How Heavy Of A Person Can A Horse Carry?

Last Updated on March 17, 2022

How heavy of a person can a horse carry is a sensitive subject that is more and more in the forefront of talk amongst equestrians, but it often gets heated. There are two very important things to consider, the rider’s happiness with their body and the welfare of the horse. Horses are not machines, but living, breathing creatures that have their limits.

Weight Limit For Horse Riding

It is very easy to offend someone by telling them that they are too big for their horse. However, keep in mind this isn’t necessarily calling someone, for lack of a kinder word ‘fat’. A tall thin person can still surpass the weight limit for some horses and ponies.

Many people will feel that their horse is perfectly fine carrying them and not intentionally have an awareness that they are actually too big for their horse. In today’s more society where people try to ensure they have accepted for all kinds of people, pointing out someone is too heavy to ride a horse is sometimes interpreted as fat-shaming. However, when talking about how much a horse can carry, has nothing to do with shaming anyone, and everything to do with the horse’s welfare.

How Much Can A Horse Carry On Its Back

There is one rule with two different versions that equestrian centers apply to determine the weight limit for a horse. Each horse will have a different weight limit, depending on its own height and body type. In the UK, and most of Europe, the rule is that a horse can not carry more than 10 percent of its body weight.

In the US, a 20 percent rule is more commonly used for determining the weight limit for horse riding. To make this a bit clearer, let’s take a look at a horse that weighs 1,100 pounds. Using the 10 percent rule means the rider’s limit for this horse is 110 pounds or 220 pounds using 20 percent.

Afraid You Are Too Heavy to Ride? This is an interesting video talking about rider weight and horses.

Weight Limit For Horse Riders

Many riding stables or trail riding centers will enforce a weight limit for riders coming for lessons or trekking. This is not put in place to discriminate or offend anyone but for the well-being of the horses. Overloading a horse with too much weight for its size or condition can have detrimental effects on its muscles and the rest of its body long term, even if the horse doesn’t seem to struggle.

Rider fitness or experience also affects how their weight impacts the horse. A heavy rider with only novice riding abilities will not have great balance in the saddle. However, a rider with some experience and good fitness will result in a more comfortable horse, even if they are on the heavier side.

Saddle fit is essential. If a bigger rider uses a saddle that is too small, it will put them in the wrong position, which will add too much pressure to certain areas of the horse’s back.

Harmful Effects Of Too Much Weight For Horses

A study from 2018, uncovered a direct correlation between rider and horse weight ratios and lameness. The results found temporary lameness is horses ridden by riders too heavy for them. It also found these horses showed more signs of discomfort.

Dr. Sue Dyson, an animal orthopedics expert, concludes that a heavier rider does not mean you can’t enjoy the activity. However, these riders need to choose a suitable horse that is big enough, fit enough, and with the right body type for their weight. For example, a heavy rider should avoid a small or light-frame horse, such as a thoroughbred.

The rider also must ensure they use a saddle that fits them correctly. This study will help furthermore research into the rider weight and its effects on horses. The hope is that good guidelines can help riders determine the right horse for their body size.

Further Studies On Rider Weight

A UK study headed by Dr. Hayley Randle took a look at horses and riders in England’s southwestern regions of Cornwall and Devon. The researchers included 152 riders and found that one-third of them were too heavy for their horses.

A well-respected UK vet, Keith Chandler, falls in between the 10 and 20 percent rule, saying that a rider’s weight should not be more than 15 percent of the horse’s weight. He feels that weight above this percentage puts the back and legs of the horse under too much strain.

weight limit for horse riders

Horse Breeds For Heavy Riders

Heavy riders can still enjoy horses. How heavy of a person can a horse carry relies on choosing a suitable horse. Certain horse breeds can better carry more weight than others. It is these types that larger riders should consider.

