BOISE -- Jeff Bitton says the weight limit on his trail riding horses at the popular Redfish Lake Corrals is 250 pounds. It's a limit guests often come close to exceeding.
Bitton is the owner/manager of Mystic Saddle Ranches in Stanley, Idaho. He supplies dozens of horses for tourists, campers, hunters, and recreationists in the rugged and beautiful Sawtooth Mountains.
These days, there's a change in the size of Bitton's horses -- they're getting bigger.
"We've seen more of a demand for larger stock to accommodate the general public," Bitton told KTVB.
In the past decade, this Idaho horseman says he's changed about ten percent of his stock from quarter horses to larger varieties of draft horse crossbreeds. Bitton says the move is to meet the demand from bigger riders, and ease the stress placed on his horses during long rides.
The animals he's talking about are typically about 1,100 pounds to 1,500 pounds, and can weigh twice as much as a typical quarter horse. Bitton says it's more expensive to feed and maintain the animals, but the extra cost allows him to accommodate more people.
"We're just going to continue meeting the demands of our consumers," Bitton said.
BIGGER HORSES THROUGHOUT THE WEST
Wranglers in the West for decades have cashed in on the allure of getting on a horse and setting out on an open trail. But they say they've had to add bigger horses to their stables to help carry larger tourists over the rugged terrain.
The same trend is obvious at the Sombrero Ranches in Estes, Colorado.
Rather than turn larger riders away, this riding operation has turned to larger horses, draft horses like Belgians and Percherons. At Sombrero, they began making the switch years ago.
"We take people out there that are 250 pounds on a four-hour ride in the mountains. You need a big horse," said Bryan "Kansas" Seck, general manager of Sombrero Ranch.
Draft horses, the diesels of the horse world, are being used in ever greater numbers to make sure businesses like the Sombrero Ranch don't lose out on income from potential customers of any size who come out to get closer to the West of yesteryear.
Ranch operators say they began adding the bigger horses in the 1990s, but the pace has picked up in recent years. Horses of 1,800 pounds now hit the trail, giving riders of more than 300 pounds an opportunity to experience life in the saddle.