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Before you saddle up, it is important to know how much weight a horse can carry. Though we often see horses as strong animals, capable of supporting heavy loads, they do have limitations on how much they can safely carry.
For the safety and well-being of the horse, it is important to understand the weight restrictions on how much they can support.
Just because equines are sturdy animals doesn’t mean they can easily carry large amounts of weight.
How Much Weight Can a Horse Carry?
On average, a horse can safely carry 20% of its body weight. For example, a 1,000 pound horse could safely carry 200 pounds of weight. When calculating what weight your horse can carry, you should include the weight of the horse tack.
Factors such as conformation, fitness, workload, equipment, and hoof care all contribute to how much weight each horse can support.
When a horse carries too much weight, the effects can be seen both long term and short term. For the horse’s health, you don’t want it to carry any more weight than it can safely support.
Important Safety Notice: We advise you always double-check with your vet if you’re unsure what weight is safe for your horse to carry.
What Factors Affect How Much a Horse Can Carry?
Though the rule of thumb to follow is 20% a horse’s body weight, some horses can comfortably carry more weight based on their conformation. A compact, hardy equine can generally support more than a long-legged, lean one.
For example, an Icelandic horse typically stands 13 to 14 hands and weighs between 730 – 840 pounds and can often be seen carrying adult riders.
This is due to the fact they have a compact, sturdy build. Their thick cannon bones, short backs and well-muscled bodies allow them to comfortably support more weight than the average horse.
Researchers found that a group of Icelandic horses were able to handle carrying 20 – 35% of their body weight without showing lameness afterwards.
Icelandics, and horse breeds with similar conformation, can often support a fit, well-balanced rider that is 25% of their body weight. However, this can vary by horse and depends on the fitness and balance of both the horse and rider.
The fitness of horse and rider is key to how much weight a horse can safely support. An unfit, unbalanced equine may even struggle to carry 20% of its body weight.
An out of shape horse won’t have the proper strength to lift their back to support their rider. They will often struggle to find the correct balance and commonly develop soreness. An unfit rider that doesn’t have good balance can cause a horse discomfort and soreness.
In addition, an obese horse can’t necessarily carry 20% its weight, as it is not in good shape. Also, as some horses get older they are not always capable of carrying the weight of what they used to when they were younger.
A horse’s workload will also factor into how much they carry. Twenty minutes of walking on a flat surface is not nearly as demanding as an hour ride across rugged terrain.
A horse may seem fine to carry more than 20% of its body weight while walking around an arena. However, duration, terrain and increase of speed requires more effort from an equine. Often, horses will struggle carrying over 20% of their weight when partaking in demanding exercise.
Equipment and Hoof Care
Proper fitting tack and proper hoof care are vital to a horse’s ability to perform. Without the right care, a horse can easily fall lame.
Your saddle should fit properly on your horse with even weight distribution and no pinching. An ill-fitting saddle can cause some serious back problems for horses.
Hoof care is also extremely important to a horse’s ability to support weight. Their hooves should be regularly trimmed to guarantee they are properly maintained and healthy. This will ensure they have the correct balance for even weight distribution.
Short and Long Term Effects of Too Much Weight
For some horses, you can tell immediately if they are struggling to support their weight. Other horses might not immediately show signs of struggling, but will develop problems over time.
If a horse is carrying too much weight, you may see them breathing abnormally heavy. They may also show shortened strides and lack of symmetry if they are bearing too much weight. After working, they may appear to be sore or show signs of discomfort.
If a horse is continuously working with too much weight, they may develop back problems and lameness. Over time, they may even show signs of chronic pain, joint problems and arthritis.
To ensure a horse has a long, healthy career, the amount of weight they can carry must be taken into consideration.
What Size Horse Should I Get?
Man has ridden horses and used them to carry heavy loads for thousands of years. However, we must respect our equine partners limitations to ensure their longevity.
It is always good to stick with the guideline that a horse can carry 20% of its weight. However, every horse and rider is different, so it is important to evaluate each horse to know what’s best for them.
Just because you are of larger stature, doesn’t mean you can’t ride. You just need to make sure you ride a horse that can carry you. This is for both you and the horse’s safety and well being.
Taller isn’t always the choice to go for larger riders. Rather big horse breeds with a sturdy, compact build can often carry more. Irish draughts, Warmbloods, draft breeds, draft crosses and even some sturdy Quarter Horses can be ideal for larger riders.