We are all built differently. Anatomically in our baseline structure we all have small variations in joint space, alignment, height, and baseline weight preference (yes, that is a thing).
Some of these things are genetic, and the rest can certainly be influenced by our genes. We see it across all athletes – differences in body type.
There are technically three classifications of “body types” in the exercise science world: ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs. There are numerous scientific studies out there explaining how each body type is engineered to suit high performance in different sport demographics. We’ll break them down for you here.
Ectomorphs bring to mind the image of a stereotypical ultra-marathoner: extra lean, often tall, and sinewy. They usually thrive at longer duration sports and when we apply that body type to equestrians, I would say they would thrive in the majority of disciplines, since they have fewer restrictions on the types of horses they can ride, including narrower breeds. Since ectomorphs are built for longer-duration energy output and have a slighter frame, I would bet that many of them have a narrower pelvis, which means their seat will be better off on slighter, hotter breeds. Often jockeys and endurance riders have this body type, but ectomorphs (and generally any body type) can do well in any discipline if they train to their anatomical and physiological strengths.
Mesomorphs are your “classic” athletic frame: larger boned and with defined musculature. Think rectangular “Adonis” males and hour-glass females in an athletic frame. These body types thrive at sports across the board and are built for variable energy output which suits the adaptability needed in most athletic endeavours. In terms of riding, these body types will do well in all disciplines. Show Jumping, Eventing, Dressage will likely suit them best as their athletic potential is adaptable to wherever they are drawn to. Depending on their anatomical structure, at a baseline they have a lot to work with. Of course, one can be a mesomorph and have a poor training plan. But they will necessarily be a better athlete just because of their body type.
Endomorphs are our rounder, shorter body types. Generally they have a predisposition to have a higher body fat percentage, but can be as athletic as any. Because of the typically shorter stature, these athletes will do well with mounts that are small-to-medium in size (not to say that endomorphs haven’t ridden larger horses well!). You may see athletes along this end of the spectrum in any discipline, but they will commonly thrive in lower intensity arenas like hunter, driving, hack/conformation based classes, and team penning, among others.
So, is there one body type that best suits specific disciplines in riding? Short answer, not in most cases.
The important thing to remember is that it’s less common to find a body that fits into one of these specific categories. Most of us reside somewhere along a spectrum in between different classifications. Some may have an advantage in certain disciplines, or indeed be qualified for certain disciplines based on body type alone (think jockeys).
Our structure will determine often what horse type we are best suited to. But remember that athletic ability, especially in a sport as diverse as horses, capability and performance will rely more on mental and physical dedication to training over what we ended up with genetically.