how much weight can a horse carry

How Much Weight Can A Horse Carry?

Have you ever watched an old western movie and wondered how all those horses could trek for days on end with hefty cowboys on their backs? Well, we wanted to explore that for ourselves.

Saddle up as we discuss just how much weight a horse can carry.

What Can A Horse Handle?

Before choosing a suitable horse, the rider’s weight should be considered. As a rule of thumb, a horse can support about 15–20% of its body weight easily, including the rider’s weight and any equipment. However, under UK law, a horse is legally only allowed to carry 10% of their body weight.

How can we calculate if a horse will be able to carry us?

The UK has a law that states a horse can only carry 10% of its weight, but practically speaking, a horse could carry up to 15% of their body weight.

Simply divide the horse’s body weight between 10% – 15%.

Here is an example:

Your horse is only allowed to carry 10% of their body weight, so if your horse weighs 500 kg, you will be able to ride if you are under 50 kg. Or, if you wish to increase the load, divide your horse’s weight by 15% and your rider weight will be 75 kg.

Of course, different factors influence just how much weight a horse can support. These are the determining factors:

Breed and build

Contrary to common belief, a tall horse isn’t always the best for carrying more weight. Their high centre of gravity can make it easier for a less agile rider to throw them off balance. Larger horse breeds can generally support heavier riders better. However, larger horses demand higher levels of strength and balance, which might be an issue for less experienced riders.

The best breeds for carrying heavy loads are the:

  • Friesian horse
  • Belgian horse
  • Clydesdale horse
  • Shire horse
  • Mustang
  • Quarter horse
  • Suffolk Punch
  • Warmblood
  • Andalusian
  • Paint horse


A healthy horse is more capable of carrying weight than an unhealthy or overweight horse. While the weight a horse can carry is 10% of their body weight in the UK, it is important to take into account that carrying their maximum weight is not advisable, and can cause a lot of strain on your horse.

Imagine yourself carrying your maximum weight daily. Any guesses as to what would happen? You would strain or injure yourself. A horse would not react any differently. A horse carrying too much weight can suffer fatigue, muscle strain, joint issues, soreness, back pain and lameness.

Rider weight

A rider’s fitness and weight play a big role in this equation. If a rider is fit, they use their core properly and maintain balance with the horse’s movement.

Keeping fit as a rider is crucial, especially if you intend to partake in sports such as jumping, dressage, eventing, and endurance. Other horse sports include trekking, mounted games, polo, hunting, and rodeo.

When a rider is too heavy, it results in stress on the horse’s back, legs, and hooves, potentially causing lasting health problems.

Is rider weight the only factor to consider? Not at all. The total load is influenced by elements such as the type of task or activity, equipment, and tack weight.

Rider height

Your height will affect how secure you feel within your saddle. Besides feeling secure, it is important to note that the taller you are, the larger your body mass will be.

If you are tall, you might find yourself feeling unbalanced on a shorter horse as the weight of your body might be distributed unevenly while horse riding. Your horse will sense you are uncomfortable and also feel less secure.

The key to choosing a suitable horse for your height is to try many different horses. A Fjord or Icelandic horse could comfortably carry you compared to riding a thoroughbred or Arabian horse.


How does age impact load-bearing capacity? There may be limitations to the amount of weight that a young, developing horse can support. Older horses that have not been exercised or trained correctly can also sustain injuries if just subjected to a load at random. We would advise you to consult your vet before adding a load to a very young, or very old horse.

Signs Of Overloading

There are a few telltale signs that indicate your horse is overloaded. Be very aware when you take them for their first ride and take note of their body language. Potential overload can be seen when the horse shows symptoms such as:

Changes in behaviour

Overloading a horse can lead to behavioural issues. Your calm and obedient steed could easily become irritable and anxious when being tasked with a weight too hard to carry. They might stop responding to your commands or refuse to move when this happens.

Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath is not uncommon in horses carrying too much weight. If your horse starts coughing it is best to unburden them and let them rest.

Becoming lame or stiff

When a horse starts moving slower than normal, or it seems that their movements are restricted, you should consider lessening the weight and starting with smaller weights to see if their movements will improve.

Excessive sweating

Sweating allows for a horse’s body temperature to be regulated. If your horse is sweating more than usual when doing light work or carrying a regular load, it might be time to consider that your horse could be under a lot of strain.

Back aches and soreness

When a horse is overloaded, they will experience pain in the exact area where the load has been placed. When you saddle your horse or go for a ride, be sure to check if your horse is showing signs of discomfort.

Responsible Horse Management

How can we ensure our hooved friends don’t suffer under our body weight? We should hold ourselves accountable to look after our athletic companions, and this is how:

Regular exercise

Ensuring your horse is healthy and fit will help them carry heavier loads. The key is to strengthen their muscles to endure the load you put on them. You don’t always have to do horse riding to ensure they exercise, there are a bunch of different exercises that will help you maintain your horse’s body weight. Here are a few examples:

  • Groundwork
  • Lunging
  • Hand-walking
  • Equine massage and stretching
  • Practice steering your horse
  • Liberty training
  • Leading your horse through water

A proper saddle

The saddle was developed not only for a comfortable ride but to distribute weight evenly on the horse’s back. Age and physical activity cause your horse’s physical state and level of fitness to fluctuate. For this very reason, many horse owners have their horse’s saddle checked at least once a year by a professional.

Balanced nutrition

Horses usually graze throughout the day, rather than having one or two larger meals. Their diet consists mainly of hay and grass. Although grain can be added if hay is insufficient, roughage should always provide the majority of a horse’s calories.

Horses are expected to consume a lot of roughage, and the nutrients included in grassy stalks are very good for their digestive systems. Most healthy horses also have a diet of fruit and vegetables, as well as concentrates. Concentrates are grains like oats, barley and maize, often given to horses that are pregnant, nursing, competing, old or young for a boost of energy.

It’s also a good idea to provide your horse with a block of salt lick or loose salt in a different container. In summer, many owners discover that their horses enjoy eating salt. Perhaps your own horse will enjoy it too.

Vet checks

Horses can’t communicate like we can when we have aches and pains, so it’s a good idea to have your horse checked out by the vet at least once a year. If your horse is over the age of 20 years, it’s best to have them checked out every six months or more.


How much must you weigh to race a horse?

There is a weight limit for horse racing jockeys. Typically, jockeys must adhere to a maximum weight of 126 pounds (57 kg), taking into account their equipment as well. Depending on the association or event, the weight limit may vary.

Which horse breed can carry the most weight?

The perfect horse to carry significantly large amounts would be the Shire horse. However, there is a certain horse in the Shire family called the Clydesdale that has been known to have carried the heaviest weight.

Final Thoughts

Understanding how detrimental overloading your horse can be will help with avoiding a lot of problems in future.

By recognising signs of overloading and considering factors like breed, health, and age, we can ensure a long relationship with our trusty steed. Keep in mind: that a happy horse makes for a happy ride.

Similar Posts