6 Best Heavyweight Horses For larger Riders

You don’t have to miss out on horse riding, just because of your size if you have one of the best heavyweight horses for larger riders.

If you are very tall or a bit on the heavier side, don’t write off horse riding straight away.

What you need is a suitable horse where both you and your mount can have a comfortable experience.

We’ve made choosing one easy with our guide to the best horses for bigger riders. Find out now!

READ MORE: Difference Between Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred

Heavyweight Horses

Several horse breeds make great mounts for larger riders. An added bonus of these horses is that many are also excellent choices for beginners, hobbyists, and nervous riders. Let’s get started.

Shire Horse

brown Shire horse

The Shire is a draft horse and one of the biggest horse breeds.

In fact, a Shire holds the record for the world’s tallest horse.

The Guinness Book of World Records gave the title to Sampson, a 21.2 hand Shire from England.

Like all draft horses, the Shire started its evolution as a workhorse. They were commonly found on farms around England, where they originate.

The breed was also a popular cart horse that provided the transport of heavy loads.

Shire horses weigh between 1,700 and 2,000 pounds, though Sampson tipped the scales at an incredible 3,360 pounds.

If you use the unofficial, but respected rule of rider to horse bodyweight ratio, the Shire can comfortably carry a 300-pound rider. We’ll fill you in on this below.

After the Industrial Revolution, the Shire horse lost its main purpose, and numbers dwindled to a risky level. These horses needed to find new jobs.

While some still do the heavy work they were developed for, many have also transitioned into riding horses. The Shire is an intelligent, sensible breed that is easy to train.

This and its calm temperament has only benefited the Shire in establishing itself as a riding horse.

Not only does the breed suit a larger rider, but it is also a good choice for those just learning or those with back problems.

This is because the Shire is a comfortable horse to ride with smooth gaits and a long stride.

Clydesdale Horse

brown Clydesdale horse with white hairy feet

Our next heavyweight horse is the beautiful Clydesdale.

This is the breed that you are probably most familiar with.

It is the breed that Budweiser uses as its mascot and features in TV ads and events around the United States.

Like the Shire, the Clydesdale originates in the UK, Scotland, to be specific. Their gentle nature and incredible strength made the breed perfect for farm and hauling work.

In fact, the breed was developed specifically for heavy work.

The Clydesdale suffered the same fate as other modern draft horse breeds as machines replaced them on farms and in cities. It was once at risk of extinction.

If it wasn’t for the dedication of breed societies and Budweiser we might not have it here today.

Today, many people use Clydesdale as a riding horse. While Clydesdale is one of the largest horse breeds, it is slightly smaller than a Shire horse.

They range in height from 16 to 17 hands tall and weigh somewhere between 1,600 and 1,800 pounds. Using the weight ratio, this breed can comfortably carry a rider of 280 to 300 pounds.

Percheron Horse

Percheron with cream hair

The Percheron is a popular but slightly less famous draft horse in comparison to our first two breeds.

It is the French version of a workhorse, the comes from western France in the Huisene river valley.

Unlike the Clydesdale or Shire horse, which are commonly bay, the Percheron is usually gray. However, you will also find them with black coats.

The earliest version of the Percheron was a warhorse. After this, the breed was refined to suit pulling coaches and to do farm work.

At the end of the 1800s, some Arabian blood was bred into the Percheron to give it a more elegant look.

At the start of the 1900s, the Percheron made its way to the United States. From this point, the breed took two different paths.

While they are still the same, there are slight differences between European and American Percherons.

By the 1930s, the Percheron was the most common type of draft horse in the United States.

French Percherons have a wider height range of 15.1 to 18.2 hands, while American ones usually are no shorter than 16.2 hands tall.

Comparing the Percheron the Clydesdale, it is the bigger of the two. The Clydesdale is a lighter horse but still has ample bone and a good depth of body.

Percherons weigh between 1,900 and 2,100 pounds. This size makes them a good choice for larger riders.

But their size isn’t the only reason they are a great choice for a big rider. They also have an alert and willing personality, while at the same time staying calm in potentially scary environments.

A Percheron can safely carry a rider up to 360 pounds, depending on its own weight.

One appealing characteristic of the Percheron is that it doesn’t need as much meticulous grooming as the Shire or Clydesdale. This is due to the leg feathering present on all three breeds.

The Clydesdale and Shire have abundant leg feather, which needs daily care. But the Percheron, while it still has feathering, has much less, making it more manageable.

READ MORE: Group of Horses Called: Terms You Need to Know

Heavyweight Horses

We’ve introduced you to the heaviest horses, but there are also some smaller breeds that can make wonderful mounts for bigger riders. Let’s take a look at these.

Gypsy Vanner

group of gypsy vanner horses

The Gypsy Vanner is one of the smallest heavy horses.

It originated in Ireland, where it is better known as the Irish Cob or the less flattering hairy cob.

The name hairy cob comes from the fact that these horses have no shortage of hair. They have an abundance of leg feathers and very thick manes and tails.  

The majority of Gypsy Vanners are piebald or skewbald, which is a horse with a white base coat and brown or black patches on its body.

They have compact, muscular bodies, like their larger draft cousins.

The Gypsy Vanner is intelligent and surefooted. They make excellent trekking horses and can easily navigate rough terrain.

While most have excellent, calm temperaments, they can sometimes be a little opinionated.

If you get one of these horses, it is important they receive good training, so they don’t use their intelligence to take advantage of you.

Most cobs stand between 14 and 15 hands tall, with the average being 14.2 hands. Any cob below 13 hands is considered a mini cob.

