Horse riding is a unique experience that offers numerous health benefits. As an avid lover of riding and horses, I have cringed far too many times when I have seen horses struggle to carry too heavy of a load. While riding can improve your mental health, it also contributes to many positive physical attributes, but not every person can ride any horse.
Knowledge is key when determining if the horse you are planning to ride can carry you safely, not only for you but the horse as well. There is no set standard for the exact amount a horse can carry.
But, how much can a horse carry safely? A good rule of thumb is that rider weight plus tack weight should not exceed 20% of the horse’s weight. Some horses can carry a higher percentage of their weight after training. The Andalusian, Shire, and Clydesdale horse breeds are among the strongest and can carry greater weight with the right conditioning. Some smaller horses should not carry a full 20% of their weight.
Keep in mind that breed, size, and rider skill level determine if the horse has the capacity for the planned journey. An untrained rider feels like an added 10% of their weight to a horse. A new rider who weighs 200 lbs would be the equivalent of 220 lbs to their horse and have an additional 15-16 lbs of tack, resulting in the equivalent of 235 lbs of weight.
By adding strain to a horse not capable of the load, you put yourself at risk and the potential for a life-threatening injury to the horse.
The 10 Strongest Horse Breeds and Their Weight Limits
Throughout the past, man has counted on horses to aid them in migration, hunting, herding, farming, and countless other purposes. These breeds are the largest, hardest-working horses in the world. Most are bred for handling specific tasks and for their traits or special features.
These breeds have the capacity to carry heavier passengers that exceed the capabilities of a smaller horse or pony. By exploring the breeds in-depth, you will better understand what your horse is capable of handling and further ensuring that no harm comes to you or the animal.
1. Shire Horse: The Strongest Horse Breed in the World
Considered one of the tallest horses, the Shire boasts more than just height. The Shires were bred in Britain for their strong work ethic and unrivaled stamina for pulling and carriage work. They are noted for being tall, muscular horses with large hooves, but the Shire horse is a gentle giant. Shire horses have a calm temperament.
The average Shire horse weighs in at 2,000-2500 pounds and stands 16-18 hands (64-72 inches). Shire horses can easily carry a 300 lbs plus person. In fact, Shire horses can carry up to 485 pounds! They are the strongest horse globally and have the highest weight carrying capacities of any horse breed!
2. Belgian Draft Horse: A Wide, Muscular Build
Considered one of the strongest horses, the Belgian Draft horse was bred by the Belgiums back to the middle ages. The Belgian Draft horses have navigated dense, wet farmlands for thousands of years. With its low-set body and wide muscular build, this breed exceeds at farm work and dressage.
Belgian Draft horses show elegance and strength. Standing 16-18 hands (64-72 inches). Their average weight of 2,000-2,200 pounds. A fit Belgian Draft horse can easily carry a 400 lbs person, plus an additional 15-20 lbs of the saddle and pack weight. Belgian Draft horses that carry more than 20% of their weight will tire more easily and need to rest more frequently.
3. Suffolk Punch: Energetic and Broad Chested
The Suffolk Punch is an energetic horse that was bred in England for agriculture work. It was known for participating in the war, hauling artillery and supplies for the soldiers. Heavy for their height, the Suffolk Punch is short and squat.
The Suffolk Punch’s broad chest and soldiers make it remarkably muscular and strong. Suffolk Punch horses standing an average of 15-17 HH (60-68 inches). They can weigh 2,000-2500 pounds. Suffolk Punch horses can carry 400 lbs, including the tack and saddle. A particularly fit horse may be able to carry a higher weight but should be monitored for fatigue.
4. Clydesdale Horse: Strong, Tough, and Massive
The Clydesdale horse came out of Scotland centuries ago and bred for strong carriage work and the toughest of farm duties. The Clydesdale Horse is a massive horse with exceptional strength and unrivaled energy. With their broadheads and arched, long necks, they are easily identifiable. Clydesdales stand 16-18 hands high (64-72 inches) and weigh 1800-2400 pounds. Clydesdale horses can carry 350 lbs on average. A fit, trained horse may handle more weight as long as the rider is also trained and has good balance.
