Horses are capable of pulling incredible weights, but there is a significant difference between dead weight and how much weight can a horse pull on wheels. The total weight a horse can pull will depend on a few factors. This includes the horse breed, the type of vehicle with wheels, and the surface it is pulling on.
In the past, carriages were the main way people traveled between locations. Horse’s pulled these carriages, which came in a variety of sizes. Today, the weight of the average large carriage is 1,800 pounds.
The design of the carriage will also influence how easy it for the horse to pull. Two carriages can weigh the same amount, but it is possible that one is easier to pull than the other. Several factors influence how easily the carriage moves.
These include axel friction, resistance to rolling, and the tractive effort the horse needs to use to move the carriage. A study by Cornell University found that horses can consistently, without overexerting themselves physically, make a traction effort of 10 percent of their body weight. This is different than the total weight a horse can pull.
What traction effort refers to is the force the horse can exert consistently over a long distance. For a 1,000 pound horse, this is 100 pounds.
How Much Does A Wagon Weigh
A wagon is a less elegant type of wheeled vehicle pulled by horses than a carriage. Wagons transported goods from farms, by those less well off to travel and to distribute goods in cities. When people were traveling to the American West to settle it, they traveled in a Prairie Schooner.
The Prairie Schooner was lighter than another type of wagon in use at the time to haul heavy loads, the Conestoga. Its smaller size made it more suitable to travel the long distance to the wild American West. When empty, the Paire Schooner wagon weighs 1,300 pounds.
The settlers were careful not to overload the wagon, keeping the total weight to no more than 2,000 pounds. Each wagon has a team of 10 or 12 horses to pull it. Teams of mules and oxen were also used with several animals in reserve to replace ones that got tired or injured.
A Conestoga wagon could weigh up to 12,000 pounds when full. A team of four to six horses would pull these wagons.
Today, heavy horses, like the draft breeds, still pull wagons for various events. The most famous wagon team is the Budweiser Clydesdales. Draft horses weigh between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds. A fully loaded wagon these horses pull can weigh around 4,000 pounds.
This is a fun video showing a collection of old images of horses pulling wagons from years ago.
How Much Can A Horse Pull
Before more interest in horse welfare came into mainstream equestrianism, thinking about how much weight a horse can pull didn’t factor too much. However, today we use a general guide to determine what a horse can comfortably pull. This will change depending on the surface the horse pulling on and who you ask.
With wheels, on a good surface, such as flat, hard ground like a road, a single horse can pull three times its body weight. For example, if a horse weighs 1,000 pounds, it can pull 3,000 pounds. When you add hills into the equation, the maximum weight decreases to two times the horse’s body weight.
The two times bodyweight rule also comes into play when the road condition worsens. This is means gravel or dirt tracks. When you are on very bad surfaces, such as sand or in the mountains, the weight limit decreases to just the horse’s body weight.
There is a difference of opinion on the maximum weight a horse can pull on wheels. Contradicting the above rule, some say horses can actually pull six times their body weight on a good road. This means that in reality, a 1,000-pound horse can pull 6,000 pounds.
However, even though the horse can pull six times its weight, those with this opinion still restrict their horses to pulling carriages no more than three times their weight. This means the horse can work longer without becoming too tired or strained.
How Much Can A Team Of Horses Pull On Wheels
Large carriages or heavy wagons use a team of horses to pull them. This increases the weight limits and shares the work between the horses. When you add a second horse to make a team of two, they can pull three times as much on wheels as a single horse.
When you add even more horses, the weight they can pull on wheels increases to an impressive amount. For example, the Budweiser Clydesdales pull in a team of eight. When their wagon is fully loaded, it weighs 12 tons, 24,000 pounds!
Record Weights Horses Pull
Draft horses are the most powerful type and have always been used for the heaviest work. These horses worked on farms pulling plows and pulling wagons to transport goods. A lighter, more refined horse would pull a carriage, especially if it was for the upper classes.
A deadweight, that means without wheels, is much more difficult for a horse to pull. Several records have impressed people over the years for deadweight pulls by horses. At the 2012 Calgary Stampede, the heaviest weight ever pulled by a team of two horses is 13,400 pounds.
One report from 1924, says that a team of Shire horses pulled an incredible 100,000 pounds. This seems a little unbelievable, and it is hard to know for certain if this was exaggerated or not. Regardless of if the 100,000 is correct or not, this horse team clearly pulled an impressive amount.
As you can see, how much weight can a horse pull on wheels is more than a deadweight because the wheels provide momentum and less friction? Heavy horses can pull up to six times their body weight on their own. This increases as you add more horses to the team.