus Size Options? 

Are you a company that offers Plus Size clothing and boots for riders? 

Breeches from Fuller Fillies

I’ve had several requests to do a series on clothing and boots for plus size riders. If you carry riding and working attire in plus sizes, give me a shout! I’m looking to interview companies that carry english or western options as our readers come from all disciplines. 

Plus size jeans from Kimes Jeans


Each vendor that participates in the blog series will be featured in an individual post that talks about their company and the products they have to offer. The post will include a full interview, pictures of the items you have to offer, and two profile pics. The post will be shared on the Cowgirls With Curves facebook page, and Twitter page, as well as my author pages on social media. 

If you have clothers for actually working in the barn, that’s a bigger plus – no pun intended! 

Drop me an email at qheventer (at) yahoo dot com to get started. 

I Support Rodeo

This week’s post is actually a commentary I made on the Cowgirls With Curves facebook page last week…

After a comment about abuse on a rodeo meme pic, I feel like I need to make a statement.

I try not to post political crap on this page because that’s not what it’s about. This is a place for we as horse folks of all disciplines to come together and be encouraged and get a laugh every now and then, but I will take a stand on this.

I support rodeo and I will always support rodeo. I personally have only barrel raced at NBHA jackpots and a couple of futurities, but I’ve never ran rodeo. It’s always been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid in the 70’s watching the Hesston commercials for the NFR, and one day I will rodeo, good Lord willing. I have lots of friends that rodeo, have been involved with rodeo ministry in years past, and the love of my life is an old bull rider. So my ties with rodeo come from the heart.

Some folks might assume I’m this way because they think I’m just a barrel racer or that’s all I do. They are sadly mistaken. Yes, I love to barrel race but that’s not all I do or all I am. I’ve shown hunter, trail, western pleasure, judged hunter/jumpers and gaited horses, sorted cows, and even trained saddleseat, western pleasure and halter Arabs for a few years in my twenties. I’ve taken a stretch of lessons for eventing, and even had an event prospect off the race track. I’ve gone to ranch clinics and roped calves for doctoring, and I’ve broke more colts than I can count, a few older horses to boot. So I’ve got a pretty well rounded perspective when it comes to horsemanship and what is and isn’t abuse.

I don’t support true abuse in any event or discipline – rodeo or otherwise. But when someone calls out rodeo and makes a blanket statement that it’s abusive but other disciplines get a pass, I have to stand up. There’s abuse that happens in ALL disciplines. Look at Rolkur in Dressage, or riding horses with broken legs in the Kings Cup Endurance Race, pushing horses past their ability in Eventing, or tying horses up for hours in Western Pleasure.

If putting a flank strap that’s as tight as a rear cinch would be on a ranch saddle or a packing set up, on a horse is considered abuse, then those horse riding/showing folks calling it abuse might want to be aware of the fact that there’s a whole other world out there that adamantly states even riding a horse is abuse because  horses had rather be out grazing and we’re making them carry us around. People say the mere act of trimming whiskers is abuse too, as well as using ANY type of bit. If that’s the definition of abuse, then a ton of us are abusing our horses!

As someone else pointed out in a comment on the post, the folks that call the mere act of riding abuse are out to ban all aspects of riding, and instead of bashing each other’s disciplines it’s important that we come together and support one another. 

Oh, and while I’m at it, they don’t break horses in rodeos and the bucking straps on bulls are not around their testicles. And as far as spurs, I’ve seen far more reining, western pleasure, and gaited horses with bloody sides than I ever have bucking horses.

In addition, if it weren’t for rodeo the bucking horses would be bound to a Mexico slaughter house because they like to buck and no one wants a horse they can’t stay on or that’s dangerous. I’d much rather a horse have two square meals a day, get vet care, and only have to work at most 16 SECONDS every weekend than to see them on a truck for 48 hours without food or water just to be cut up while they’re still alive at the end. Heck, my horses work a LOT harder than they do!

Maybe not all the stock contractors or competitors are perfect when it comes to dealing with bulls and horses (I say get some first hand ranching experience and dealing with irate stock without pens and then you can judge.) But then not every rider that rides a dressage pattern, jumps a cross country course, or rides a class down the rail is either. There are poor horsemanship and stockmanship examples in every facet of the horse world but they aren’t the example of what it’s about, and the exact same applies to rodeo.

Rodeo, the people involved, and all the things it stands for will always be near and dear to my heart. I love and appreciate all disciplines because in the end it’s about what a horse and a rider can do together.

Copyright F.J. Thomas

Let’s Talk About Weight & Horses

Weight is a touchy subject for women, especially for horsewomen that don’t have a positive body image. How many of us have seen posts on forums asking whether or not a rider is too big for a horse? Far too often, at least in my opinion, multiple responses hold up the 20% golden rule that’s the end all be all of whether or not a rider should ride their horse.

For those that may not be familiar with the 20%, studies have shown that the maximum weight a horse – any horse regardless of build or size – should carry is 20% of their body weight. The studies indicate that when a horse carries more than 20% of their bodyweight, their heart rate increases and their muscles fatigue quicker.

