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How Strong Are Horses? 6 Horse Strength Facts & FAQs

How Strong Are Horses? 6 Horse Strength Facts & FAQs

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Horses are one of the strongest animals in the world. Thanks to their power, they have carried people on their backs, pulled heavy loads of weight, and plowed fields for humans throughout history. But how strong are horses?

Horses are capable of carrying 20% of their body weight and pulling 1.5 times their weight over long distances. A strong draft horse can have a maximum output of up to 14.9 horsepower.

In addition to being able to carry and pull heavy objects, horses also have strong bites and kicks. Their bite is strong enough to take off a finger, while their powerful kicks can be deadly.

How Much Weight Can a Horse Carry?

An average horse can carry 20% of its body weight safely and comfortably. For example, a horse that weighs 1,000 can carry 200 pounds of weight on its back.

Big horse carrying a woman
Inc / Shutterstock.com

Large horses that weigh 1,500 pounds can carry up to 300 pounds of weight on their back. However, some equine experts believe that horses should never carry more than 250 pounds for an extended time, even large horses.

Though the rule of thumb is a horse can carry 20% of its body weight, there are a few factors that have to be taken into consideration. The conformation of the horse along with its fitness level, hoof care, and workload can influence how much weight a horse is capable of carrying.

Horses with thick cannon bones, short backs, and well-muscled bodies have ideal builds for carrying weight. For example, Icelandic horses are known to be able to carry more weight than the average horse.

In a recent study, researchers found that a group of Icelandic horses were able to handle carrying 20-35% of their body weight without experiencing lameness afterward.

Icelandics, along with breeds with similar conformation, are often capable of supporting a fit, well-balanced rider that is 25% of their body weight, with some able to carry up to 30%. However, this varies by the individual horse and rider.

Small strong Icelandic horse carrying a large young girl
Icelandic horse. Magnus Binnerstam / Shutterstock.com

When figuring the amount of weight a horse can carry, you also have to factor in the weight of the tack. The 20% rule must include the weight of both the horse and rider.

The balance and fitness of the rider also plays a big role in a horse’s ability to safely carry weight on its back. If the rider is off-balance and unfit, it can throw off the balance of the horse and cause the horse to experience muscle fatigue. In some cases, a horse can carry more than 20% of its weight as long as both the horse and rider are balanced and in shape.

Also read: Brooklyn Supreme, One of the Biggest Horses in History

How Much Weight Can a Horse Pull?

Horses are capable of pulling up to two to three times their body weight if it is on wheels. A 2,000-pound draft horse can pull up to 6,000 pounds when driving.

Four strong horses pulling a huge tree log
Nowaczyk / Shutterstock.com

Though horses can pull up to two to three times of their weight on wheels, for long distances they can pull about 1.5 times their weight with a wheeled vehicle. So, over a course of the day, a 1,000-pound horse could pull a wheeled vehicle that weighs 1,500 pounds.

For a dead weight, such as a log or plow, a horse can typically pull up to 1/10 of its body weight. When it comes to short distances, some draft horses are capable of pulling vehicles 10-15 times their body weight, a truly impressive feat.

With their heavy muscles, compact builds, thick necks, and strong legs, draft horses have the ideal build for pulling heavy loads. They are capable of pulling more weight for their size than finer-built breeds such as the Arabian.

Heavy horse pull competitions are popular events to show off the incredible power of the horse. In 2012, a pair of Belgian draft horses set a record at the Calgary Stampede’s Heavy Horse Pull by pulling a deadweight of 13,400 pounds. Only two years later, another pair of Belgians at the National Western Stock Show set a record pulling a whopping 17,000 pounds.

In 1924, a pair of Shire horses pulled an outstanding weight of 100,000 pounds. In that same year, a single Shire pulled 58,000 pounds, a truly astonishing feat of horsepower.

Here is a video of a horse pulling out a car, demonstrating their unbridle power:

How Strong is a Horse’s Bite?

Horses have a bite force of roughly 500 pounds per square inch (psi), depending on the horse. Their bite is capable of biting off a human finger.

Horse about to bite a human hand
Kateryna Puchka / Shutterstock.com

To put this power in perspective, people have a bite force of around 200 psi, which is 2.5 times less than a horse’s bite force. Horses are fully capable of biting off a person’s finger, even if it is an accident. Horses can bite if they feel threatened, which can lead to some serious damage.

How Strong is a Horse’s Kick?

