Let’s Discuss: Rider Height/Horse Height

When should rider height become a factor when choosing a mount? How do you determine what’s tall enough and what’s too short?

At Horse Nation, we pride ourselves on being “one nation, on horseback, indivisible, with happiness and vet bills for all.” We love the sense of community that’s grown among our readers, who all understand along with us on the HN staff that we are all crazy horse people here. So when our readers want to know what our horsey community thinks about a certain subject, we’re more than happy to ask!

Here is reader Caroline‘s story: “I would like to ask our much-valued horsey audience’s opinion on a subject that is near and dear to me: horse size and rider size! At an event this weekend my daughter at 5’10” and her newly acquired OTTB at 16.1 were trying out a saddle and a very well known regional trainer shouted out about my daughter’s horse being “way too small,” which of course upset my daughter and infuriated me! I have been training horses for well over 35 years and am at between 5’10”- 5’11” myself.”

Here’s a photo of Caroline’s daughter aboard the horse in question:


Certainly in some disciplines the suitability of horse to rider in terms of height is pretty critical — hunters, for example, weigh this kind of suitability more than other types of riding since the hunters are a subjective discipline. It’s important to remember that this guideline goes both ways: tall riders on shorter animals, and shorter riders on tall horses. But above appearance, the paramount concern for horse-and-rider suitability should be safety, regardless of discipline: is the horse or pony carrying a tall rider safely? Is the rider secure and balanced enough to ride a short horse or a pony?

In this particular story, Caroline’s daughter is training this horse with the end goal of competing in eventing, a sport that’s two-thirds based solely on time and jumping faults. This is also the sport that can count William Fox-Pitt among its figurative and literal giants (even without the top hat, this is a very tall drink of water:)

Photo by Jenni Autry

Photo by Jenni Autry

I don’t think anyone can argue that Fox-Pitt is anything but a master at the game, and while perhaps by hunter-ring standards he should only be riding 19-hand behemoths he seems to be getting along just fine on an average-sized animal.

My riding background most recently included reined cowhorse, a discipline that by its very nature almost exclusively involves very short horses. My project horse was maybe–maybe–14.1 on a tall day, but in a warm-up pen full of similarly short little cowhorses ridden by all varieties of riders, we didn’t stick out as being a poorly-matched pair:

Aboard "SM Playful Cat" at a Josh Veal clinic in 2012. Photo by Maria Hurd.

Aboard “SM Playful Cat” at a Josh Veal clinic in 2012. Photo by Maria Hurd.

And then, there’s the inverse problem — when some might consider your horse too tall for you. Like reined cowhorse, some disciplines at certain levels will by their very nature require a horse to be either of a certain size or be extraordinarily athletic, like upper-level eventing. There just aren’t that many ponies successfully campaigning at those upper levels, though there are a number of shorter riders making it just fine.

So let’s discuss: where do you draw the line with horse height compared to rider height? Is height suitability important in your discipline, and why? Share your stories and your thoughts in the comment section. Go riding!

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