I have years of experience with this breed, and they truly are a solid horse that likes working hard. Clydesdale horses often have a shy personality and require consistent encouragement and socializing.
5. Percheron Horse: A Strong Horse with a Large Stance
The Percheron is a horse originally bred by the French and used primarily for agriculture or forestry. Because of its strength and large stance, the Percheron horse was introduced into World War I for carriage and artillery work. But, its elegance and grace soon transported the Percheron horse to showjumping and competitive riding.
Percheron horses stand on average 16-19 HH (64-76 inches). They can weigh up to 2600 pounds, although many horses average around 2,000 lbs. Percheron horses are strong enough to carry a 330-pound person. When tack and gear are added, they can still carry between 360-365 lbs without heavy strain to the horse.
6. Andalusian Horse: Muscular, Compact and Strong
The Andalusian is a centuries-old pedigree horse bred for battle and endurance in Spain. They are known as being an intelligent, docile breed. They have muscular, compact bodies that are capable of hauling a larger rider. Andalusian horses are shorter than most other strong horse breeds. They tend to reach 14-15 HH (56-60 inches) high.
The Andalusian horse’s average weight ranges between 1100-1500 pounds. This breed can easily carry 300+ pounds without much effort. A fit, trained Andalusian horse, can carry a trained rider with good balance that weighs 310 lbs, plus another 15 lbs of tack and gear.
7. Dutch Draft: Strong into Old Age
The Dutch Draft was developed after WWI for agriculture. This Belgian breed displays high intelligence and a calm demeanor. With a strong, active life, Dutch Draft horses have the capacity of working hard long into their senior years.
The Dutch Draft horses have stocky shoulders and feathered legs. They stand 14-16 HH (56-64 inches) and weigh almost 1700 pounds. Dutch Draft horses can carry up to 300 lbs, including tack.
8. The Friesian Horse: Workhorse and a Beauty
The Friesian horse is a powerful horse bred in the Netherlands, with a long history dating back centuries. This graceful, elegant horse has earned its dressage title throughout history. The Friesian horse is not only a carriage and farm workhorse but also excelled as a show horse. Plus, they have a work-life of up to 25 years!
The Friesian horse is a tad shorter than other strong breeds and averages 15-17 hands (60-68 inches). Fresian horses average 1,300-1,400 pounds. They aren’t the heaviest horse, but with their unusually long back and short, muscular stance, they can easily carry a rider and gear that weighs a combined total of 250 lbs. That means a rider up to 230 lbs, even if they are more of a novice, will not be too much for the Friesian horse.
9. Russian Heavy Draft: Low Stance and Strong
The Russian Heavy Draft is one of the oldest horse breeds bred specifically for war and heavy work. It was bred in the last century by the Russians. Its low stance and larger bodyweight make it terrific for pulling and getting the best traction possible. The Russian Heavy Draft stands only 11-14 HH (44-56 inches). Its average weight ranges between 1300-1550 pounds. The Russian Heavy Draft has been measured more for its pulling capabilities than actually carrying weight. It can pull nearly 600 lbs. The Russian Heavy Draft horse can carry 250-280 lbs with training and conditioning.
10. Cleveland Bay: Athletic and Easy Temperament
The Cleveland Bay horse breed originated in England. They are always a bay color. This horse has participated in farming, war, and hunting. Its beauty and easy temperament make it an excellent carriage horse.
The Cleveland Bay horse is known for its exceptional athleticism. They stand, on average, 16 hands (64 inches) tall. They can weigh 1500-1700 pounds. Cleveland Bay horses can easily carry a rider of 240 lbs, plus tack and gear for a total carrying weight of 280 lbs. Fit Cleveland Bay horses can carry even more with an experienced rider.
