Dear Jessica, this probably sounds like a silly question, but I'm worried and I hope you will answer it. My daughter and her best friend always ride together, every day after school they ride the trails around our place. That's just fine with me, they are responsible girls and have a good time. But my daughter's horse is "out of commission" for a while with a hurt tendon, and she and her friend are planning to start riding together on her friend's horse. They say they've ridden double before, they always wear their helmets, it's not a problem, and the horse is big and strong. It's true that the two of them together weigh about the same as an adult (they are about 80 pounds each), so I guess I can't argue about that. But there's something about the idea that worries me. Can you either tell me I'm being silly, or give me some good reasons to tell the girls so that they won't do this?
Thank you Jessica, you are the best! Linda
Most horses are good at balancing themselves; less good at balancing themselves with a rider (that's why balance and riding skills matter so much); not at all good at balancing themselves with TWO riders on their backs. The extra weight is hard on the horse, not because of the total poundage, but because of the location of the weight. One 160-pound rider sitting in balance just behind the horse's withers is putting weight in an area that is best equipped to take it; one 80-pound rider in the same position is doing the same thing, but when you add a second 80-pound rider BEHIND the first rider, you've done much more than double the weight. You've now put 80 pounds on top of the horse's lumbar spine, which is a much weaker area of the back, NOT able to carry weight, and very likely to become damaged and painful.
The first rider's legs may be in the right place, but the second rider's legs will be quite far back, dangling against the horse's flanks, which is a sensitive area. It's very easy to "spook" a horse or cause it to jump sideways by hitting or tickling its flanks, especially if the horse is already confused, uncomfortable, and unbalanced.
The chance of an accident increases considerably when you put two riders on one horse.
If the riders want to take their horse once around the paddock at a walk or jog just for fun, they will probably get away with it. If they plan to go out for a long trail-ride, or if they intend to trot or canter, they should get a second horse or practice their ride-and-tie skills.
If they are dubious, point out to them that riding double on the trail isn't actually much fun anyway.
The horse is uncomfortable, because it has someone sitting on the weakest part of its back. It has to move carefully to carry two riders who are probably not moving in perfect unison, and it has to manage to interpret the various movements and weight shifts and wiggles, and sort out the actual signals from the static.
The first rider has to pay attention to the trail, the horse, and the second rider - who is holding on to the first rider.
Unless the first rider is much shorter, the second rider can't see anything but the back of the first rider's shirt, and most riders WANT to see where they are going, so most second riders do what comes naturally - they lean sideways. This unbalances the first rider and the horse, and makes it harder for the horse to stay upright and balanced. Unless the trail is manicured like a golf course, there will also be rocks and roots and holes that provoke tripping, and an unbalanced horse is far more likely to trip. This is even more risky on the way back, when the horse will also be tired from using its muscles in a different way to balance under two riders.
One horse - one rider. Make it a rule. Your daughter will be safer, and you won't be sorry.
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