Am I too big for my horse?

December 09, 2019

Am I too big for my horse?


Riders must be proportional to their horses for a multitude of reasons, mainly to make sure that the riding process goes smoothly. Some horses carrying heavy loads tend to act out and it’s unsafe for both of you. So when you’re purchasing one, take these things into consideration.


How much do horses normally weigh?

The accepted wisdom in the horse world tells us that an “average” light horse weighs about 1,000 pounds or 450 kg. A draft horse, upwards of double that. But does that somewhat arbitrary figure mean anything? After all, what is an “average” horse?

To a dressage competitor, it might be a 17-hand warm blood, while to a cutting horse enthusiast, it might be a 14-hand Quarter Horse or Arabian. In their little universes, each might be said to be “average,” yet their weight difference could be more than 600 pounds! Also, quick fun fact: a horse’s head comprises 10% of its overall body weight! No wonder they can be so stubborn.


Here’s a guide to the average weight of commonly known horses:

Quarter horse: 1,000 to 3,000 pounds

Racehorse: 900 to 1,000 pounds

Pony: 200 to 1,400 pounds

Foal: Depending on the breed, a foal can weigh anywhere between 90 to 200+ pounds

Shetland pony: 298 to 595 pounds

Mini horse: 150 to 300 pounds

Thoroughbred horse: 1,003 to 1,301 pounds

Clydesdale horse: 1,598 to 1,797 pounds

Overlooking subtle change is so much easier than you think. When you personally care for and see your horse every day, it becomes difficult to notice the slight variations in their body condition — and one morning, it hits you. Watching him turn toward you in the corral, you can see a vague outline their ribcage along their sides, and their haunches are looking a little less rounded, too. Your horse is losing weight. And suddenly the questions are racing through your mind: What’s wrong with the forage? Is my horse sick? Am I not feeding my horse right?


How much should and can a horse carry?

According to a British study, one in twenty people are light enough to ride their horse. The study found that a third of recreational riders were too big for their horse, leaving the animals at risk of back troubles and lameness.

Roughly two-thirds of riders in the survey fell within the satisfactory range for body weight when assessed against their mount. The findings have been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

They proposed a 10% rider to horse ratio for optimum performance.


Selecting a Horse and the Right Equipment

When you're in the process of buying a horse, try many different sizes out. People on the heavier side should consider stockier horses like the American Quarter Horse or a draft or draft cross. However, if you're on the lighter side, then an Arabian or Thoroughbred could be ideal for you. But, if you happen to be on the bigger side and you have your heart set on an Arabian, try looking for one with thicker bone density. The bone is estimated at mid-canon on the front leg. The higher the circumference of the bone, the sturdier the horse. For Arabian horses, an 8-inch circumference bone is considered quite sturdy for a traditionally slender horse.

It's also essential that you have the right-sized equipment and an appropriately sized saddle. Saddles are necessary to distribute your weight evenly on the horse, keeping you balanced and making sure that your horse doesn't get sore during the ride. With the right balance of equipment, both you and your horse will be more comfortable and less stressed during your journeys.




Here are some factors that contribute to how heavy your horse can carry:


Riding Skill

Riding skill is an essential element that influences how easily your hose can carry you. In fact, your riding skills could be just as crucial as your size. A skilled rider is balanced in their saddle and has a good seat. Proper weight placement makes it easier for your horse to carry you than a rider who is inexperienced and sloppy in the saddle. If you've had the experience of holding a sleeping baby vs. a baby that's awake, it's similar to how a horse feels when they're carrying a rider that's upright compared to an unbalanced novice.

A horse that carries an unbalanced rider will eventually develop back, and soundness problems — these may lead to behavior problems in the future. Working on your riding skills will make both you and your horse more comfortable, safe, and secure during your rides. Additionally, your horse will be much more sure-footed and confident. Put in the effort to improve your riding skills because your horse's load-bearing capacity is greatly affected by your weight placement and riding posture. Don't worry, in a few months; you'll be a much better rider.



Often when riders wonder whether they're too heavy for their horse, their main concern is body mass. A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior infers that "the rider should weigh less than 15 percent of their horse's body weight." There's a fair amount of debate that surrounds what percentage ratio a horse can carry, but the prevailing notion is that a horse should carry between 15 to 20 percent of their weight. Take into consideration that the weight we are referring to is the overall mass of the rider and riding equipment. Overweight horses can't necessarily carry a heavy rider. The calculation should be made with the horse's ideal weight.


The Horse’s Age

You can start some “light riding” at around three years old and work your way up from there. Any younger and you’re at risk of stunting or permanently damaging your horse’s growing plates. Break them into galloping at four years old and progress into more difficult tricks as they get older. Some horses grow old at 15 while others can be ridden well into their 20s. It all depends on how well you cared for them through the years.


Rider’s Age

Adult riders won't have many significant changes in their size, weight, and strength, making it easier to purchase a horse that suits their size. Children, however, need a horse they can grow into. Giving your kids a pony for their 5th birthday may seem like a great idea at the moment, but in five years, your child will be much heavier and stronger. Their pony won't be able to handle them anymore. Adults can purchase a horse and keep it for many years. You need to put more thought into what type of horse to get for your child. If your child comes from a long line of tall, big-boned people, get them a horse that they can grow into. Not only do they form a bond with their horse as the years go by, but their technique is matched at the same level.


Rider’s Height

A rider's height is yet another factor that greatly impacts their security in the saddle. Tall riders may feel top-heavy on a shorter horse with finer bones. A solidly built horse, such as Icelandic or Fjords, might be more suitable for you, even though they are short in relation to many other breeds such as Arabians and Thoroughbreds. Their stocky bone structure can take the impact and pressure of taller riders. Anything that makes you unbalanced — like your center of gravity or your weight placement will make it harder for your horse to carry you.



Size has quite an influence on forage requirements. Generally, larger horses need more feed than smaller horses. However, hot-blooded horses such as Thoroughbreds, for example, tend to need somewhat more fodder for their size than other warmbloods, ponies, or draft horses. Heavier-built horses and those with calm temperaments normally require proportionally less grain, and some easy-keeping horses must have their access to pasture restricted to avoid overconsumption of lush grass. Feed management must be determined by the horse's size, use, metabolism, and current weight.



A horse's temperament is closely tied to breed. A pony may seem like an appealing choice for a small child, but they've earned the reputation of being stubborn, having a mind of their own. Until someone acquires a good set of riding skills, they'll be much safer and more comfortable on a taller mount. Though ponies can generally handle more weight in proportion to their body size, it's best you keep them away from novice riders. Larger horses, normally mares, are more cooperative despite the weight on their backs. Firebreeds would rather be in control of themselves and opt not to carry anything other than the hair on its back. How much a horse can carry is also dependent on their maturity. Three or four-year-old horses are still in their adolescent years, and like many teenagers, they're hard to break.  Find a horse that's a good fit for people of all weight, given that the person doesn't exceed 25% of their body weight.



As horses become more skilled in their line of work, they will be able to perform their tasks with much less effort. A dressage horse, barrel racer, or jumper will expend more energy at a lower level of performance at the beginning of their training. As their training goes on, they will expend lower levels of energy at higher levels of performance. Your horse will no longer waste its time trying to find its equilibrium. Compare this to weight training in humans. When we begin weight training, we start at 2.5 lbs dumbbells and work our way up to 300 lbs deadlifts. The same principle applies to horses and their riders. Horses build strength and tolerance as they train and learn how to use their bodies to carry more weight as they grow in their discipline.


The right horse is out there for you! It’s all a matter of being open-minded and considerate to the horse you want.

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