In English cavalry regiments re-mounts were measured around the girth in order to be certain that the space available within the thoracic cavity was sufficient to allow for a good size of both heart and lungs. No horse of 16 hands in height was purchased that did not have a measurement of at least 72 inches. (1 meter 90cm.)
This type of "purchase regulation" was no doubt intended to insure that army mounts were able to give good service, but the result can be viewed as also protecting the welfare of the horse and preventing it from being over mounted.
The cavalry regiments that fought in the Crimean War (1853-6) were divided by weights, into light and heavy brigades, so that riders should be matched to their horses. One of the regiments which made up the ‘heavies’ was the Inniskillin Dragoons and much later, in 1937, a heavy-weight hunter which later belonged to Captain M.P. Ansell of that regiment won the Cork Show in his class, see below.
The measurements of the horse, Mount Desert, were recorded at height: 16h 3H ins, Girth: 78ins, Bone measure below knee: 9 3 ins, Length of rein to top of withers: 52ins and Length from point of hip to hock: 45ins. From the girth measurement we can assess the horse's weight as having been in the region of 650kgs. According to the manual on Cavalry training of the time: "in service the total weight on the horse’s back is more than 17 stone." (about 108kgs)
If we wanted then, to set a rough scale for size and weight of horse and rider, we could use a ratio of about 6:1 horse weight to rider weight and, by a little juggling of figures, say that an average 16h horse might weigh in at around 525 to 550kgs, and an average 15h horse at around the 425 to 450kg weight. Of course this will depend on the breed and heaviness of build but, from these averages, we might judge that the most a 15h horse should reasonably be asked to carry would be around 73kgs or 111 stone. (161lbs). To be honest, even this seems somewhat excessive if the horse is of light build, but the idea that small hacks should be made to carry large riders of 15stone and upwards seems nothing short of cruelty. Yet it is seen, particularly in such sports as Polo and Polocross.
I once worked for a short time at a Polo stable in the U.K. where a rather large and well-known Polo-playing comedian kept his ponies. As he is dead now his name is better left out but, each time he mounted the poor animals visibly sagged, nor did they last very long, and the weight stress accounted for the ruin of as many as three ponies in a season. If larger horses were not available, or the height restriction had not been lifted, then some reason could be seen for such overloading, but as this is not the case it becomes almost impossible to understand, unless we attribute such practice to pure unadulterated brutishness. Young horses in training for the first time are even less able to carry such weights, yet they are, by some, subjected to this kind of rider. It does, no doubt, make it that much more difficult for the poor animal to rear or buck but the damage it must do to any trust or confidence that the horse might have should be enough to warrant the practice being stopped. With excessive weight on the back, the nuchal and supra-spinous ligament can not act in the designed manner to support the back, which is forced into a hollowed profile, and the head tends to come up making matters even worse. Horses used in this way are unable to relax, do not easily achieve any rhythm, and are often unwilling to trot, for reasons which take little imagination to arrive at. That apart, large riders on small horses or ponies look quite undignified and ridiculous!
If we're going to ask horses to work for us we should expect to have to put the time and energy into acquiring the necessary knowledge, fitness and equipment, and only when all these elements are right will the combination result in the harmony we're looking for.
1.Dr J. R. Rooney, The Lame Horse, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment. 1974.
2. Lt Colonel F.C. Hitchcock, O.B.E, M.C. "To Horse" 1938.
3. Lt Colonel F.C. Hitchcock, O.B.E, M.C. "To Horse" 1938.
4. H. Wynmalen, M.F.H. Horse Breeding and Stud Management. 1950.
5. K. Houpt. Influences on Equine Behaviour. Department of Physiology, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. 14853.
6. J Jackson. The Natural Horse, Lessons from the Wild For Domestic Horse Care. 1992
7. Colonel R.I. Dodge. Our Wild Indians: Thirty-Three Years’ Experience Among The Red Men of The Great West. 1884.
8. J.E. Sherow, PhD. Workings of the Geodialectic: High Plains Indians and Their Horses in the Region of the Arkansas River Valley,1800-1870. 1992.
9. K. Kopp Du Teil. Setting history straight. In Equus Magazine, February 1993.
10. Captain M.H. Hayes, FRCVS. Veterinary Notes for Horse Owners.
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