On 15th October a meeting jointly organised by the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) and World Horse Welfare was held to discuss the issue of appropriate horse and rider weight proportions.
Although the meeting confirmed that this issue does not affect large numbers of horses, those impacted can suffer a range of problems including: muscle fatigue and loss of muscle tone which compromises skeletal frame; stumbling and/or falling; compromised performance; behavioural issues; and horse and rider safety.
Senior representatives from across the equestrian spectrum, including from The Association of Show and Agriculture Organisations, Association of British Riding Schools, The British Horse Society, British Eventing, British Dressage, The Pony Club, Riding for the Disabled Association, Saddle Research Trust, Showing Council and Society of Master Saddlers led by the BEF and World Horse Welfare, came together to assess the matter and suggest possible solutions.
Whilst there is a belief that having a large rider on a small horse or pony is the issue, in fact unbalanced or unfit riders can have a similar impact. The group shares the view that the vast majority of people can find a horse that suits their needs and are acutely aware that inexperienced riders or those new to the sport should not have unrealistic expectations placed upon them and can be supported to be active participants in equestrianism. Riding should remain an accessible sport for everyone so by giving the industry tools to ensure that riders are an appropriate weight for the horse even more people may be encouraged into the sport.
The group will now look for innovative ways that riders can assess if they are the appropriate weight for their horse, explore pre-riding fitness initiatives and also develop guidance to support judges and officials to ensure that the horses’ welfare always remains paramount.
Deputy Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare Tony Tyler, who chaired the meeting, said:
“It was fantastic to get this wide group of people together who are passionate about both riding and also the responsibility that comes with it to try and address an issue that has remained on the ‘too difficult’ pile for too long. This is certainly not about stopping people from riding - it is simply trying to ensure they are mounted correctly so their horse is not compromised. If the right guidance can be put in place both horses and riders will benefit; after all you won’t get the best performance or enjoyment from your horse if it is struggling to carry you. The group felt that there were ways forward that can reduce the number of horses affected, to the obvious benefit of the horses.”
Jan Rogers from the BEF says:
“The majority of judges and stewards take a balanced an proportionate view on this issue during competitions, but may need some support to deal with some of the emerging issues brought to our attention. We are keen to help raise awareness of the long-term welfare implications of putting a horse or pony under undue pressure, but are conscious that a ‘one size’ solution will not be appropriate. The group is keen to develop a consistent evidence-based template from which individual bodies’ regulations could take direction. We wholeheartedly agree that simple training and education is far more appropriate than a punitive response.”