How much weight can a horse actually carry? Well, one study showed that horses had increased physical stress after carrying 25% of their body weight and above, so we do need to pay attention to how much weight we ask our horses to carry.
However, as a riding instructor with 11 school horses, I can tell you that a rider’s weight is not the only factor in how comfortable a horse is while carrying their rider.
What I’ve found makes a rider most hard for a horse to carry is stiffness.
I’m not referring to stiffness in that you can’t put your foot behind your head. Stiffness in terms of bracing and resisting movement.
There are four main causes of stiffness, and we will talk about each of these in more detail in the video below.
- Acute injury (you are in pain now)
- Old injury (your body is protecting itself)
- Fatigue – the body is tired and protecting itself.
- Parasitic tension – other parts of the body may stiffen to do even simple movements
It is important to recognize that stiffness is as much in the brain as in our muscles, and is a protective mechanism in the body. The brain limits the lengthening of muscles to limit movement. It is the body protecting against injury, whether limiting movement in an area that is currently injured, preventing movement in an area that was injured, or being cautious about allowing new and unfamiliar positions or movements.
How is stiffness improved and flexibility increased?
Essentially, convince the brain that the body is safe to move. Slowly introduce new movements, gradually work the edges of your current abilities, and look for novel ways of moving that don’t trigger the same old protective patterns.
Remember, you don’t need crazy flexibility and a huge range of motion to ride well, but you do need healthy, fluid, and functional movement for ease in your riding and a happy horse under you!