Wranglers in the West who have for decades cashed in on the allure of getting on a horse and setting out on an open trail say they have had to add bigger horses to their stables to help carry larger tourists over the rugged terrain.
"Even though a person might be overweight, or, you know, heavier than the average American, it's kind of nice we can provide a situation where they can ride with their family," said wrangler T. James "Doc" Humphrey of Sombrero Ranches east of Rocky Mountain National Park, where they have 20 draft horses, including larger Belgians and Percherons, and 25 draft horses mixes.
Ranch operators say they began adding the bigger horses in the 1990s, but the pace has picked up in recent years. Over the last 20 years, obesity has increased to more than a third of adults and about 17 percent of children age 2 to 19, according to federal statistics.
"I think it's wonderful that these people are looking to accommodate people of larger body size," said Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, adding that more businesses should become "size savvy."
The bigger horses have allowed outfitters to eliminate weight limits.
"I felt bad about telling people they're too big to ride," said Russ Little of Dry Ridge Outfitters, which offers rides at Harriman State Park in Idaho.
At Chico Hot Springs in Montana, Heidi Saile of Rockin' HK Outfitters said she and her husband, Kipp, removed the stable's 225-pound limit last year when they took over from different outfitters. She said the limit would cost her $4,000 in lost revenue.
"Little horses just aren't sturdy enough to hold up in a dude operation in the Rocky Mountains," Kipp Saile said, noting that about 15 of their 60 horses were Percheron mixes, the largest weighing 1,800 pounds.
At Sombrero in Estes Park, Colo., general manager Bryan "Kansas" Seck said the larger horses allowed them to eliminate their weight limit. The heaviest rider Seck ever put on a horse was 399 pounds.
"As long as you can get on a horse, you can ride," he said.