With the rise in equestrian waistlines, the debate on how much weight a horse can carry before it affects his welfare, health and performance has ramped up. Drs. Janne Winther Christensen, Suzie Bathellier, Marie Rhodin, Rupert Palme and Mette Uldahl created a study using 20 horse-and-rider combinations, increasing the rider-to-horse weight ratio by 15 to 25 percent during the study. The horses completed a standard dressage test for the study, which is relatively low exercise intensity.
Previous studies showed that horses had significant physiological and gait changes when riders were heavier. For this study, horses were first examined by a vet to be sure they were sound; they then had saliva samples taken to determine each horse's baseline cortisol levels. A heart rate monitor was put in place and the horse was lunged; he was asked to exert the same amount of energy he would while being ridden. The horses were then ridden for the following three days, and their heart rate and cortisol levels were recorded. Their under-saddle work was also videoed for later analysis.
The researchers found that the horse's cortisol levels did increase with exercise, but did not increase as the rider became heavier. The scientists concluded that increasing rider weight by 15 to 25 percent did not result in significant short-term alterations in cortisol, behavior, heart rate or gait symmetry, meaning that increased rider weight doesn't impose a higher workload on the horse. Further research is needed to determine guidelines for rider weight.
Read more at HorseTalk.
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