A horse is capable of kicking at a force of up to 2,000 psi and its kick speed can be up to 200 miles per hour. A kick this powerful is capable of killing a person, although it is rare.

Horse kicking the air in a field
Rita_Kochmarjova / Shutterstock.com

Normally, a horse will only kick if they feel threatened. However, they can also kick for other reasons such as while playing or even while trying to get away from a horsefly. Horses will not always kick at full force either.

What is Horsepower?

Though one may assume that a single horse would have the equivalent of one horsepower, that is actually incorrect. A horse can achieve an approximate maximum output of 14.9 horsepower.

Horsepower is a unit of measurement people generally use for the output of engines or motors. A single unit of horsepower equals 33,000 foot-pounds of work per minute or 550 foot-pounds per second (745.7 watts).

Scottish engineer James Watt came up with the measurement of horsepower. In the 18th century, Watt used horsepower as a way to compare the power of draft horses to steam engines. He used his calculations as a way to show that the improved design of steam engines was more fuel-efficient.

Percheron horse pulling a tyre and demonstrating horsepower
Nadezda Murmakova / Shutterstock.com

In addition, Watt came up with the calculation that, over an average day’s work, a horse could turn a 24 feet mill wheel approximately 2.5 times per minute. He came to the conclusion that the amount of force and energy applied by the horse to turn the wheel is equivalent to 33,000 foot-pounds per minute.

Watt’s calculations came from the power of draft horses. So, lighter breeds such as Arabians and Thoroughbreds do not have the same horsepower as a muscular draft horse does.

Strongest Horse Breeds in the World

Draft horses are famous for their massive, muscular bodies and powerful legs. They have been specially bred for hundreds of years to be the strongest horses in the world.

The strongest breeds in the world include the Belgian, Shire, Percheron, Clydesdale, and Dutch Draft. These draft breeds have impeccable strength and can pull incredible amounts of weight thanks to their sturdy builds.

Belgian

Belgian draft horse pulling a plough
Grietje Boer / Shutterstock.com

Belgian horses typically stand between 16.2-18 hands tall and weigh between 1,800-2,000 pounds. Originally from the Brabant region of modern Belgium, Belgians are the most popular draft breed in America.

Recognizable for their stunning chestnut and roan coats with flaxen manes and tails, Belgians have stocky bodies, short legs, and thick muscles. Once mighty warhorses, these blonde beauties became powerhouses in agricultural work before modern machinery took over.

Today, Belgian horses are still popular horses to use in farm work, along with pulling competitions, driving, and riding.

Also read: 10 Interesting Facts About Belgian Draft Horses

Shire

Black Shire horse grazing on grass
Sanne van der Vlerk-Zwirs / Shutterstock.com

Shire horses stand between 16-20 hands tall and weigh between 1,800-2,400 pounds. Shires were once a favorite choice for knights to ride into battle. In addition, they have also been a top choice in industry and agriculture work for over 200 years.

Shire horses are black, bay gray, or brown in color, with a muscular, large build, slight roman nose, elegantly arching neck, and feathering on their legs. Originally from England, they are one of the oldest draft breeds. Today, Shires are popular horses for pulling competitions, driving, riding, and farm work.

Also read: 9 Interesting Facts About Shire Horses

Percheron

Dapple grey Percheron horse in a field
Vera Zinkova / Shutterstock.com

Percheron horses stand between 16-19 hands tall and weigh between 1,700-2,600 pounds. They have a muscular build, with a well-arched neck, deep-set chest, hardy legs, a fine head, and supple gaits.

Percherons are a native French horse breed that has a history of being fierce war mounts and powerful plow horses. Today, they are most notable for being driving horses, but they also excel in pulling competitions, riding, and agricultural work. Percherons are typically gray or black in color, but can also be roan, bay, or chestnut.

Also read: 11 Interesting Facts About Percheron Horses

Dutch Draft

Strong Dutch Draft horse standing on a beach
navatu / Shutterstock.com

Dutch Draft horses stand between 15-17 hands tall and weigh around 1,500-1,800 pounds. They have large, muscular builds, strong arched necks, and compact legs with feathering. Dutch Drafts can be bay, chestnut, roan, and sometimes black in color.

The Dutch Draft breed began in Holland after WWI as a heavy horse for farm work. The strength and stamina of these stunning horses gave them the ability to work long hours. They became a favorite among the Dutch people for plowing through the tough clay and sand soils of the countryside.