Equestrians are increasingly becoming aware of how much weight a horse can carry.
I think this is a great thing for horse welfare, even though it is a potentially explosive subject that some people can misinterpret and get offended.
With that in mind, I’ve approached this topic in the least biased way possible without making light of the topic.
My hope is that it gives riders of all levels a good understanding of horse riding weight limits and makes life happier for everyone, especially these wonderful animals that allow us to ride them.
How Much Weight Can a Horse Carry?
How much weight a horse can carry depends on several factors including the horse’s build, height, fitness, the activity it is doing, and rider ability. It is important to remember that horses are living breathing creatures.
They are strong, but asking them to carry too much weight becomes a welfare issue. It should not be an attack on body weight, just an awareness that not all horses can carry any rider.
TRY READING: What Is the Average Cost of a Gypsy Vanner Horse?
Certain horse breeds are better suited to carrying taller or heavier riders. These horses are draft breeds. Their sheer size and strong backs mean they can comfortably take a rider that is very tall or weighs more.
These breeds include the Shire, Clydesdale, Percheron, and Gypsy Vanner. Lighter breeds, such as the Thoroughbred, warmblood, Arabian horses, and all ponies will suffer if they carry too much weight.
There is a simple calculation you can use to figure out if a horse can carry a certain weight, which I’ll explain to you next.
While draft breeds were originally developed for farm or other pulling heavy loads work, they also make wonderful horse riding companions. Check out five of the largest horse breeds in this cool video.
Check: Best Horse for Heavy Rider
What Weight Can a Horse Carry on its Back?
There are two general rules that people follow to determine what weight a horse can carry on its back; the 10 percent rule and the 20 percent rule. While this is not law or set in stone, it is good horse management to follow this rule of thumb.
The 10 percent rule is particularly common in the UK and the rest of Europe. While in the US, it is more common to use the 20 percent rule. 
For example, according to the Vet Times: “This means for a 500kg (1,100lbs) horse, the range for the maximum rider weight is large – 50kg (110lbs) in the UK (just less than 8st) and 100kg (200lbs) in the US (15st 10lb).” 
Keep in mind that that weight limit includes your tack. So, if you weigh 150lbs and your saddle weighs 10lbs, you have 160lbs. That 160lbs needs to be 10% or 20% of the horse’s weight, depending on which rule you follow.
To learn more about rider weight and suitable horses, I hope you, as I did, find this video helpful.
Horse Conformation and Weight Carrying Ability
The confirmation of a horse has a significant influence on how much weight it can carry. A number of studies found that horses with wider loins and larger cannon ( (cannon bone circumference) bones have a greater capacity to carry heavier riders. 
This brings me back to horse breeds that I mentioned early. Each of those breeds and other draft breeds has these qualities. Height does come into it a bit but is not the only thing you should consider.
For example, a 17.2 hand Thoroughbred has less weight carrying ability than a 16.2 Clydesdale. This is down to the confirmation of these two horse breeds.
Horse Fitness and How Much Weight it Can Carry
The fitness of a horse can affect the maximum rider weight it can carry. A young horse, regardless of size, or confirmation will have less weight carrying ability than a horse of the same shape and size that is fully developed.
Because young horse is still developing, they do better with a lighter, experienced rider until they get stronger and more balanced.
This is because their muscles are not completely built and developed. They also do not have full mastery of their balance as their bodies are still developing.
An unfit horse of any age will not have the correct muscles to sufficiently lift its back under a rider. The better a horse’s topline, the less likely they are to suffer from back or other soreness.  Once you have a fit horse, it is possible that it can take extra weight within reason.
An older horse or one with some issues as the start of arthritis will have a lower rider bodyweight limit. It comes right down to the individual horse. Two identical horses in conformation and weight might have different limits.
Fitness also applies to the rider. A rider that is not physically fit or that has riding fitness (beginner) will have weaker balance than a fit equestrian.
This means that a lighter rider that weighs 120lbs but is unfit or only starting to learn to ride can have a more negative effect on the horse than a 170-pound rider that is very experienced and physically fit.
What Activity You Do With Your Horse Affects Weight Carrying Ability?
The activity level that a rider does with their horse can also affect how much weight it can carry. A short, walking trail ride on a flat, good surface puts much less strain on the horse than going over rugged terrain or hilly land.
A horse going over rugged, uneven terrain or doing some form of intense exercise will have less tolerance for carrying any rider. However, if you are slightly over a horse’s limit a short, walking trail rider on flat ground is unlikely to cause too much trouble.
Other Factors Related to Horseback Rider Weight
Now that I’ve introduced you to the main factors that affect how much weight a horse can carry, let’s take a look at some other important information riders must know.
Too Much Rider Weight Harms Horses
Horses that carry too much weight can physically suffer. With more and more awareness of horse welfare, a study was carried out to determine how excessive weight affects horses.
The study was led by Dr. Sue Dyson, an orthopedics specialist from Animal Health Trust.
In her conclusions, she said: “While all the horses finished the study moving as well as when they started, the results showed a substantial temporary effect of rider weight as a proportion of horse weight. The results do not mean that heavy riders should not ride, but suggest that if they do they should ride a horse of appropriate size and fitness, with a saddle that is correctly fitted for both horse and rider.” 
