For long distances, horses carry twice the weight on their backs than they do at rest. Since their bodies require a minimum of two hours to recover from the exertion, they carry more than they can handle. At the same time, their back muscles are more developed and therefore have greater capacity for carrying excess load.
When horses are exercising on a regular (non-intensive) basis, they will usually carry at least four times their normal weight. When they are doing exercise to improve their health and stamina, they may carry three or four times their normal weight.
If horses are forced to carry their own weight when on pasture, they will carry a much larger load. This can cause severe suffering.
Do horses need to exercise in a specific way?
The way in which exercise should be designed is based on a number of factors and has much to do with the character of the animal.
Is the animal being exercised properly? If the animal is properly exercised, it will be able to cope with the load, reduce the load over the time being carried, and increase the load as the animal runs out of endurance, especially if it is a very hard, fast horse.
Is the activity being carried out in a safe way?
Some types of exercise that involve animals that are small, slow, and often frightened can have serious effects on the body. If the area is unsafe, and the animal is being carried in an unsafe manner, the stress and pain will be greater than if it were carried in a way that is safe to the horses and handlers.
Is the activity in a stable? If the animals are not moving between houses, or are confined between a series of rooms, there are additional physical and emotional stresses put on the animals.
What would happen if the load was too heavy for the animal?
Lifting heavy loads for longer than half an hour can cause serious injuries for horses and lead to their premature deaths. If the animals are lifted too heavy, they can develop injuries such as spinal cord injuries that could end their lives, or they could become disabled – even if they continue to work. An injured horse that continues to work can develop pain that lasts for hours after the job is over.
How strong is the load you are carrying?
The body has an internal resistance to weight; the more force applied, the greater the resistance and therefore the greater the load that needs to be carried. For large loads, particularly those carried by difficult animals
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