horse breeds for heavy riders

The 15 Best Horse Breeds For Heavy Riders

Heavier and plus-sized riders often face challenges finding a suitable horse because not all horses can carry heavy loads.

Some horses are athletic, excelling at events such as racing, dressage, and showjumping, making them the preferred choice for carrying light and average-sized riders. Other breeds boast bulky physiques, making them the perfect choice for accommodating heavier riders.

Continue reading to learn about the fifteen horse breeds best suited for carrying heavy riders.

Selecting A Horse Breed For Heavy Riders

When selecting a horse for a heavier rider, consider the following criteria:

The rider’s weight limit

There is a “rule” which is often quoted which states that that riders should never weigh over 20% of their horse’s weight, including clothes and tack. This is an oversimplifiction and can be dangerous for the horse and the rider. It is never that simple and this rule should not be used. Some of our Clydesdales are nearly 1000kg, or 2200lbs. Using this rule would mean a 200kg or 440lb rider could ride them. That is not acceptable for the horse. In fact our weight limit for riding a Clydesdale is 95 kg, or 210lbs, and even then the rider must be balanced so as not to put excessive strain on the horse when trotting. This is to ensure our horses live long and happy lives with minimal back and joint problems.

That’s not to say that someone heavier than 95kg couldn’t buy their own horse and ride it, provided they gave it sufficient training and did not give it an excessive workload. The point is, you have to get to know your own horse and learn it’s limits.

How much weight a horse can carry depends on a multitude of factors such as:

  • Age of the horse
  • Breed of the hose
  • Has it had any previous injuries
  • How muscular is the the horse
  • How is the horse’s confirmation
  • How is the bone structue of the horse
  • How balanced is the rider.

This page from the BHS is an excellent guide

The horse’s size, weight, and strength

Your horse’s size, weight, and strength are crucial in whether they can carry a heavy rider. To accommodate a plus-side rider, consider using larger and heavier horse breeds. Heavier riders are encouraged to use draught horses (known as draft horses in the US) – known for their bulky builds, impressive strength, and ability to carry heavy loads – for riding purposes.

Balance and riding position

A rider must maintain their balance. A rider with good balance can be slightly heavier than a novice rider.

Why Choose Certain Horse Breeds To Carry Heavy Riders

Some breeds possess specific characteristics that make them suitable to carry heavier weights:

  • Size and weight. Horses that can carry heavier riders are often the larger and heavier breeds. The horse’s weight and stout build allow them to carry heavier weights more comfortably than other smaller breeds. Heavy horse breeds use their size to distribute the rider’s weight more evenly, reducing the strain on the horse’s back and body.
  • Strength. These breeds are known for their muscled bodies and strength, essential for helping them carry heavier loads. Their strong necks, backs, and legs help them accommodate the extra weight of heavier riders without any significant discomfort.
  • Balance. These horses have good balance – essential for remaining stable when carrying heavy loads during riding lessons. They can maintain their balance even when carrying a rider of heavier weight, ensuring a comfortable and safe ride.
  • Temperament. Many of these breeds are also known for their laid-back temperament and willing attitude, making them suitable for heavy riders. They also are a good choice for riders new to horseback riding.
  • Draught horses. In our list below, you’ll notice that most breeds mentioned are draught horses. These horses were bred for carrying and pulling heavy loads, making them a perfect choice for carrying riders that sport extra weight.

The 15 Best Horse Breeds For Heavy Riders In The UK

Now, let’s look at the 15 best horse breeds for heavy riders, what maximum weights they can carry, and what makes them perfect for carrying heavier riders.

1. Clydesdale Horse

  • Height: 1.6 to 1.8 m (16 to 18 hands)
  • Weight: 820 to 1,000 kg (1,800 to 2,200 lbs)

Clydesdale horses are one of the largest horse breeds in the world, second only to the massive Shire horse. Clydesdales originated in southwest Scotland and are known for their calm, gentle temperament and thickly feathered legs.

Man riding a clydesdale horse

These horses are reliable, hard-working, and exhibit excellent pulling and weight-carrying abilities. A joy to ride and always aiming to please, these gentle giants are a good choice for beginner riders or seasoned heavy-set riders.

2. Percheron

  • Height: 1.6 to 1.7 m (16 to 17 hands)
  • Weight: 500 to 1,200 kg (1,100 to 2,600 lbs)

Often considered a close competitor of Clydesdales, Percherons originated in France. Bred in the 1800s for their strength and unmatched work ethic, Percheron horses were used to pull heavy carts and wagons in the post-war era.

