Any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks in advance – I really appreciate it!
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.
How Much Weight Can a Horse Carry Safely?
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 research conducted in January 2008, a horse can safely carry 20% of its body weight. So, if you have a 1000 lbs. horse, it can easily carry 200 lbs. of weight.
The 20% is of course, a general estimate. Each horse differs in the amount of weight it can safely carry; factors like breed, conformation, and fitness all play an essential role.
In this study, the 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.
Researchers used several parameters to measure the effects of increased weights on a horse’s health. They 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 they 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 safe carrying weight. However, the study also found a negative correlation between a horse’s conformation and its weight-bearing capacity.
Horse Conformation and Weight-Carrying Ability
The study 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%.
Other Factors That Affect A Horse’s Carrying Capacity
Apart from conformation, several other factors affect a horse’s carrying capacity. Let us go over them.
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 more robust than most horses and can easily carry 25% of their body weight.
Please see the chart I provide at the end of this article for detailed information about carrying capacity by horse breed.
Health & Fitness of the Horse
A healthy, fit, and well-muscled horse will be able to carry more weight than an unfit or weak horse. A horse must be in optimal health to carry the load to its full capacity.
Rider’s Fitness and Expertise
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 bodyweight so the horse can easily keep moving.
Type of Activity/Terrain
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.
Hoof Care & Overall Condition
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 to regular exercise.
I wrote an article about taking care of your horses feet you can check out here: How to Care for and Clean Horses Hooves: 6 Essential Steps
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.
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 its age, fitness level, terrain, temperature, temperament, and rider expertise to make an informed decision.
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 your horse at its full carrying capacity, you should also take good care of its nutritional and caloric needs to ensure optimal health.
Why is it important to know a horse’s carry capacity?
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:
- Lameness, Back Pains, Balance Issues
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 for novice riders.
- 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.
Here is a chart to help you determine what weight your horse can safely carry.
|Horse Breed||Horse Weight (lbs.)||Carrying Capacity (lbs.)|
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.
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. Many horses cannot safely work with riders who exceed 20% of their body weight!
If you weigh more than 300 pounds and want to ride a horse, choose a large horse weighing over 1,500 pounds. There are plenty of large draft horses you can ride.
Is there a weight limit for horse riding?
There is no set weight limit for riding horses in general, but for the safety of both horses and riders alike, riding facilities often have weight limits that are set by their management to keep those who ride safe.
If you plan to rent a horse and are concerned about weight riding limits, contact the facility in advance and ask them about their rules.
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.