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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Supporting Those That Struggle

With all the changes this year, it’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog….After getting the farm sold and doing some serious soul-searching, I’ve decided to keep it going if for no other reason than the fact that I’m passionate about horses and being healthy with them – inside and out-  and I enjoy sharing that with other people. It’s therapeutic in that it keeps me going and motivates me as well.

View from halfway up

Earlier this week, I shared some progress pics on the CWC Facebook page that I took during a swim break at the campground we’re staying in. A couple of months back, I purchased a bare piece of property and we have been staying in a fifth wheel camp trailer at a KOA Campground nearby while we slowly build. While most folks would consider that roughing it, one of the big perks is having a nice swimming pool to use!

Camper living

The post talked a bit about not only maintaining my weight loss, but more importantly it talked about my mental well-being. That although there were still some “bad” days, I’m never ever as low as I was before and that faith, changing how I ate, how I think, and having genuine honest supportive people had helped.

 

Not the same person!

I want to talk very candidly about the support part. 

This last year was rough with a lot of loss. Not only did I lose a fourteen year relationship and marriage but I also lost a family that I loved as my own. People think step parents don’t love or don’t grieve, but that’s just simply not true. I also lost friends and my own family through all of this.

In the midst of dealing with depression and a marriage that was falling apart, it was said by family to my ex that I was crazy and that I needed to get back on whatever it was that made me sane, and that I was going through a mid-life crisis. In the immediate throes of a separation argument, and a lowest point, I was told I was so crazy I didn’t know what day it was. (Gaslighting, anyone?) That same argument I was told that all those people who I thought were my friends were laughing at me and pitying me because I thought I was some twenty year old cowgirl. Narcissist and cheater were thrown out there too. Keep in mind this came from two people who said they loved me.

For someone with depression going through that with no support system, no family to turn to, and only a few good friends to confide in, that was an extremely hard time in my life. I don’t know what I would have done without my co-workers, my neighbor, and my best friend and “Superman” Austin Foust. Those were the people who wouldn’t let me forget they were there for me no matter what and I will never forget that as long as I live. God gave me those folks to get me through that dark time. I really believe it.

Any time you go through something like this you reflect on the past and try to figure out what happened, where it went wrong. Sometimes in doing so, things start to make perfect sense. For me, that’s exactly what happened. Only after I gained some distance was I able to clearly see the depth of the lies and their purpose, and the gross years of manipulation that had occurred and what I had let it do to me.

In looking back at comparison pictures, it’s clear to me that this was a downward spiral years in the making. This didn’t happen over night. These are not easy to look at, and most definitely not easy to share.

 

These pictures are close to ten years ago and they speak volumes. Yes, I was heavier but it’s not just about the weight. I was not healthy, physically or mentally either one. I couldn’t see it at the time, but now looking back I definitely can, especially when I look at comparison pictures.

I was exhausted because I wasn’t getting enough sleep (not by my own accord), and my body was riddled with inflammation to the point that I had a place on my face that didn’t heal for over a year. I was miserable and you can see it!

There’s a saying that if you’re struggling and your people are just watching then maybe they’re not you’re people. That’s true. If you’re going through depression and/or health issues and the ones that say they love you are not being proactive to help you get healthy (not supporting you to get healthy!) then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate who your people are and how important your health is and do something about it.

Don’t be afraid to cut ties if that’s what it takes. Sometimes removing yourself from toxic people is the only way to get well if they’re not going to change their behavior. You can only control your behavior, you can’t control theirs.

If you love someone who is struggling with their physical health, and/or their mental health what they need most is your support.

Sometimes people don’t need to hear what you think they should do, or whether or not you think they’re making a mistake. Most often they just need support in the form of listening while they come to terms with what they’re dealing with. They don’t need judgement, they need a place to talk. They also need to know you’re true (and loyal) to them behind their back, not just to their face. They need to know you care by your genuineness.

Aside from mental support, sleep has more impact on health and mental well-being than anything else a person can do. If someone you love isn’t sleeping well, support them by encouraging them to get to bed earlier. Let them know their sleep is a priority to you too so that they don’t feel any pressure to stay up to get things done, or spend time with you. If you’re watching TV, turn the TV down so they can sleep, and make sure  you watch it in another room. Be considerate by being quiet.

If you truly love someone and want the best for them, you don’t want to be an enabler by rewarding them or showing them love with unhealthy food, especially if they have a health condition that’s impacted by food.Don’t set them up for failure by making it harder to eat healthy – They’re already struggling with that. 