Percheron horse

Sporting the genetics of Andalusian and Thoroughbred horses, they boast elegant necks and muscled bodies. A horse with an easy-going nature and lots of patience, Percherons are great riding horses and can easily accommodate and carry someone with additional body weight.

3. Belgian Draft

  • Height: 1.6 to 1.7 m (16 to 17 hands)
  • Weight: 907 to 1,040 kg (2,000 to 2,300 lbs)

The Belgian Draft descended from a medieval battle horse breed called the Flemish Horse. Originating from Belgium’s Brabant region, this breed can pull heavy loads and perform strenuous farm duties, making them a trusted companion on many farms.

Belgian Draft horse

Belgian horses are intelligent, docile, and easy-going. They have heavily muscled bodies and strong legs, making them a favourable choice for carrying riders of any experience level. Often referred to as the world’s strongest horse breed, Belgians are great for riding, showing, and jumping and can easily carry a heavy rider.

4. Shire Horse

  • Height: 1.6 to 1.8 m (16 to 18 hands)
  • Weight: 800 to 1,000 kg (1,800 to 2,200 lbs)

Known as the largest horse breed in the world, the Shire horse is a true British icon. Established in the 1800s, this draught horse has excellent weight-pulling and carrying abilities.

Shire horse, one of the tallest breeds

The Shire horse boasts feathered legs and a calm, laid-back demeanour and is perfect for riders of any age and experience level. With their strong legs, backs, and powerful shoulders, they find pulling heavy wagons a breeze and can easily accommodate a heavier rider for prolonged periods.

5. Dutch Draft

  • Height: 1.5 to 1.6m (15 to 16 hands)
  • Weight: 725 to 860 kg (1,600 to 1,900 lbs)

The Dutch Draft horse originated in the Netherlands and does well as a dressage horse. This massive draught horse sports Belgian Draft and Ardennes genes and has a strong neck, a muscled body, sound feet, and heavily feathered legs.

dutch draft horse

Docile and friendly, they can easily cooperate with riders of varying ages and experience levels. With their unrivalled stamina and ability to ride for prolonged periods, carrying heavy loads, Dutch draft horses are always good riding horses for heavier riders.

6. Friesian Horse

  • Height: 1.5 to 1.7 m (15 to 17 hands)
  • Weight: 540 to 680 kg (1,200 to 1,500 lbs)

The Friesian horse saw its origins in the northern Netherlands. Used in medieval times as battle horses, they today excel as riding and driving horses.

Friesian horse

Friesian horses sport a beautiful black coat and feathered legs. With its good bone structure, strong neck, and muscular body, the Friesian boasts a high-stepping trot action, making it a pleasure to observe and ride. Their sloping shoulders, good bone structure, and compact, muscular bodies enable them to carry a heavier rider with elegance and ease.

7. Russian Heavy Draft

  • Height: 1.4 to 1.5 m (14 to 15 hands)
  • Weight: 540 to 680 kg (1,200 to 1,500 lbs)

The Russian Heavy Draft hails from Russia. These compact powerhouses were bred for farm work and sport short but strong legs, a lively gait, and a muscular body.

A combination of strength and versatility, this draft horse uses its broad chest and well-developed physique to carry heavy loads. Russian Heavy Drafts are intelligent and easy to train. Their calm disposition and cooperative nature make them excellent riding horses for experienced and novice riders of all ages and build.

8. Irish Draught

  • Height: 1.5 to 1.6 m (15 to 16 hands)
  • Weight: 590 to 680 kg (1,300 to 1,500 lbs)

Irish Draught horses hail from Ireland and are known for their strength and heavy-weight carrying and pulling abilities. Irish Draughts were cross-bred with Thoroughbreds and warmbloods to produce the Irish Sport Horse – a breed that excels at show jumping and eventing.

Irish draft horse.  Dapple grey

These athletic horses sport strong legs and hindquarters and good bone structure. With their laid-back temperament and willing-to-please attitude, Irish Draughts excel in farm work and sporting events. One of the strongest and most agile draught breeds, Irish Draughts can easily carry inexperienced and seasoned heavier riders.

9. Breton Horse

  • Height: 1.5 to 1.6 m (15 to 16 hands)
  • Weight: 770 to 860 kg (1,700 to 1,900 lbs)

The Breton Horse originated in France and is favoured for its strength, durability, and ability to pull heavy loads. They sport a strong back, muscular legs, and a clean, comfortable gait.

Breton horse

With their long necks and broad and powerful backs, these horses are just as home on the farm as under the saddle at sporting events. Bretons are also known for their friendly nature, intelligence, and willingness to work, making them suitable for heavy riders new to horseback riding.