It is possible to find cobs as tall as 16 hands.

Gypsy Vanners weigh between 1,100 to 1,700 pounds. They can carry a rider weighing between 200 and 260 pounds.

It is a good option for a heavier rider that isn’t too tall.

Irish Draught

Irish draught horse looking over the fence

The Irish Draught, like the Gypsy Vanner, also originated in Ireland.

It is one of the most athletic draft breeds. The Irish Draught is lighter than the big heavyweights highlighted above, but it is still considered a weight carrier.

A larger rider that wants to participate in jumping, eventing, or dressage will want to consider the Irish Draught. They are a versatile, strong horse that is brave and willing.

Comparing the Irish Draught to other heavy breeds, it is a little more lively, but much more sensible than a warmblood or hot blood horse. 

They stand between 15.2 to 17.2 hands tall and come in all the main colors, though gray is fairly common. The average weight of an Irish Draught is 1,300 to 1,500 pounds.

Larger draughts can comfortably carry a 250-pound rider.

CHECK: The Truth About Blue Eyes Horses

Cleveland Bay

Cleveland horse surrounded by the green trees

The Cleveland Bay is a rarer horse that suits larger riders. It is one of the most refined breeds on our list.

One of the most unique characteristics of this breed is that they are all bay, and they are not allowed to have any white on their legs.

The breed originates in England and is athletic and good-looking. They will suit a variety of riding activities.

It is a good choice for a bigger rider that will isn’t overly tall.

The original job of the Cleveland Bay was as a carriage horse. Today, they find themselves in the UK’s show ring as heavyweight hunters.

They also have some jumping talent, and some warmblood breeds use it to refine their bloodlines.

The Cleveland Bay has an excellent temperament. The only problem with the breed is that it is hard to find one, as they are still critically at risk, their numbers are so low.

CHECK: What Are the Different Types of Horses?

Heavyweight Horses

Hopefully, you’ve spotted the perfect breed for you here. Let’s discuss a few more areas that are relevant to heavyweight horses.

Potential Issues Riding a Big Horse

While heavyweight horses offer many benefits to tall or heavier riders, they are a few issues that you will face.

Firstly the tack. Due to their size and width, finding tack that fits the horse is a challenge.

You might have to get a saddle especially made, which can create an extra expense. You will have to bring in someone with experience fitting tack to draft horses to help you.

Another problem you’ll face is getting on your horse.

Draft horses are huge, and you will need a tall mounting block to get on. If you’re out trail riding and want to get off for a while, getting back on poses a challenge.

However, with their kind temperaments, and good training, you will have a patient horse that won’t mind standing around while you figure out how to get back on out on the trail. They aren’t called gentle giants for nothing.

Draft horses are much wider than a standard horses. While this width is great for someone with long legs, a rider with short legs might find the ride uncomfortable.

Horse and Rider Weight Rules

As we’ve mentioned a couple of times in this article there is an unofficial rule that many people follow regarding how much weight an individual horse can carry. There are two versions of this.

In the United States, it is common to use the 20 percent rule, while in the UK 10 percent is preferred.

To work out how much a horse can carry, you need to know the weight of the rider, the horse, and its tack.

To start, work out what 20 percent of the horse’s weight is. So, for example, a horse weighs 1,000 pounds. 20 percent of this is 200 pounds.

That is the maximum weight that that horse can carry comfortably.

The next step is to work on the weight of the tack, as the maximum weight needs to include both the rider and the tack.

So, let’s say the saddle and pads weigh 30 pounds. Deduct that from 200, and you get 170.

This means that for a 1,000-pound horse in this example, the max a rider can weigh is 170 pounds.

FAQs

We’re sure you have many questions about the best heavy horse breeds for larger riders. Here we will tackle a few of them for you.

What is the average max weight to ride a horse?

This is slightly hard to answer because the max weight to ride a horse depends on what the individual horse weighs. Use the 20 percent rule to find out.

Should a novice rider take that into consideration when choosing a heavyweight horse?

Yes. If you are inexperienced, you need to give yourself some weight leeway. Don’t max out your horse until you have mastered your balance and riding position.

Does it affect the horse if you are above the maximum weight?

Yes. Studies have found that a horse carrying above its maximum weight affected the gait and horse’s behavior. However, there are many elements to this, such as correctly fitting tack for the horse and rider, rider fitness, and their ability.

What are some other heavyweight horses?

two Belgian draft horses

The horses included here are not the only heavy horse breeds. Belgian Draft horses, and even some Quarter Horses and Highland Ponies, can suit a bigger rider.

Conclusion

If you are very tall or on the bigger side, it doesn’t mean that you can spend many enjoyable hours in the saddle.

If you ensure you have a good level of fitness and choose the right heavyweight horse for you, then hop on and go for a ride.

Do you have a favorite breed from our list? All the horses we highlight suit riders of many sizes, not just larger ones.

Resources

  • Henry, Miles. Are Shire Horses Good for Riding? Draft Breed Facts and Uses. horseracingsense.com/shire-horses-good-riding-draft-breed-facts/. Accessed 27 July 2021.
  • “Percheron.” International Museum of the Horse, imh.org/exhibits/online/breeds-of-the-world/europe/percheron/.
  • “Percheron.” Horse Canada, horse-canada.com/breeds/percheron/.
  • “Rider Weight on Horses’ Welfare | International Society for Equitation Science.” Equitationscience.com, equitationscience.com/media/rider-weight-on-horses-welfare.
a tall and heavyweight Shire horse

What are your favorite heavyweight horses? Please share with us below!

Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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