 The average 15 hand horse will run around 1,000 pounds, which means the most weight they should carry is 200 pounds.

I ran Beavis on barrels at 185 pounds.

While this may be a good loose general rule of thumb, the problem is that most of these studies that have been done don’t take into account the differences in genetics, conformation, condition, or rider balance and fitness. In addition, there’s not uniformity in the horses and riders that they’re using to determine these results.

To make matters worse, some shows have even gone so far as to ask heavier riders to dismount based on the 20% rule. My fear is that if this taken to extreme, formal rules will be put into place on a larger scale – pun intended – based on studies that never took into account the individuality of horse and rider.

Using this 20% rule as the end all, be all is like saying people that weigh the same can lift the same amount of weight. Go to a weight lifting competition and you’ll see that’s simply not true. It’s not uncommon for smaller lifters to out-lift someone that weighs more than they do simply because they’re stronger.

Weight is not an indicator of strength or endurance but using this 20% rule as an end all be all makes it exactly that.

As a former trainer and instructor that’s ridden a large number of different breeds of horses, and as a competitor that’s been at every spectrum of the scale, I have a good feel of how weight impacts a horse and I know where the differences lie.

 While a rider’s fitness level does have an impact on how well a rider rides, my opinion is that a rider’s strength and balance are what is important. A rider can be strong and balanced but not necessarily fit according to traditional thinking. A balanced rider that is in time with their horse will have less impact on a horse’s back than a rider that’s fit but doesn’t have the best balance.

A rider’s build can also have an impact on how well they ride. If a rider is top heavy, they’re going to struggle more than a rider that carries more weight in their hips. With more weight up top, the physical impact on the horse’s back is going to be different than weight further down.

The same thing goes for horses and how they’re built. It’s common knowledge that a shorter back is stronger than a longer back. Two horses can weigh the same, but the shorter backed horse will be stronger.

My old horse Bluff weight 1200 pounds but he was also long backed.

Conformation and angles also play a role in a horse’s strength. In the barrel racing world, a horse with shorter cannon bones, a long hip angle, and lower hocks is more desired because they’re stronger making them faster coming off of a barrel.

A horse with a good shoulder angle can carry more weight more efficiently than a horse with an upright shoulder angle. Pair a good shoulder angle with correct angles in the pastern and hocks, and they’re even stronger.

Toad is a tough little horse right at 1,000 pounds.

Differences in the depth of the girth can also impact how well a horse carries weight. A deeper girth area allows for greater lung capacity so their endurance is better.

Conditioning also plays a role in how well a horse carries weight. It’s not only whether or not a horse has been worked, but the type of work they are being asked to do. For instance, a western pleasure show horse or hunter horse may be legged up perfectly to go compete in a class, but they may not be legged up enough to go run a barrel pattern competitively.  They need to be conditioned for the event they’re being asked to do in order to carry weight at an optimum level.

Over the years I’ve ridden several horses that I was either right at or a little over the 20% level. One Paso Arab cross mare that I rode weighed right at 900 pounds – 20% would be 180 pounds. There were several years I rode her weighing 185 and my saddle weighed 25 pounds. That mare carried me without any problem at all. We went on hilly trail rides and at the end of the day she had as much energy as she did at the start.

This Paso Arab mare carried me a lot of years at heavier weights and had no trouble.

I currently have two Quarter Horse geldings that both weigh right at 1,000 pounds. One is barely 14.2 and the other is right at 15 hands. I’ve ridden them both at 200 pounds and they carried me as easily at that weight as they do now, and they never tired any quicker than my black gelding that weighs 1250 pounds and is 16 hands.

1250 pounds and 16 hands, 1000 pounds and 15 hands – they carry me equally!

By the same token, I have had some smaller horses that weighed right at the 1,000 pound mark that I was a lot more careful about riding. I could tell they struggled a little more carrying me. This mare below is one of them. When she was green, could buck me very easily – which she worked out of – but she also tired quicker than my other horses did.

To the riders out there that struggle with a positive body image, don’t get too hung up on the 20% rule that gets spouted everywhere. Instead, take a look at your balance and strength and look at your horse as an individual whole.

Ask yourself these questions –

  • How is your balance and timing?
  • How well does your saddle fit?
  • How is your horse built?
  • Is he short backed or long backed?
  • How is the rest of his conformation and muscle?
  • How well is he conditioned?
  • Does he tire when he’s worked? How long does he have to be worked before he does get tired?
  • Does he wring his head or have any behavioral issues that could be caused by being uncomfortable?

If you still have questions of whether or not you’re too big for a horse, find a professional that is experienced with plus size riders. They’ll not only be able to give you an unbiased opinion, but they’ll be able to help you with issues that can be unique to larger riders and smaller type horses.

Weight is just a number. It’s doesn’t tell the whole story, and it doesn’t tell how well you ride or how well your horse can carry you.