10. North Swedish Horse

  • Height: 1.5 to 16 m (15 to 16 hands)
  • Weight: 590 to 770 kg (1,300 to 1,700 lbs)

The North Swedish Horse is a favourite among Swedish farmers and riders for its strength and excellent weight-pulling ability.

Photo from Wikimedia

These Swedish powerhouses sport a fast, confident trot, a strong back, and muscular legs. Originally used as military and packing horses, North Swedish Horses have a pleasant temperament, a docile disposition, and a willingness to please. They also boast exemplary endurance, making them excellent horses for heavier riders.

11. Boulonnais Horse

  • Height: 1.4 to 1.7 m (14 to 17 hands)
  • Weight: 635 to 770 kg (1,400 to 1,700 lbs)

Another French contender, Boulonnais horses are known for their gentle temperament, strength, and versatility. With its origins that date back to the Middle Ages, the modern Boulonnais Horse is used on many farms and during equestrian sporting events.

Boulonnais Horse

With their average height and muscular build, Boulonnais horses have immense power and stamina and provide a balanced and safe ride. Their solid frames and muscled bodies make them agile and a perfect horse breed for plus-sized novice and experienced riders.

12. Ardennes Horse

  • Height: 1.5 to 1.7 m (15 to 17 hands)
  • Weight: 725 to 1,000 kg (1,600 to 2,200 lbs)

The Ardennes Horse is known for its strength, endurance, and ability to pull heavy loads. Their strong backs and muscular legs allow them to carry heavy weights.

Ardennes horse

A resilient and tough breed that can work in challenging and hilly environments, Ardennes horses are always eager to please. These heavy draught horses are also known for their good temperament and excellent balance and stamina, making them suitable for heavy riders who may be new to horseback riding.

13. American Paint Horse

  • Height: 1.4 to 1.6 m (14 to 16 hands)
  • Weight: 400 to 590 kg (900 to 1,300 lbs)

The American Paint Horse originated in Spain and was prized for their colourful coat patterns. Early settlers introduced the breed into the Americas, where interbreeding with Quarter horses led to the creation of the modern-day American Paint Horse.

American paint horse

Developed using the American Quarter Horse and the Thoroughbred, the American Paint Horse is intelligent, with a friendly and easy-going personality. Well-suited for barrel racing, dressage, jumping, and trail riding, these gentle giants have excellent balance and stamina, making them perfect for accommodating a heavier rider.

14. Suffolk Punch

  • Height: 1.5 to 1.6 m (15 to 16 hands)
  • Weight: 725 to 1,000 kg (1,600 to 2,200 lbs)

This British horse breed’s history dates back to the 16th century. Possibly getting their compact size from the Belgian Draft, these horses were favoured for their ability to perform heavy farm work and pull artillery during the war.

Suffolk punch horse

Their name pays homage to their jolly and friendly characters and stout builds. Considered one of the rarest breeds in the UK, Suffolk Punches are easy to work with and a pleasure to ride, regardless of your horse riding experience. Their strong neck, wide back, and muscled physique allow them to carry heavier riders without much effort.

15. Highland Pony

  • Height: 1.3 to 1.4 m (13 to 14 hands)
  • Weight: 500 to 590 kg (1,100 to 1,320 lbs)

This Scottish pony is one of the UK’s most well-known horse breeds. Able to survive harsh and cold climates, the Highland Pony is hardy, resilient and a strong animal.

Highland ponies

Containing a blend of genes from Percheron and other French and Spanish horses, Highland ponies boast a well-proportioned and compact body that can pull and carry heavy loads. With its powerful hindquarters and back, a Highland pony can easily accommodate a heavier rider, making them great companions on the farm and riding and hunting field.


Which is the best horse breed for heavy riders?

While there is no single best horse breed for heavy riders, choose your desired animal based on how well they carry the rider’s additional weight. Also, consider the animal’s size and weight, overall strength, balancing capabilities, and temperament when making your final choice.

Can anyone ride a draught horse?

Though draught horses don’t necessarily excel on the sporting field, they are still good riding horses. They are suitable for heavy and lighter riders. Because of their strong backs and road shoulders, they provide excellent balance, a smooth gait, and a comfortable and safe ride.

How do I know I’m too heavy for my horse?

Look out for the following signs as indicators that you are too heavy for your horse:

  • A horse that pulls back its ears, swishes its tail and tries to buck you.
  • If the animal struggles to maintain its balance and tries to redistribute its weight.
  • A horse that doesn’t want to be saddled may still be sore from a previous ride.

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