It’s hard to determine average horse weight even when factoring in height. This is because there is a multitude of breeds, with vastly different conformation characteristics. For example, a Gypsy may only be 14-15 hands, but a healthy and average weight will be extremely different from a 14-15 hand Morgan. For this reason, many people use the Henneke Scale (shown below) as a gauge for proper weight. Here is an average horse weight chart using very loose guidelines:
Average Horse Weight Chart
When speaking about an “average” horse, most people think of a 900-1,100-pound 15 hand horse. However, average horse sizes range from 800 up to 1,800 pounds depending on the breed!
|Horse Breed||Weight (kg)||Height (hh)|
|American Cream Draft||725-905||15-16.3|
|American Quarter Horse||455-590||14-16.3|
The Henneke Scale
The Henneke scale is a good way to assess equine body scores among different breeds. The system uses visual and palpated fat scoring from the ribs, withers, loin, tailhead, shoulders, and neck. The scoring system is rated from 1-9, with 5 being ideal. The poorest condition, 1, is a state of extreme emaciation. At this point, most horses will start to experience organ failure. The highest number, 9, is extreme fat that poses an immediate danger.
|Poor 1||Prominent and project outwardProminent and project outward||Bone structure prominent, the horse appears emaciated, no fatty tissues||Bone prominent||Spinous processes project outwardly||Bone projection, no fatty tissues||Bone structure is seen and felt|
|Very Thin 2||Almost no fat covering||ribs Horse still emaciated||Faint fat covering||Slight fat covering spinous processes, but still prominent||Tailhead still prominent||Shoulder line highly visible|
|Thin 3||Very slight fat on ribs, still visible||Highly visible withers||Neck Highly visible shoulder||Spinous processes only half covered in fat, still prominent and traverse processes can’t be felt||Tailhead projects but individual vertebrae hidden, pin bones not highly distinguishable||Accentuated|
|Moderately Thin 5||Faint||Neck not prominently thin||Withers not obviously thin||Negative crease noticeable on the back||Fat can be felt, but not seen, hook bones are not discernible||Outline Not noticeably thin|
|Moderate 5||Ribs not visible, but easily felt||Neck blends into the body||Withers rounded nicely||Level back||Fat around tailhead and starts to feel spongy||Shoulder blends nicely|
|Moderately Fleshy 6||Ribs not visible, but easily felt||Beginning fat deposits||Beginning fat deposits||Possible positive crease down spine||Fat around tailhead is soft||Beginning fat deposits|
|Fleshy 7||Fat filling between ribs, but ribs still separate||Actual fat deposits||There are fat deposits||Possible positive crease down spine||Distinguishable Fat around tailhead will be soft||New fat deposits behind shoulder line|
|Fat 8||Difficult to feel ribs at all||Thickened neck and crest, fatty buttocks||Withers have fat pockets||All Positive crease down spine||Tailhead very soft||No noticeable shoulder line|
|Extremely Fat 9||Patchy fat and no visible ribs||Bulging fat and cresty, buttocks may rub||Fat bulges||Large positive crease down spine||Fat built up around tailhead||Fat bulges|
So what is a proper weight for a horse, and why is it important? Ideally, a horse will score a “5”, which is a moderate weight and considered ideal. Distinct characteristics of this chart include smooth neck to body transitions, rounded withers over the spine, no visible ribs but easily felt, level back, and fat present around the tailhead. Serious irreversible medical issues can arise when a horse is too extreme in either direction on the Henneke Scale.
Horses suffering from obesity have increased stress on both the lungs and the heart. This can also be an issue in developing horses, causing bone and joint issues. Although not a problem in all animals, horses are also at increased risk of laminitis when overweight. No hoof, no horse!
Although many health problems can result in an underweight horse, nutritional gaps are the primary problem with underweight horses. Nutritional deficiencies can result in a multitude of problems. As horses become emaciated, they lose necessary muscling and protective fat layers. At the final stages, a horse’s internal organs will begin to fail.
Feed Control Methods
Feed control is the primary way to control weight on a horse. Exercise is a factor, but grass and feeds can make or break a horse’s diet. However, each corrective feeding method has its own challenges. When putting weight on an emaciated horse, it must be done strategically and slowly primarily with easily digestible forage. When “dieting” a horse, it can be difficult to find low NSC hays or control pasture access/grass growth.
Although averages for horse weight are wide-ranging, this chart should give readers a good idea of what ideal and average body weights are. Where do your horses fall on the Henneke scale? If you have friends with horses, be sure to share this article!