By looking at some of these larger breeds worldwide, we can see that relatively few horses can accommodate loads heavier than 300-350 pounds.
Popular Horse Breeds and Their Carrying Weight Limits
Let’s explore the variety of average stature horses and what weight limits of each breed are. Smaller horses have lower weight limits and should not be made to carry heavier people or pack loads. Knowing the limits of your horse can end up saving the rider and the horse from any harm.
Arabians Horse: Nobility
Arabian horses are easily one of the most distinctively notable horses in the world. They are one of the oldest breeds, dating 4000 years. Arabians were used in all aspects of life, from war, agriculture, mining, and dressage. This stunning horse has a calm temperament that was instilled in the breed for behavior control. Arabian horses do very well in the heat and will work their hearts out for a beloved rider. When they are given respect and kindness, their loyalty is extreme.
This makes them excellent mindful companions. Arabians are on average 14 Hands (56 inches) tall and weigh 800-1000 pounds. This makes them perfect for riders on the lighter side of 200 pounds. In fact, a trained Arabian horse carrying a trained rider can safely carry up to 235+ lbs.
As a child, I first acquired an Arabian horse for one of my first breeds of horses. I believe my love for all horses is because of my Arabian horse. He taught me patience, manners, and kindness. What a legend he was!
American Paint Horse: A True Beauty
The American Paint Horse is a cross between a quarter horse and a thoroughbred. The American Paint Horse is known for its exceptional beauty. It was bred for colorings and the patterns on their coats. They have displayed an easy-care attitude and are very social.
American Paint horses average a standing height of 14-16 hands (56-64 inches). They weigh an average of 800-1,000 pounds. American Paint Horses can usually carry 200 pounds without straining.
Morgan Horse: Perfect for Beginners
The Morgan horse is an excellent horse bred for competition and endurance. This horse has an outstanding reputation for patience with beginner riders. They develop strong family bonds with their handlers and are the perfect companion for children.
Morgan horses stand an average of 14 hands high (56 inches). They weigh on average 900 pounds. Morgan horses are most suited for smaller riders under 160 pounds, including pack and gear weight.
Appaloosa Horse: Spotted Beauties
These spotted and painted full-size horses of the plains have deep roots globally. Their images are depicted in cave drawings and ancient text dated back millenniums. Historically they have been used for trail riding, competitive riding, and even fox-hunting.
Appaloosa horses stand tall at 14-15 hands (56-60 inches). They weigh 900-1100 pounds, which is an average size and weight for a horse. Appaloosa horses can carry about 180-190 lbs without risking the horse or rider. If the rider is inexperienced, the total weight should be about 168 lbs.
I have enjoyed Appaloosa horses. I always found this horse to have an intellectual understanding that few horses demonstrate. They are truly a great ride for those wanting a sure-footed, high endurance adventure.
American Quarter Horse: A Horse with Charm
The American Quarter Horse is known for its speed, agility, and competitive nature. They have high intelligence and gentle nature. American Quarter horses have the ability to complete quick, tight maneuvers and tasks. This makes them the favorite at rodeos and dressage events.
American Quarter horses average a height of 15 hands (60 inches). They weigh about 900-1300 pounds. The American Quarter horse can carry a rider and tack that totals 180 lbs.
Their character and charm make them an often choice for younger riders. I have had the wonderful experience of owning several Quarter Horses and have enjoyed them as companions and riding mates.
Pony Breeds and Their Carrying Weight Limits
Ponies are much more limited on the amount of weight they can carry. They are built lighter and smaller. A pony that carries more than it should is at grave risk of injury.
How much should a pony carry? As a general rule, most ponies shouldn’t carry more than 150 lbs. Smaller and lighter pony breeds can’t safely carry more than 30-50 lbs. Ponies should be limited to about 18% of their total body weight. Ideally, they should carry closer to 15% of their body weight most of the time.
