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What Is the Maximum Weight a Horse Can Carry?

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A large man dressed for riding walked by us, and my grandson turned to me, saying “He’s way too big to ride,” his comment started a spirited discussion about the maximum weight horses can carry, with some saying 250 pounds is the limit while others claimed horses can carry up to 500 pounds without any problems!

The maximum weight a horse can carry is 400 pounds based on the 20% rule. Most horses can safely carry 20% of their body weight. So a large draft horse weighing 2,000 pounds can theoretically safely carry a 400-pound person.

Every horse has its strengths and limitations, and as a horse owner, it is your job to consider both. As a result, you can get the maximum benefit out of your horse while ensuring that it stays in the best health. However, 20% of body weight is a safe, research-based estimate.

Picture of an under weight two year old horse in training
Picture of a two-year-old

How Much Weight Can a Horse Carry Safely?

Horses are strong animals that are capable of carrying a significant amount of weight, but there is still a limit to how much they can safely carry. Factors such as the horse’s size, age, and fitness level will all play a role in determining how much weight it can carry.

In general, a horse can carry about 20% of its body weight safely. So, for example, a 1000-pound horse could carry up to 200 pounds safely. Of course, this is just a general guideline, and horses can often carry more or less weight depending on their individual circumstances.

For example, the two-year-old Thoroughbred pictured above is not developed enough to carry a rider over 135 lbs even though 20% of its weight may be higher.

Horses are strong, spirited animals and are well suited to support an average rider’s weight. But when you add in the weight of horse-riding gear and a huge person, the overall load may exceed the safe weight a horse can carry.

According to an article written in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, researchers studied eight mature horses. The horses underwent an exercise test 4 times, carrying 15%, 20%, 25%, and 30% of their body weight in each trial.

During the trial, they used several parameters to measure the effects of increased weights on a horse’s health. These were heart rate, creatine kinase activity, plasma lactate concentration in blood samples, muscle soreness, and tightness.

Researchers found that when horses carried 25% of their body weight, their heart rates were significantly higher, and they experienced more significant muscle soreness and tightness. When the researchers increased the animal’s load to 30%, these changes became even more pronounced, with plasma lactase concentrations also varying.

The research concluded that 20% of a horse’s body weight is a safe carrying weight for most. However, the study also found a negative correlation between a horse’s conformation and its weight-bearing capacity.

Picture of a horse galloping.
Thoroughbred running

Factors that affect how much weight a horse can safely carry.

There is no definitive answer to the question of how much weight a horse can carry. The amount of weight that a horse can safely carry varies depending on a number of factors, including the breed of the horse, its age, and the condition of its hooves.

1. Horse Conformation and Weight-Carrying Ability

Conformation is the name given to a horse’s physical proportions and build. Good conformation is necessary for a horse to be able to move correctly and perform its chosen discipline with ease. Furthermore, a horse’s conformation will determine how much weight it can comfortably carry.

For instance, in the earlier mentioned study, researchers found that horses with broad loins and thick cannon bone circumference experienced less muscle soreness and tightness when carrying heavier loads.

The negative correlation between a horse’s conformation and carrying ability means that sturdy, well-balanced horses with short backs and thick cannon bones can carry more weight than horses with long legs and weak backs.

Though 20% is a good starting point for determining any horse’s carrying ability, with stockier and sturdier horses, you have a little more leverage in this regard.

Another study on Icelandic horses (a short, stock horse breed) found that they can safely carry 22.7% of their body weight on average. However, with individual horses, this value can fluctuate from as much as 17% to 27.5%.

2. Horse Breed

While all horses are capable of carrying weight, some breeds are better suited to the task than others. Draft horse breeds such as the Clydesdale and the Shire are known for their strength and stamina and can easily carry a heavy rider.

Other breeds, such as the Arabian and the Mustang, are smaller and more agile, making them better suited for tasks that require quick movements or tight turns. Still, other breeds, such as Thoroughbreds, are typically bred for racing and are not as well suited to carrying heavy riders.

When choosing a horse for a particular task, it is important to consider the horse’s breed and weight-carrying ability. By matching the horse to the task at hand, you can ensure that both horse and rider will be safe and comfortable.

If possible, find out what type of work was intended for each individual animal when they were bred; this will help determine their strength relative to other horses within their own category (e.g., racehorses shouldn’t be expected to haul anything other than a jockey).

A horse’s carrying capacity can differ according to its breed. Just like Icelandic horses can carry 22.7% of their body weight, the Paso Fino horse can safely carry up to 25% of its body weight; both breeds are gaited.

I wonder if their being gaited is a factor in their ability to carry more weight than the average horse. Interestingly, mules are stronger than most horses and can easily carry 25% of their body weight.

3. Health & Fitness of the Horse

One of the most important aspects of horse care is maintaining their fitness. Not only does this help to keep them healthy, but it also affects their weight-carrying ability. For example, a horse that is out of shape is likely to tire quickly and may have difficulty carrying a rider.

In contrast, a horse that is in peak condition will be able to perform at a higher level for longer periods of time. There are a variety of ways to keep a horse fit, such as regular exercise, proper nutrition, and enough rest. By taking these steps, horse owners can help their animals stay healthy and perform at their best.

Picture of our two year old running

4. Rider’s Fitness and Expertise

The experience and fitness level of a rider also affect how much weight a horse can carry. If the rider is experienced, they know how to properly sit on a horse to make it easier to travel. A very inexperienced or unfit, they will likely slouch and make themselves harder to carry.

