Horses may look light and graceful, but don’t be fooled – they’re carrying around hundreds of pounds’ worth of heft with them. Of course, part of what makes a horse appear so graceful is the fact that they don’t appear to be a portly paunchy horse a la Sancho Panza (or his short fat horse, for that matter). Instead of showing that weight, they are incredibly muscular specimens.
There is nothing more incredible than a horse at full gallop, their muscles straining as they race toward glory and personal satisfaction. Still, the question remains – just how heavy are horses, and what might that mean for your riding experience?
Analyzing Horse Weight and Distribution
Horses are evaluated on what is known as the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System, which makes use of a chart ranging from 1 to 9 to check a horse’s size. However, unlike other scales, “bigger” or “smaller” numbers aren’t “better” in this case, but rather a score closer to 5, the golden mean. A score that drifts too close to one is indicative of a horse that’s too scrawny and undersized, and a score of 9 indicates a horse that is obese. The scale takes into account different parts of the body, especially the loin, withers, neck, shoulder, and tailhead.
The average weight of a horse varies from breed to breed and steed to steed, and can range anywhere from 900 lbs to 2000 lbs. That being said, many riders use 1000 lbs as a baseline, in part because it works well with another staple of the horse/rider/weight equation, the so-called 20% Rule. Simply put, you and your riding gear together should not be more than 20% of your horse’s weight. For example, if your horse weighs 1000 lbs and you weigh 260 lbs, you’re over that 20% Rule threshold.
That being said, this is no reason to fat-shame riders, either – equestrian inclusivity is the name of the game, and as we’ll see below, there are plenty of horses that are big enough to host riders of all sizes.
What’s more, for as useful as 1000 lbs is as a nice, round, base-ten-friendly figure, the real answer is much more various than that. We’ll get into individual breeds’ average weights a bit more below, but first, let’s think about how that weight is distributed. After all, just as important as how much your horse weighs is where it “wears” that weight. Is your horse a bit “headier” a bit more “All About That Bass,” or – hopefully – somewhere in between?
For example, on average, a horse’s head accounts for 10% of its weight, so if the ratio is much more or less than that, it may have a proportionality problem. Conveniently enough, 10% is also the typical weight ratio of new foals to their mothers, so if a larger mother horse gives birth to a suspiciously underweight horse, you may want to get it checked to make sure it doesn’t have any medical issues.
Finally, it is worth noting that the amount of food your horse eats (shocker) can have an impact on their weight. That said, as with so much on this list, the amount of food your horse should eat will vary depending on its size. A horse typically needs to eat around 1.5% to 3% of their total body weight per day, so a heavier horse will need more food to stay energized. For that reason, you’ll need to make sure that their teeth are in good shape, since no one likes to eat with a mouth full of pain. That said, spending all day at the buffet will make any horse pack on the pounds, so make sure your horse gets plenty of exercise.
How to Find Your Horse’s Weight
Of course, all of that begs the question of how you can find your horse’s weight in the first place. After all, it isn’t as though you can simply take your horse and have them step onto the scales, can you?
Well, as a matter of fact, you can, if the scales and weighing system are specially designed to accommodate them. These scales are typically massive in size, though, and can be costly. Thankfully, there are plenty of alternative methods, the two most popular being simply calculating your horse’s weight mathematically by making use of weight tape.
You use this just as you would use measuring tape. As a result, it’s small, lightweight, easy to use, and obviously way more affordable and accessible than a proper scale. It doesn’t offer 100% accuracy, but it can easily get you into the 90% percentile accuracy-wise once you know what you’re doing, and that should be close enough for most things. All you have to do to use weight tape is wrap the tape around your horse as you would traditional measuring tape and check the notation, which is given in pounds rather than inches or centimeters. In particular, you’ll want to measure the girth of your horse’s heart by wrapping the tape around your horse’s withers.
Check specialized weight tape weighing formulas to get the most accurate results.
Different Horse Breeds’ Weight
With all of that established, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common horse breeds and where they fall on the weight spectrum:
Not horses per se, but they’re worth a quick mention for comparison’s sake. They can weigh anywhere from a little over 100 lbs to around 700 lbs. They’re obviously geared more toward grunt work than riding – again, unless you’re Sancho Panza – but that doesn’t mean very small riders can’t ride on them for a couple minutes under close supervision.
2. Polo Ponies
Again, not quite what you may think of in this situation, but ponies are obviously a huge part of the equestrian scene. They tend to weigh somewhere between 1000 and 1100 lbs, and are great for playing polo (hence the name) and getting young riders used to horse riding.
3. Arabian Horses
One of the most common and popular horses in the world, these horses can be used for a wide range of activities, from traditional horse racing along tracks of all sizes to show jumping to dressage and much more. They tend to weigh somewhere between 900 lbs and 1100 lbs, putting them on the lighter and nimbler side of the spectrum among horses on this list.
4. Morgan Horses
As with Arabian horses, Morgan horses can be used for a wide range of different equestrian sports. They likewise run in the range of somewhere between 900 and 1100 lbs.
5. Thoroughbred Horses
Given that the very term “thoroughbred” has become shorthand for “well-bred,” it should come as no surprise that these are among the most prized horses in the equestrian sphere. Powerfully built and highly obedient, thoroughbreds tend to be a bit heavier, with an average weight around 1000 lbs but some reaching as much as 1300 lbs.
6. Cob Horses
When you think of the kind of horses that appear in elite stables and British countryside equestrian activities, chances are you’re imagining Cob horses. They are sleekly built, supremely elegant, and wear their roughly 1000 to 1200 lbs with pride.
7. Friesian Horse
This is a heavier breed of horse originating in the Netherlands, weighing in at around 1300 to 1500 lbs. Where they once carried knights into battle, they now enjoy a notably lighter occupation as dressage horses.
8. Lightweight, Middle Weight, and Heavyweight Hunter Horse
As you can tell, these come in a wide range of different sizes, tipping the scales anywhere from around just under 1000 lbs to just over 1500 lbs. As the name would imply, these horses can be great for hunting and hitting the open trail.
9. Draft Horse
These horses come from the UK and Ireland and are related to Friesian horses. That said, they are even heavier, weighing anywhere from 1500 to well over 1800 lbs.
“Here Comes the King, here comes the Big Number One!” That’s how the jingle from Budweiser’s classic Clydesdale commercial from the mid-1970s, and it’s just as applicable to the horses themselves. Clydesdales are among the biggest and most popular horses among equestrians, potentially tipping the scales at as much as 2000 lbs.
11. Shire Horses
These mighty beasts from Great Britain tip the scales as being among the heaviest horse breeds on our list. Stallions are typically heavier than mares, and the horses often weigh somewhere between 1800 to 2400 lbs. Don’t let the size fool you, though – these are gentle giants that can be used to pull carts and perform in shows.
Finally, it is worth noting that young horses of all breeds are obviously much lighter than their adult forms. As mentioned, they should start off around 10% of the mare’s weight, so you’ll want to track them carefully as they grow up.
Still, while there is much variation between these and other horse breeds in terms of their build and weight, there is no denying the majesty of a horse in action. With the help of this guide, you can hopefully find the hooved companion that’s right for you.