How Much Weight Can A Horse Carry? (With Charts)

Whenever somebody new calls me wanting to book riding lessons I always ask what their weight is. While most people are happy giving me their height a lot of them seem perplexed by being asked their weight, not realizing that there’s an upper limit to how much a horse can carry.

How heavy is too heavy to ride a horse? The strongest horse in the world can comfortably carry a 360 lb rider (along with all of the tack) but will struggle with a rider weighing in excess of that.

No two horses or riders are the same which is why there are no official rules on what is an acceptable weight for a rider. Ask a handful of people what they think the limit should be and chances are most will give you a different number with some saying no more than 10% of the horse’s weight while others will say 20%. The trouble with this though is that there’s no real evidence behind any of those percentages.

If you say that the rider should only be 10% then that means the average woman (weighing 170.6 pounds) would be too heavy for a Quarter Horse, which isn’t the case. Whereas if you take 20% as acceptable then that means the same woman would be able to ride some pony breeds such as the Quarter Pony and that a 486 pound rider would still be able to ride many horses.

Some people even insist that a horse can happily carry a rider weighing 25% of their weight, but none of these percentages give a realistic answer to the question.

Is there a weight limit for riding a horse?

To some extent the question shouldn’t be how much a horse can carry but instead how much can they carry safely, the addition of the word ‘safely’ can make a big difference to the answer. Of course, a horse CAN carry the weight but research cited in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science has shown that anything over 20% will cause the horse soreness as well as physical stress. This means that a horse shouldn’t carry more than 20% of their ideal body weight but that includes the saddle and any accessories too which is why many people insist the limit should be lower. 

With this in mind a safe limit for any rider should be for them to weigh no more than 15% of the horse’s ideal body weight. This means that the horse can comfortably carry the rider, along with the tack, without suffering any undue stress.

Can you ride a horse if you’re overweight?

According to the NIDDK (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases), the term overweight means a bodyweight that is greater than a normal healthy weight for your particular height. If you take this into account, along with the fact that an average American woman (5 feet 4 inches in height) weighs 170.6 pounds and a typical American man (5 feet 9 inches in height) weighs 197.9 pounds then a person weighing a little over either of those weights could ride most horses without hurting them.

The conclusion we can draw from this is that if somebody is a little bit overweight then they’ll have no trouble riding most horses. The problem arises when they’re around double the weight of the average woman. At this weight (approximately 341.2 pounds) they’re bordering on what’s acceptable. For a person weighing over 360 pounds to ride any horse may, by some people, even be considered cruel.

When considering a horse riders weight you should also include the tack

Can you ride a horse if you weigh 300 pounds?

While you might think that 300 pounds is too heavy for any horse to carry, especially when you consider this doesn’t include the weight of the tack, there are a few breeds that can carry such a rider. 

If you take the 15% rule into account then breeds with an ideal weight of 2000 pounds or more would be able to carry a 300 lb rider. Breeds such as the Percheron, Clydesdale, and Shire Horse would all be ideal for a 300-pound rider. Not only do they have the weight (and the strength) but they have very round backs and long strides so they’re extremely comfortable to ride.

How much weight is too heavy for a horse?

People often think that a horse is capable of carrying any amount of weight but, while horses are amongst the strongest of animals (in terms of the weight they can carry in relation to their size) there is a limit to the weight a single horse is able to safely (and comfortably) carry.

While there will always be an individual horse that is the exception to any rule, the breed with the heaviest ideal weight is the Shire Horse. Weighing in at a staggering 2430 pounds the Shire Horse can easily carry a 364 pound rider as well as a saddle and bridle

What horses can carry a heavy rider?

The best breeds for carrying heavy riders are draft horses, they generally have stronger bones and a very muscular frame. That said though not all draft breeds would be capable of carrying a larger rider after all the diminutive Haflinger (which typically stands at 14.2hh) is classed as a draft horse.

Heavy draft breeds (sometimes referred to as heavy horses) such as the Shire Horse, Percheron, Clydesdale, and even the Belgian Draught are perfectly suited to carrying a larger rider. On top of this, they also have very gentle natures and are extremely forgiving of inexperienced riders.

The Belgian Draught is capable of carry very heavy riders

How much weight can a horse carry?

We’ve talked a lot about how heavy is too heavy for a horse to be able to carry but that doesn’t help to answer the question of how much a rider should weigh and if your maths is anything like mine working out the percentage isn’t that easy either. This is why I decided to include the table below, to give you an idea of how much any particular horse can carry.

Horse weightRider weight without tack
(15% of horse weight)
Rider weight with tack
(20% of horse weight)
500 lb75 lb100 lb
600 lb90 lb120 lb
700 lb105 lb140 lb
800 lb120 lb160 lb
900 lb135 lb180 lb
1000 lb150 lb200 lb
1100 lb165 lb220 lb
1200 lb180 lb240 lb
1300 lb195 lb260 lb
1400 lb210 lb280 lb
1500 lb225 lb300 lb
1600 lb240 lb320 lb
1700 lb255 lb340 lb
1800 lb270 lb360 lb
1900 lb285 lb380 lb
2000 lb300 lb400 lb
2100 lb315 lb420 lb
2200 lb330 lb440 lb
2300 lb345 lb460 lb
2400 lb360 lb480 lb

Related question

How much can a horse pull?

Horses can pull 10% of their body weight without any problems at all but if they’re pulling something such as a cart (ie something with wheels) they can pull an astonishing 150% of their body weight. This gets even more impressive when you add another horse as two horses can pull 300% more than a single horse can.

What is the strongest horse?

The record for the strongest horse goes to a Shire Horse who, in 1924, was able to pull a breathtaking 58,000 pounds (29 tonnes). While we don’t know the horse’s name we do know that the Liverpool-bred stallion wore special shoes designed to help horses pull more weight.

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

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