how much weight can a horse pull

How Much Weight Can A Horse Pull?

Horses helped to build and shape the world as we know it. Today, most horses live a more relaxed lifestyle than their predecessors.

But do modern horses still have horsepower? There is a legendary story of a pair of shire horses pulling 100,000 pounds in 1924. This is either a rather far-fetched tale or today’s horses have become a whole lot weaker.

A typical modern horse can pull 10-15% of its body weight if it’s dragging a dead weight. If the weight is on wheels, many horses can comfortably pull 1.5 times their own body weight. Many will manage considerably more for a short stretch.

Powerful animals can comfortably pull up to five times their weight and real equine beasts are capable of hauling over 10 times.

I’ll discuss how much weight a horse can pull and look at the factors that affect this, including breed. I’ll also highlight feats of exceptional horsepower and touch on how to prepare your horse to pull heavier loads.

How Much Weight Can Horses Pull

Whether those 1924 shire horses pulled 100,000 pounds (45,360 kg) or not is debatable. There is no debate, however, that throughout the centuries, horses have pulled heavy loads and that today’s horses are generally not as accustomed to heavy hauling.

An average modern horse can typically pull 10-15% of its own body weight. While that may sound pretty disappointing, the 10% refers to a dead weight – think a large fallen tree or a granite slab.

If the load is on a cart or carriage, the steed can pull much more weight. Horses that are built for haulage can pull over 10 times their weight.

That means conditioned, strong horses weighing 2,000 pounds (907 kg) can pull a carriage and load weighing an astounding 20,000 pounds (9,070 kg)! We know of sturdy Clydesdales – one of the strongest draft horses- able to pull 10,000 pounds (4,535 kg) comfortably.

The distance of the pull is a major factor. Try pulling as much weight as you physically can and see how far you get before collapsing into exhaustion.

It’s the same for horses. The extreme physical exertion of moving a maximum load can only be sustained for short distances.

Trained competition horses can draw well over their body weight even when dragging dead weight. Read on to see the incredible power of competition horses.

Heavy Horse Pull Competitions

Pulling competitions – where horses compete pulling a weighted sledge, stone ‘boat’, carts, wagons, and even farm implements – are popular all over the world. The events may feature one horse or a team of horses showcasing their strength.

Check out these awe-inspiring feats of equine pulling power:

  • In 2014, a pair of Belgian Drafts pulled a deadweight of 17,000 pounds (7,710 kg) at the National Western Stock Show. This is the heaviest weight ever pulled by a pair of horses in North America.
  • In 2019, a pair of Percheron horses pulled a deadweight of 14,600 pounds (6,620 kg) at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair which is the heaviest weight ever pulled by a pair of horses in Canada.
  • In 2018, a pair of Clydesdales pulled a deadweight of 13,200 pounds (5,980 kg) at the Iowa State Fair.
  • In 2017, a pair of Friesian horses pulled a deadweight of 11,000 pounds (4,990 kg) at the Horse Progress Days.

How impressive are these achievements? Especially considering that we’re talking dead weight!

Another interesting fact is that horses that tag-team effectively often achieve greater weights than their combined individual capacities. So, don’t be surprised to see the two pulling 12,500 pounds (5,570 kg) and more. This is sometimes called ‘the power of pairs’ or ‘teamwork advantage’.

Best Horse Breeds For Pulling

It’s easy to see that some horses are better suited for pulling heavy loads.

When it comes to hauling loads, draught breeds step up to the plough big time. For one, a typical adult draught horse can weigh more than 1,600 pounds (725 kg). In comparison, popular riding horses may weigh closer to 1,100 pounds (500 kg).

Draught horses, with their large and powerful builds, are bred and trained for heavy-duty tasks such as ploughing fields and hauling heavy loads from carts to carriages and train cars.

Take a look at these popular draught breeds that boast mighty pulling power.

Belgian Draught Horse

This breed originated in Belgium and is one of the largest and strongest of the draught horses.

They are calm, patient, and well-muscled with smallish heads, thick necks, and short legs.

Belgians are generally used for farm work. Historically, they were also used for pulling artillery and wagons.

Belgians can reach an impressive 19 hands in height and weigh 2,000 pounds (907 kg). In fact, a Belgian horse named Big Jake held the Guinness World Record for the tallest living horse – standing at 20 hands and 2.75 inches without shoes. Big Jake died in 2021 aged 20 – a good age for a big fella!


Shires originated in England and are the largest and heaviest of all horse breeds. These gentle giants have massive muscular bodies with broad chests and powerful hindquarters.

The breed was used as a war horse in the Middle Ages and later for pulling loads such as brewer’s dray and barges, as well as other agricultural tasks.

A Shire horse named Sampson holds the record for the largest and heaviest horse ever recorded – standing at 21.2 hands and weighing a jaw-dropping 3,360 pounds (1,524 kg).


