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A few years ago I was living with an abusive boyfriend, and as a result I was very depressed, ate a lot and exercised very little. After almost a year, I finally left, and since then I have spent a long time putting my life back together. I graduated from college with an engineering degree, started my career, married a wonderful and supportive man and recently bought a house. I am very proud of having left and successfully got back on track for a happy and healthy life, and I want to start doing the things I've always wished I could do. First on the list is learn to ride.

Unfortunately, the one thing that hasn't yet returned to normal (or better) is my weight. I am working on that by lifting weights every other day to improve strength and have worked up to walking a half hour or so with my dog several days a week. I would like to know if there is some upper limit on weight that is either safe or comfortable for horses to bear or that is generally allowable when a person is learning to ride. I really do not want to embarass myself and someone else by trying to sign up for lessons and having to be told that I am too heavy. I don't know if this matters or not, but I am 5'8" tall.

Thank you,

- K. T.


The carrying capacity of a horse depends on a number of factors: build, muscle strength, length of back, age, and the way the rider sits the saddle. I sometimes ride double with a young rider in order to give the rider a better feel for correct handling of the reins. When I'm on board with a teen-aged rider, the total weight can be between 250 and 300 pounds. I don't ride that way for long, or allow him to move faster than a walk. A well-built, healthy horse should be able to carry a 200 pound rider with no problem (unless, of course, the rider does a lot of bouncing in the saddle). For some additional discussion on this topic, see Am I stressing out my horse??

The best solution, of course, is to get your weight under control. Not only will it be easier on your horse, but it will help you live longer and avoid problems with your hips, legs, back, etc.

When I got serious about getting my own weight down to where it should be, I found that the biggest problem was dealing with always being a little hungry. After a couple of years, my stomach finally shrank to the point where it wasn't always asking for more food to fill it up. Salads are good for cutting calories -- if you use fat-free dressings and hold the meat and cheese. Again, keep the total meal small so you won't keep stretching your stomach.

Finally, for a workable exercise program, take a look at my Cowboy Bob's Cowboy Calisthenics. It's a good way to firm up, burn calories, and stay in shape for riding. (As always, check with your doctor before starting any weight-loss or exercise program.)

Happy Horse Care!

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