If a horse is tired after exercise, an untrained rider can easily throw it off balance as they struggle to get in the correct saddle position. A trained rider knows how to manage their body weight so the horse can easily keep moving.

5. Type of Activity/Terrain

The terrain on which the horse will be working should also be considered; horses bred for flatland areas may not be suitable for mountainous terrains. A horse will tire quickly when moving uphill or on uneven terrain directly under the sun.

Activities like running or racing also require more energy from a horse. When a horse is physically stressed because of rugged terrain or activity, extra weight increases its burden.

6. Hoof Care & Overall Condition

Hoof care is also important when it comes to how much weight a horse can carry. If a horse’s hooves are not trimmed and balanced properly, they will not distribute weight properly across their feet which can lead to lameness or other health issues down the road.

If you want your animal to carry a heavy load, you need to take good care of it. Its hoofs should be in good condition and should be trimmed or appropriately shod. It should be well-rested before a trip and should be used for regular exercise.

I wrote an article about taking care of your horse’s feet; you can check out here: How to Care for and Clean Horses Hooves: 6 Essential Steps

7. Riding Gear

Not only do you have to account for the weight of your horse’s riding gear, but you also have to ensure that the equipment sits comfortably on your horse.

Some saddles can be very heavy, adding extra weight. Other times, riding or pack saddles fit poorly and do not distribute your weight to the horse evenly.

8. Individual Assessment

Lastly, as a horse owner, you can make the best call regarding what weight your horse can safely carry. As you are intimately aware of your horse’s strengths and limitations, you can make the best call regarding its carrying capacity.

You can consider factors like age, fitness level, terrain, temperature, temperament, and rider expertise to make an informed decision.

Picture of our horse in a stall.

Note: Weight, Horse Metabolism & Nutrition

When the activity level of a horse is increased, its metabolism works faster, and its nutritional needs also go up. Similarly, when the weight a horse is carrying increases, its metabolism again starts working faster, and its caloric demands go up.

Horses often slow down when their load is increased to conserve energy expenditure. Their stride length also decreases, as found in a study.

Thus, when you are working at full carrying capacity, you should also take good care of your horses’ nutritional and caloric needs to ensure optimal health.

Here is a chart to help you determine what weight your horse can safely carry.

Horse BreedHorse Weight (lbs.)Carry Capacity (lbs.)
Arabian800-1000160-200
Icelandic Horse730-840165-190
Racehorse900-1100180-220
Paso Fino700-1000175-250
Thoroughbred1000-1300200-260
Quarter Horse1000-1300200-260
Clydesdale1600-1800320-360
Andalusian1000-1300200-260
Appaloosa1000-1300200-260
Cleveland Bay1200-1500240-300
Dutch Warmblood1200-1300240-260
Shire1700-2700340-540
Standardbred1000-1320200-264
Mule800-1000200-250
Miniature Horse150-35030-70

Note: Carrying capacity includes rider weight, riding gear weight, and the weight of any additional load your horse may be carrying. Saddle weight can vary from 10-60 lbs.

Picture of a bay horse.

Why Knowing a Horse’s Carry Capacity is Important

A horse’s carry capacity is the amount of weight that it can safely carry. This is an important thing to know for both horse owners and people who are thinking about buying a horse.

If you are going to be using your horse to carry heavy people, you need to make sure that the weight of the load is within its carry capacity. Otherwise, you could put your horse at risk for injury.

There are a few factors that go into determining a horse’s carry capacity. The most important one is the horse’s weight. A horse can safely carry more weight if it is healthy and in good condition.

Another factor that affects a horse’s carrying capacity is its build. Some horses, like draft horses, are built to carry heavy loads, while other horses, like racehorses, are not meant to carry very much weight at all.

The age of the horse also plays a role in its carrying capacity. Young horses may not be able to carry as much weight as older horses.

In the past, we used horses to transport goods, and it was essential to know how much a horse could carry and for how long without getting too tired or sore.

Today, we use trains, trucks, and planes to move products; however, horse riding, racing, and other equestrian activities are as popular today as ever. And with the average person getting heavier by the day, we need to ensure our horses are not overburdened.

Professional equestrians are usually aware of horses’ weight-carrying capacities, but many horse owners are not and often ride horses too small to carry their weight.

There are specific risks to exceeding a horse’s carrying capacity. These include:

If your horse is forced to carry heavy weights beyond its capacity, it is at an increased risk for lameness, back pain, and balance problems.

  • Sore Muscles

When its muscles have to work at an increased rate, they will get sore, indicating discomfort.

  • Temperament Issues

When horses are pushed continuously beyond capacity, they are more likely to misbehave and become difficult to manage, especially when novices are riding.

  • Chronic Pain and Joint Problems

If horse owners have no regard for their horses’ well-being and body limitations, then over time, their horses will develop permanent health issues, which will affect their performance.

Below is a YouTube video showing what can happen when you overload a horse.

FAQ

Is there a weight limit for horseback riding?

Horse rental facilities may set weight limits for horseback riding, but in general, there is no hard and fast weight limit number; it depends on the horse’s size, fitness level, and condition. As a guideline, horses should not be asked to carry more than 20% of their body weight.

Can a horse carry a 300-pound person?

Theoretically, horses can carry a 300-pound person, but should they? Horses are strong large animals, but even they have their limits. If you weigh more than 300 pounds, choose a large draft horse weighing 1,500 pounds or more.

How much weight can a horse pull?

Horses can pull 2,000 pounds at a walk and up to 8,000 pounds over a short distance. However, these are healthy and well-trained draft horses; most other horse breeds could never pull loads this heavy because they are bred for racing or other tasks and not pulling loads.