The Friesian breed, originating in Friesland in the Netherlands, is one of the oldest horse breeds in Europe. These handsome horses are usually black in colour, with long, flowing manes and feathering on their legs. They grow to about 17 hands and weigh 1,500 pounds (680 kg).

Friesians were used as war horses in the Middle Ages and later for pulling carriages and coaches. The breed is renowned for its intelligence, gentle nature, and willingness to work.


The Percheron breed originated in France in the former province of Perche. It’s a large and graceful draught horse, with a fine head, broad forehead, wide chest, and clean legs.

The breed is agile, energetic, and intelligent. Like the other draught horses, Percherons were saddled as war horses in the Middle Ages. Later, they were used to pull coaches, carriages, and heavy equipment.

Percherons can reach 19 hands in height and many have a body weight of over 2,000 pounds (907 kg).


Originating in Scotland, this breed is named after the Clydesdale valley around the River Clyde, situated to the south. Clydesdales are tall and powerful draught horses, with a lighter build than most heavy breeds.

Clydesdales are characterised by a fine head, arched neck, and sloping shoulders. They often have white markings on their faces and legs. The silky feathering on the lower legs is another characteristic.

This calm, steady, and hard-working breed was used extensively for farm work, road haulage, and forestry.

These much-loved horses usually stand between 16 and 19 hands and can weigh over 2,100 pounds (952 kg).

As a testament to their strength and style, a team of eight Clydesdale horses are used to pull the iconic Budweiser beer wagon in parades and commercials.

Factors That Affect The Weight A Horse Can Pull

  • Deadweight vs wheels: A deadweight is called “dead” for a reason – it’s hard to budge. Add wheels and the exercise becomes much easier. Healthy horses lug more than their weight when they’re drawing a cart on wheels.
  • Distance covered: Pulling heavy loads over long distances puts strain on the heart, lungs, muscles, and virtually every fibre in the body of a horse. Maximum loads can only be pulled for a short distance.
  • Terrain: Trying to pull a weight through uneven, challenging or water-logged terrain is a lot harder than travelling on a flat tarred road. Moving heavy weights along a flat road may be manageable, but a steep hill can bring the entire operation to a screeching halt!
  • Weather: It’s easier to exert physical effort in coolish temperatures than in hot, humid conditions that can lead to exhaustion.
  • Horse’s temperament: Horses have different capacities and willingness for hard work. Some simply have more grit and a better attitude when it comes to work.
  • Horse breed: Look at a horse’s body type and you can often tell if it has pull force or not. Certain horse breeds were bred specifically for heavy hauling tasks.

Preparing Horses To Pull

Every single horse is different but when training horses to pull heavier loads, the following is important:

  • Gradual conditioning: Step up the strength and conditioning programme gradually so that the animal’s body, mindset, and cardio can adapt safely. Include rest and recovery intervals as well as stretching and possibly massages as part of the process.
  • Proper equipment properly fitted: You want to ensure you have the right tack for exercising and that it’s properly fitted. The right harness for pulling and shoes that have traction are vital. Always check for, and relieve pressure points, when fitting tack.
  • Nutrition: Building strength and muscles requires plenty of the right food, nutrition, and liquids. A healthy diet may include concentrates like oats, as well as fruits, vegetables, and energy supplements.
  • Ongoing monitoring: Monitor performance as well as other aspects like your horse’s reaction to diet, exercise, recovery, and sleep.
  • Regular vet checkups: It’s a good idea to have a vet providing input on the strength and conditioning programme. Regular vet checkups should be included as part of ongoing monitoring.


How much can a horse with a cart pull over a long period?

How much weight a horse can pull depends on its size, strength, condition, breed, and factors like terrain and weather. A typical horse can pull 1.5x to 2x its weight on wheels. If the horse is fit and accustomed to haulage, it should be good to pull a cart weighing 1.5 times its weight for several hours, taking regular breaks.

How much weight can a horse carry?

An average horse in sound condition can carry up to 20% of its body weight. If the horse is fit and the rider is capable, the animal could be able to handle 25% of its weight, including the saddle. An unfit, unhealthy horse and an uncertain rider will bring this number well below 20%.

What horse breeds make good carriage drivers?

Draught breeds are great at carriage driving events where the horse or horses are harnessed to a carriage and guided by the rider through a course. Welsh Ponies, Hackneys, Morgans, Miniature Horses, and even Quarter Horses also perform well in these types of events.

Final Thoughts

We know horses are strong and capable animals. They have been known to pull everything from plows and wagons to firefighting and factory equipment.

Not every steed is suited to haul heavy rigs, though. Factors like breed, health, age and fitness all impact how much weight a horse can pull. So consider your horse’s capabilities carefully before asking them to take on a pulling challenge.

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