This isn’t the only expert that has tackled this potentially volatile subject. A highly respected vet from British Equestrian Veterinary Association, Keith Chandler feels that 15 percent is a fair maximum rider weight limit. 
Rider Weight is a Difficult Subject
Bringing up a person’s weight is a sensitive subject. This includes horse riders and is easy to cause offense. However, it isn’t just the person involved when it comes to horses. It is important to take care when discussing it and riders need to understand that it is not ‘fat shaming’.
Try to look at it from a different perspective. A tiny person that weighs 100lbs is often still too heavy for some ponies.
According to an excellent article in Horse and Hound the most important considerations are:
“The key here is having a suitable horse, and a suitable saddle. If your saddle fits the horse but is too small for you – which could be down to height or length of the leg rather than weight – you could end up sitting too far back, pushing everything out of alignment and balance, and loading the horse’s back inappropriately, so even if you’re not too heavy, you could be causing a problem because you’re too big.” 
As you just read, saddle fit is extremely important for both the horse and the rider. Some saddles weigh quite a lot! And some do a bad job of distributing a rider’s weight. A western saddle is heavier than an English saddle.
I found this great video that explains one of the most important aspects of saddle fitting.
Horseback Rider Weight Limits
It is increasingly common for establishments that provide riding lessons, trails rides, and horse trekking to impose a weight limit for their horses. If you come across this, I beg you to keep in mind that this rule is not meant to discriminate against anyone.
It is purely for the welfare of the horses at the riding stables. And don’t be shocked if you’re asked to step on a scale! It happens more frequently and is a good thing, even if it seems a bit odd and even offensive.
Maximum Weight Limits For Horses
Even the biggest horse has a maximum weight limit. Only the largest of the large breeds can carry a rider of 300 lbs and 350lbs is really pushing the limit for any horse.
Now, I understand that you might have some questions and even arguments. One I hear a lot is that it’s ok that I’m 200lbs on my 15.2 Thoroughbred because I’m an expert rider.
Well, no, not really at that comparison, even though your riding ability will help, it is still too much for a horse like that. So, let’s take a look at some common questions to help make things clearer for you.
Can a 500-pound person ride a horse?
Unfortunately, a 500-pound person is far too heavy for even the largest horse. This does not mean you can’t still enjoy working with horses. One area you can enjoy is in hand work.
How do I calculate the maximum weight my horse can carry?
To calculate the maximum weight your horse can carry you need three figures: your weight, the saddle weight, and the horse’s weight. Work out 10 or 20 percent of the horse’s weight and then see if the combined weight of you and your saddle fall under that figure.
How much does the largest horse breed weigh?
The Shire tends to be the largest and heaviest horse breed, which can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds.
Can a horse carry a 200-pound person?
Yes, some horses can comfortably carry a 200-pound rider. Some lighter, smaller horses and ponies cannot carry this weight but many larger horses and certainly draft horses can carry it.
As you can see bridging up a rider’s weight is a delicate topic but necessary if you work with horses. However, there are horses suitable for a large portion of riders of different sizes.
It is easy to calculate how much weight a horse can carry and that combined with good saddle fit and riding ability means that you can happily enjoy horse riding.
If you feel you are too heavy, it doesn’t mean you can enjoy spending time with horses. There are many equestrian activities that don’t involve actual riding.
Just a final reminder, please don’t take offense if someone asks you how much you weigh before letting you on a horse, it is the horse they are thinking of, not that they are judging your size.
When you are looking for a horse of your own, you will need to consider the breed and size most suitable for how much you weigh. Larger riders will need broader, heavier horses. Novice riders also have a less negative effect on a horse if they are below that horse’s maximum safe weight limit.
I hope, you can now make an informed decision on the type of horse you need for horse riding. Whether you need one of the heavy horse breeds or an average sized horse is suitable it doesn’t matter, so long as you can spend some time with some amazing horses.
- 1. Draper A. Vet Times Weight limitations in horse riding: how big is too big? [Internet]. 2017. Available from: https://www.vettimes.co.uk/app/uploads/wp-post-to-pdf-enhanced-cache/1/weight-limitations-in-horse-riding-how-big-is-too-big.pdf
- 2. Jones E. The rider weight debate and why it’s not fat-shaming: H&H responds [Internet]. Horse & Hound. 2018 [cited 2022 Jan 3]. Available from: https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/news/rider-weight-debate-not-fat-shaming-hh-responds-646001
- 3. Jones E. Excess rider weight can cause lameness [Internet]. Horse & Hound. 2018 [cited 2022 Jan 3]. Available from: https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/news/excess-rider-weight-can-cause-lameness-645906
- 4. Mathieson A. Heavy riders have impact on horse welfare [Internet]. Horse & Hound. 2013 [cited 2022 Jan 3]. Available from: https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/news/heavy-riders-have-impact-on-horse-welfare-and-industry-387319
- 5. Guidelines for weight-carrying capacity of horses [Internet]. extension.umn.edu. [cited 2022 Jan 3]. Available from: https://extension.umn.edu/horse-care-and-management/guidelines-weight-carrying-capacity-horses#conformation-1624660
How much weight can a horse carry? Let us know your thoughts on this topic below!
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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