Instead of showing you care by bringing home a gallon of ice cream, bring home something healthy that they enjoy. Take the time to find out what that is.

Instead of dangling temptation in front of them by eating that double burger with fries while they eat a salad, you could eat a salad as well. Sometimes when you care about someone, it means sacrificing a little bit yourself. In the end, not only will they benefit, but you will as well because they see your support and you will have had a healthier meal.

It’s true that we’re responsible for ourselves, and our own happiness and we shouldn’t let someone else dictate our happiness. However, if we’re struggling with getting healthy we have to put ourselves in a place of success and part of that success is having support.

If you care about someone who is struggling, what are the most important ways you can support them?

If you’re someone struggling with health issues, what changes can you make to make progress? 

 

 

 

Planning For Your Show Day…

The farm didn’t get the business that was needed to keep it going so I put it back on the market for sale. So, it looks like there will be more changes in store for me this coming year. I like to think of it as Tiny House Living, horse style. Hey, if life gives you lemons you make the best dang lemon marguerita you can possibly make, right?

While change is never easy, I am looking forward to downsizing and having more time and money to focus on my own horses and compete more when things settle down. For years I’ve been a jack of all trades, going and doing so many things. I’d like to narrow my focus, be more selective about where and who I spend my time on, and just see where that leads. While selling the farm is the end of a dream in one sense, it’s freeing and the start of an ultimate dream in another. I’m looking forward to what the year will hold.

NBHA Barrel Race

NBHA Barrel Race

Since I’ve been thinking more about competing and the coming show season, I thought I’d share some tips for showing that I’ve learned first hand, sometimes the hard way, the last few years.

The first tip, and one that I think is probably the most important is in regards to food. Food has an impact on how you think, how you react, how well you focus and yet it’s one of the most under-rated elements of competition.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to help someone not be as nervous about showing and when food is mentioned they say, “Well, I don’t need to eat. I’m too nervous to eat.” People just don’t think it makes that much of a difference but it absolutely can mean the difference between a good run and a poor run. We plan our horse’s nutrition, especially if they’re in a high performance event. Why wouldn’t we do the same thing for ourselves?

Willie Bobby & I at the barrel race

Willie Bobby & I at the barrel race

The effects of food on the body can last longer than we realize. If you’re wanting to eat better for a show day, you’ll want to start at least a couple of days early. This will allow some extra time to get the bad food out of your system, and will allow your body to adjust to the better food.

I always eat turkey an hour to thirty minutes before I compete. The protein fuels my brain and muscles so I can think and react. Turkey is also a natural source of Tryptophan which has a calming effect on the body so it helps with nerves.

I also make sure I eat some source of protein every couple of hours the entire show day. This helps keep my sugar levels regulated so I can think clearly and not get nervous. If I’m the least bit nervous, my horse will feel it and will react, so the more clear my thinking and the calmer I am the better my horse will behave and perform.

Another thing that I do is load up on water a couple of days before a show. It’s easy to not drink enough during the show day. Dehydration can wreak havoc on your mind and your reaction time just like food. The more you load up on water the day before, the less likely you’ll be to get dehydrated if you’re not drinking as much as you should. A hydrated mind is a clear mind.

Because of the sugar levels in sports drinks, I try to drink mostly water. If I must have something besides water, I’ll drink Powerade Zero that has zero sugar. I’m not necessarily a big fan of the chemicals, but it does have some needed electrolytes. You can also carry lemon water, or some of the sugar-free drink flavorings. Just be sure to read the label to know what you’re ingesting.

Barrel racing in January

Barrel racing in January

Sleep is another thing that can really impact your performance in the saddle. Make sure you get at least seven to eight hours of shut-eye the night before. If you know you’re not going to be able to sleep because you’re thinking about showing too much, give yourself a couple of extra hours to allow for tossing and turning.

Another tip is to take some quiet time the day before and the day of your show. Take the time to just be still and think about what you need to do and what is important. Don’t let your head run wild with fear scenarios. Plan your day and your strategy, and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Connect with your goals.

This year has a lot of uncertainty and changes, but the one thing I can do is control is my own mindset, and how I prepare for when it’s finally time to step in the ring and do what I love to do best. The better mindset I have and the better I set myself up, the better chances I’ll have at enjoying my show day.

When it comes to competing, what are some of your fears? What do you think you do to contribute to those fears? How can you change your routine to lessen your fears? What is your strategy for the coming show year?

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