How Much Weight Can A Horse Carry?

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Ever try to go on a vacation trail ride and have to sign a waiver that includes your height and weight?  Have you wondered why they need to know, and why these facts might be important to your ride? How much weight can a horse carry?

Then this article is for you! In this article, I’ll be discussing the importance of weight limits in horseback riding and how much weight a horse can safely carry.  Is it 300 pounds? 500 pounds? 100 pounds? The answer, as always, is that it depends!

Why Have Weight Limit for Horse Riding

Horses are strong, big-boned animals, so why do we need weight limits to begin with?  If you’re riding your own horse, in your own tack, the same as you do every day, weight limits are probably not something you have to deal with or think about on a regular basis.

But, consider riding schools, scholastic and collegiate riding programs, trail riding farms, dude ranches, and any other horse-riding business where you might ride a horse that you’ve never met before.  The owners of these businesses don’t know you or your size, both height and weight.

So, how would they know if they should put you on their 12 hand pony or their 18 hand draft horse? Well, they have to know your height and weight in order to make a safe match.  

Most riding schools and trail riding barns have online waivers that you must fill out, including your height and weight.  That way, you’ll have your perfect match waiting for you when you show up.

Another example of this is the “height/weight” rule in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA- a competitive college riding circuit). Riders over 5’6” and/or over 180 pounds must register themselves as “height/weight” riders.

These riders have certain horses removed from the pool of horses they can draw from because the horses have specific weight limits.  These weight limits could be due to a variety of things; height (ponies, typically), weak backs, etc. 

What Contributes to the Weight a Horse Carries?

But, the rider isn’t the only thing that contributes to a horse’s weight limit. Think about what else your horse has to carry when you’re riding- the saddle! Some saddles are extremely lightweight.  Think of racing saddles and monoflap eventing or dressage saddles.  Even some close-contact hunt seat saddles can be extremely lightweight.

But, sometimes western or other trail saddles can be very heavy.  Logistically, there’s more to these saddles; they simply have a bigger design with more parts.  

What Contributes to the Weight a Horse Carries?

And, western saddles typically have heavier, thicker saddle blankets, as opposed to the simple saddle pad or baby pad used under English saddles.

So, depending on the type of saddle and pad a horse goes in, their capacity to carry human weight may increase or decrease.  

There are also instances where horses or mules are used as “pack” animals, meaning they only carry supplies, not a saddle or people.  It’s important to know how much these supplies weight, in order to not overload the horse.

Equine Characteristics that Contribute to Weight Limit

The most obvious characteristic of a horse that will contribute to its individual weight limit is height.  Typically, ponies are going to be shorter, smaller-boned, and overall weaker than a big horse.

Though this is not always the case (some “wonder” ponies have made it to the top ranks of horse competition), horses are typically able to carry more weight simply due to their height.

Another factor is general conformation, or how a horse is built.  There are certain very light horses that are typically not used for riding at all; these horses might be more suited for cart work.  

Equine Characteristics that Contribute to Weight Limit

There are also some breeds of horses whose conformation makes them extremely delicate and nimble, such that they may not be suitable for carrying heavy loads.  Breeds like this include the Arabian.

Other horses, like draft crosses and draft horses, are the opposite. They are built broad and wide, perfect for carrying heavy loads. 

Lastly, it’s important to consider each horse as an individual.  Very young and very old horses should probably have a lighter weight limit than horses in their physical primes.  Very young horses are still growing, so you want to be as easy on their bones as possible.  

Old horses may have soundness and balance issues, and it is also important to be very easy on their bones and bodies. So, a horse’s weight limit will depend on the horse’s height, build, and physical condition.

How Much Weight Should a Horse Carry?

All of this is important, but it still doesn’t let us know exactly how much weight a horse should carry.  The general standard in the USA is that a horse can carry 20% of its body weight.  And, the general standard in the UK is that a horse can carry 10% of its body weight.

So, your standard horse weighs about 1200-1500 pounds.  In the USA, the standard would then be that a horse of that weight could carry 240-300 pounds.  In the UK however, the standard would be for a horse of that weight to only carry 120-150 pounds.

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The 20% standard seems to be increasing in global popularity, but, as stated, the final decision should be weighed against all of the factors listed above; height, build, and individual physical condition of the horse.

Conclusion

Weight limits are important for both the safety of your horse and for the safety of its riders.  It’s important to understand each horse’s physical limitations and to make decisions accordingly.  Horses can carry incredible weights if they aren’t asked for more than they can handle.

I hope this article helped you understand weight limits, why they exist, and how to create them for your own horse or horses.  If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences with horses and weight limits!


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