Shetland Pony: Strong for a Small Pony
The Shetland Pony is an absolute favorite of mine and easily identifiable. It is a Scottish breed that was developed for hauling, plowing, mining, and even riding. The Shetland Pony is known to most children as a fun pony with a playful demeanor.
But, Shetland ponies can display a stubborn attitude and do as they want. This means they often require supervision when children are riding them.
Shetland Ponies sport short little bodies and stout strength that makes them hardy animals. They average 400-500 pounds and stand 7-10 hands (28-40 inches). Shetland ponies are stronger than many ponies and can carry a child that weighs up to 80 or 90 lbs.
New Forest Pony: Strength and Agility
The New Forest Pony is a pony with British roots. It has ample strength and agility to match. The New Forest Pony stands somewhere between a pony and a horse. They stand an average height of 11-13 hands (44-52 inches. They weigh 700-900 pounds. They can carry a rider that weighs up to 130 -140 lbs but should not carry them for a long period. They do much better at weights of under 100 lbs.
This horse is popular in competitions and carriage work. It also makes an excellent riding companion.
Welsh Pony & Cob: Great for Children
Known as the smaller, with a friendly temperament unlike their cousin the Shetland pony, the Welsh Pony & Cob displays high intelligence and compassion for their companions. Initially used as a pack pony and for farm work, they quickly became riding companions for most children.
Welsh Pony & Cobs are 10-12 hands (40-48 inches) high. They weigh 600-900 pounds. They tend to do well with riders under 80-90 pounds plus saddle. A fit Welsh Pony & Cob can carry a child that weighs up to 150, including gear.
Miniature Horse: A Gentle Companion
The miniature horse is a crossbreed of many ponies. The Miniature Horse was solely bred as a companion and does well in supportive social structures. It is known to participate in competitive shows and be capable of tricks. The Miniature horse’s strong companionship traits make this horse a favorite of many.
Miniature horses standing no more than 8 hands high (48 inches). They weigh between 250-300 pounds. Depending on their exact lineage, miniature horses can weigh a wide range of 150-300 pounds. The heavier miniature horses can carry between 50-70 lbs. Smaller and lighter Miniature horses shouldn’t carry more than about 30 pounds.
Their docile, gentle behavior makes them perfect for staying on course and sure-footed with the young cargo.
Pony of the Americas: Strong Bloodlines
A mixture of Arabian, Welsh Pony, and Appaloosa bloodlines, the Pony Of The Americas is a stronger, larger variety of pony. They stand, on average, 12-14 hands (48-56 inches). They weigh about 800 lbs. They can handle riders that are less than 150 lbs.
Pony of the Americas was bred for smaller riders and children.
Their temperaments and strengths are amplified by all the contributing bloodlines’ special traits. The Pony Of Americas continues to be a popular choice for companionship amongst children.
Before You Maximize Your Horse’s Carrying Weight- Do This
It’s important to pair the right traits and skills of a horse with the rider’s skills. Just because a horse can probably carry a heavier load doesn’t mean the rider is skilled enough to ride the horse without causing undue strain. It’s important to consider both the rider’s skill and the horse’s fitness level and training. Then, you can make an educated guess.
It would be best if you also considered the speed at which a horse will be traveling. Horses can more safely carry heavier loads when they can go slowly and more meticulously. Horses that are trotting cantering or galloping should not be weighed down with their maximum weight limits.
Weight Limits of Foals and Young Horses
Once a foal has reached about a year in age, it can begin training for future riding. A foal or young pony mustn’t carry any weight on its back until its body is fully developed. At about 2 years old, an empty saddle can be introduced in training.
At 3 years old, training with a rider and saddle can safely begin. The rider’s weight should not be more than 10-15% when a young horse is beginning training. Higher loads can be added after a horse is trained, and the horse can be conditioned slowly.