Draft Horses

Draft horse breeds can carry the most weight compared to other breeds. This includes the Shire, Percheron, and Clydesdale. While most associate these breeds with pulling wagons, they can make excellent pleasure riding horses for taller and heavier riders.

Draft horses also have gentle, calm natures, which is ideal for a more novice rider. The draft breeds have large, muscular bodies, with strong backs. They also have lots of bone and height. These traits make them more capable of carrying a heavy rider without discomfort.

Irish Draught

The Irish Draught is smaller than draft breeds such as the Shire. It has a sportier, more athletic body. But these horses still have wide barrels, strong backs, and good bone. 

The Irish Draught is a popular riding horse for those that like to compete in jumping or showing classes. When crossed with a Thoroughbred, the Irish Draught creates a traditional Irish Sports Horse. These horses regularly top the rankings for eventing horses.

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Every Horse Has A Limit

Even the largest horses have a rider weight limit. As a rider’s weight increases, so do their ability to balance well on a horse. 300 pounds is pushing the limits, even for a 17.2 hand Shire horse. 

Over 300 pounds, and especially over 350 pounds, it is not fair or comfortable for the horse, no matter how good the rider’s intentions are. This weight goes beyond the limit for how heavy of a person can a horse carry.


Whatever someone tells you about your suitability for a certain horse, remember it is not a personal slight of how heavy of a person can a horse carry. Horse welfare is more and more important in today’s equestrian society. Putting in place weight limits is purely about the horse’s health and not an attempt to make someone feel bad.

If you are a heavier rider and you aren’t sure what horse is suitable for you, don’t hesitate to get some expert advice. With some help, you will not have to miss out on the wonderful activity of horse riding.

What is the maximum weight for a person to ride a horse?

Dr. Deb Bennett, PhD, founder of the Equine Studies Institute and an expert in the biomechanics of horses, has advised that the “weight of rider plus tack must not exceed 250 pounds. This is the most basic requirement for safety and health of both horse and human and applies to an average sized horse. Of course, the limit is going to be way lower for smaller, lighter horses and even less for ponies and miniature horses. Horses are living organisms that are subject certain physical limitations that we need to respect in order to keep them healthy and fit.

Can you be too heavy for a horse?

Horses are a lot stronger than people give them credit for. In fact, horses have a higher ratio of muscle to bone than humans. The muscles of the horse’s hind legs are about 20 times more powerful than those of the human body! However, it is true that a horse can get injured if it is overloaded. According to the general rule, a horse can safely carry only 20 % of their body weight. If you exceed this limit, the horse can suffer from damage to their back or other parts of the body. Therefore, it is important to know your horse’s limits before you purchase one.  

How much can a 15 hand horse carry?

As horse trainers and riders become more aware of the physical limitations of their animals, they are looking at different ways to utilize their horses for greater levels of performance. To do this they are learning to recognize and measure the horse’s limits so that they can be used to the horse’s full potential.
In order determine how much weight a horse can comfortably carry, researchers developed an experiment to simulate actual horse-riding activity. They monitored horses for heart rate, breathing rate, rectal temperature and loin muscle condition when carrying loads of 15, 20, 25 and 35% of their ideal bodyweight. The experiment confirmed that an average adult light riding horse could comfortably carry about 20 percent of their ideal bodyweight.

Do horses like to be ridden?

While horses are generally well-suited to carrying people on their backs, there’s more to their demeanor toward humans than meets the eye. For some horses, being ridden is the most enjoyable thing in their lives, while for others it’s an unwelcome obligation. 
If you’re thinking of getting into the equestrian life, it’s important to know what kinds of horses will and won’t do well with you on their backs. There’s no way to say that all horses enjoy being ridden, but there are definite differences between horses that love to be ridden and those that would rather not. Horses can vary widely in temperament, and it’s important to understand this before getting started. If you’re not sure if a particular horse is going to be a good ride or not, ask the seller or breeder about his or her experiences with similar horses. You might also ask the horse owner who owns the horse you’re considering buying.