Double Riding – Problems with Riding Two on a Horse
Double riding may look like fun and you may be eager to give it a go yourself, but there are many reasons why riding two on a horse is inadvisable and only a few reasons when it’s all right.
And even when it’s supposedly all right to ride two on a horse, there are a few things you must absolutely take into account for a safe ride for everyone involved.
In this article, I write about 10 reasons why you should not ride double on a horse, when and how it is acceptable for two to ride a horse and how much weight can horses safely carry.
Hopefully, these aspects will help you in making the best decisions for the safety of your horse, yourself and that of others.
Reasons Why Don’t Ride Double on a Horse
As a beginner, you should not venture to double ride on a horse. There are a lot of safety issues to both riders and the horse, most of which an inexperienced rider may not be able to safely manage.
Here are my top 10 reasons why I advise against riding double on a horse:
1. Risk of injury
One of the biggest safety issues with two people riding on a horse is the risk of injury to the horse caused by the uneven distribution of weight.
The person riding in the back, for example, will put pressure on the lumbar region of the horse, increasing the risk of injury and potentially causing pain to the horse.
This is especially problematic when the horse is not large or strong enough to carry the weight of two adult people, for example.
2. Risk of falling
Because of the extra weight and because that weight is unevenly distributed, your horse may be off-balance. This can cause it to stumble or trip, or even fall. All these can cause one or both riders to fall, increasing the risk of injury for them too.
3. Too much weight to carry
If the horse is carrying too much weight, it can lead to exhaustion. An exhausted horse may not be able to walk normally and may trip or stumble, which puts everyone at risk of injury.
You need to be aware of how much weight your horse can carry and assess whether your horse is fit to carry all that extra weight that two riders may put on it.
Similarly, an exhausted horse may have a hard time focusing on commands, which puts you at risk of not being able to normally communicate with your horse.
4. Loss of control
If under normal circumstances you’d communicate with your horse through subtle signals of the legs and shifting of your weight, when two people are riding a horse all those signals will have to be replaced by signalling through the reins.
This may put you in the awkward — and potentially dangerous! — position of losing control over your horse. Therefore, unless you absolutely have experience with this and your horse is more than able and willing to carry that extra weight, don’t ride two on a horse.
5. Potential for runaway
Another high-risk factor when two are riding on a horse is the potential for runaway. Because the person riding in the back may have their legs dangling and potentially touching the flanks of the horse, they may cause the horse to unexpectedly bolt.
This can happen because of a misinterpreted signal or because the horse’s flanks are a sensitive area and touching them like this can cause unexpected reactions.
A horse that’s on runaway can be dangerous, so the risk of falling or injury for the riders is high.
6. Confusing signals
Just like the case of touching the flanks of the horse and causing it to buck, other inadvertent signals can also be misinterpreted by the horse, causing it to become confused or fatigued.
To avoid the risk of injury caused by confusing signals inadvertently given to your horse, you must be an expert and you must have a close relationship with your horse.
If you’re a beginner, these situations are a fertile ground for accidents or injuries, so it’s safest to avoid them.
7. Unexpected behaviors
If your horse isn’t accustomed to double riding or isn’t willing to carry two people, it may act out unexpectedly.
If you’re unfamiliar with these types of behaviors and don’t know how to handle them, you will have a hard time controlling your horse and keeping everyone safe.
8. Difficulty communicating
With another person riding either at the front or in the back, difficulties in communicating clearly with your horse can become a problem.
Your horse may misinterpret signals or you may not be able to communicate as clearly. This potentially raises the risks of unexpected situations, injury and accidents.
9. Risks involving children
Riding with a child on the front of the saddle can make it difficult for you to communicate with your horse through the reins. A child that rides in the back, however, puts them at the risk of falling off.
Therefore, riding with a child can also be dangerous, especially if you’re inexperienced or it’s a new experience for your horse or even the child.
Children can also get scared, act out, which can interfere with your ability to communicate with and control your horse.
10. Uncomfortable riding
When two people are riding on a horse, it can be uncomfortable. Either one or the other does not fit correctly on the saddle, or if riding bareback, your horse might feel uncomfortable because of the uneven weight distribution.
This puts your horse in an uncomfortable position not only because of the uneven weight distribution, but as I mentioned before, because of the extra weight they have to carry and the potential blockages in communication.
Riding double on a horse has its challenges, especially for a beginner who hasn’t established a strong connection with their horse.
Therefore, in light of the reasons I just discussed, riding double on a horse should only be done by experienced riders with horses that don’t have a problem being ridden by two people, and only if the horse can safely carry the extra weight.
Can a Horse Carry Three Riders?
It depends on the horse — what type of breed it is, how large it is, its physical fitness, its psychological state, and so on. It also depends on the cumulative weight of those people.
I advised against double riding a horse, unless several requirements are met. I maintain that advice also when it comes to three riders, especially because of the extra weight that may be too much for a middle-sized horse.
The same risks I mentioned for double riding apply for triple riding as well, and even more so. Therefore, it’s not that a horse may be unable to carry three riders, it’s that it shouldn’t.
It’s not comfortable for the horse, not comfortable for the riders, and it certainly carries a lot of risks for everyone involved.
Therefore, unless it’s a situation where it’s an emergency for three people to ride on a horse, you really shouldn’t be toying with the idea.
How Much Weight Can a Horse Carry?
Throughout the centuries, horses have been routinely used for transportation, carrying cargo, or for agricultural work. Therefore, we tend to think of them as powerhouses that can carry quite a bit of weight.
While there is some truth to that, just because a horse can carry a certain amount of weight, it doesn’t mean it’s not accruing silent injury that will only manifest in later years.
Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut answer to how much weight can a horse safely carry. It depends on multiple factors including the horse’s fitness level, the type of terrain they must walk on, what type of saddle they’re wearing, how fast they’re supposed to go, etc.
There’s a general recommendation from the U.S. Army which states that American mules shouldn’t carry more than 20% of their body weight for 15 to 20 miles per day in mountains. This can be around 150 to 300 pounds of weight, depending on the size of the horse.
Therefore, if your horse must carry weight, make sure it’s a reasonable amount. Don’t put so much load on your horse that it will shake under it or become fatigued even after a short walk.
Always work with the assumption that even though it’s not apparent, your horse can and will accrue silent injury that can present in later life as arthritis or other joint issue that could come seemingly out of nowhere.
While it may seem like a fun experience to ride two on a horse, it’s not one without risks. Of course, as an experienced horse rider, you will be able to assess all the factors that I mentioned and do what’s best for your horse.
Remember that being in tune with your horse is crucial for managing unexpected situations that can arise when two people are riding on a horse.
In conclusion, double riding depends on several factors, all of which must be taken into account for an all-around safe experience.