Rider weight: Researchers hope study will cast light on thorny issue

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Riders in Denmark have been wearing progressively heavier weighted vests in a study exploring the effects of rider weight on horse welfare.

Twenty horses and their regular riders spent four days in October and November, spread across two weekends, being weighed and measured before, during and after riding.

Data analysis is now under way in the Danish study.

Assessing the baseline fitness of the horses in the study. 
Assessing the baseline fitness of the horses in the study. © Katja Ahrenfeldt

The research is a collaborative effort between Associate Professor Janne Winther Christensen, of the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University, and Mette Uldahl, of the Vejle Equine Practice.

On the first test day, a clinical examination of the horses was performed and their baseline fitness was assessed. Their size, conformation and body condition scores were then recorded. They were weighed in a trailer positioned on load cells.

Riders were also examined to assess their balance, coordination and movement patterns.

Each horse's size, conformation and body condition score was recorded.
Each horse’s size, conformation and body condition score was recorded. © Katja Ahrenfeldt

For the next three test days, the horses were ridden by their regular rider without additional weight, with 15% and 25% additional weight relative to the rider’s weight in a balanced order.

Each rider was given the extra weight by wearing an adjustable weighted vest. The horses were equipped with heart-rate monitors and worked in a dressage program corresponding to mid level.

After that, the horses were equipped with an electronic saddle pressure monitor and objective gait analysis sensors to measure regularity and potential changes in gait symmetry in trot, while being ridden in a straight line, left circle and right circle.

Riders were examined to record their balance, coordination and movement patterns.
Riders were examined to record their balance, coordination and movement patterns. © Katja Ahrenfeldt

During the project, saliva tests were obtained from the horses at selected times to monitor their stress response.

The data will now be analysed.

The researchers said they appreciated the time given by volunteers who took part in the study.

They said they looked forward to sharing the results once the data has been analysed.

Backing for the project has come from the funding agency Hesteafgiftsfonden in Denmark.

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