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How Much Weight Can a Horse Safely Carry?
If you are thinking about loading your saddlebag with supplies or are starting to put on a little extra weight, you might be wondering how much weight your horse can safely carry. The short answer is that it can carry about 20% of its body weight, but many other factors affect your horse’s ability and comfort that you should consider before routinely putting the max load on your horse. Keep reading while we discuss breed, fitness, conformation, and more to help you make an informed decision.
How Much Weight Can a Horse Carry?
If you haven’t purchased a horse yet and are looking for one to ride, the 20% rule is a good place to start. Most riding horses weigh about 1,000 pounds, which means the maximum weight you and the saddle can weigh is 200 pounds. Saddles can weigh anywhere between 10 and 60 pounds, so a heavier one will require a rider of no more than 140 pounds.
If you weigh more than 185 pounds or need to carry many supplies, you might need to consider looking into a draft horse. Draft horses are much larger than riding horses, and many breeds often exceed 2,000 pounds, which means they can carry a rider and a saddle weighing up to 400 pounds. These horses will be more expensive, slower, and more difficult to mount than a riding horse, but they can carry much more weight.
Horse conformation refers to the shape of the horse, especially the saddle area, and it has a considerable effect on how much weight your horse can carry. Horses with broad loins and thick back legs struggle less to carry heavier loads, and they recover faster from strenuous work. A horse with these attributes might exceed the 20% rule slightly, while a horse with thinner back legs might only reach 17% or 18%. You will need to watch your horse carefully, looking for signs of struggle.
Some horse breeds are naturally stocky and have more muscle mass than other breeds. These horses will carry more weight and may be able to break the 20% rule by a significant margin. Some breeds like the Paso Fino breed can carry up to 25% of their body weight comfortably.
Horse health can be a significant factor determining how much weight your horse can carry. A horse with an illness may not feel up to moving heavy loads, while an older horse with arthritis may be unable and suffer pain when you place a heavy load on its back. Several other health issues can reduce your horse’s carrying ability, including fatigue. Proper nutrition is also required to give your horse the energy it needs to do the work and plenty of rest when it’s finished to prepare it for the next job.
An experienced rider can shift their body weight and get into the saddle quickly so they don’t fatigue the horse or throw it off balance, which can affect your horse’s ability to carry heavy loads. Struggling to get on your horse will tire it out quickly, especially if you are near the maximum weight.
The terrain is another factor you need to consider when loading up your horse. Muddy ground and the uphill road will be hard for your horse to walk on, and it might not be able to carry as much weight as if it were walking on flat, firm ground. Rocks and uneven terrain can also make it harder to carry heavy loads as can the heat on a summer day.
If you are looking for something to carry heavy loads on the farm, you might want to go straight for the draft horse, so you know you have the power you need. If you have a riding horse that’s getting older or you are gaining weight, you’ll need to keep an eye on the horse to see if it’s struggling. Weigh the horse and yourself frequently, keeping the 20% rule in mind. The closer you are to the limit, the less time you should spend on the horse.
We hope you have enjoyed reading over this guide and feel better about the capabilities of your horse. If we have helped make your horse more comfortable, please share this guide to how much a horse can safely carry on Facebook and Twitter.
Featured Image Credit: frantic00, Shutterstock
Oliver (Ollie) Jones – A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master’s degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.