Horseback riding is a great way to increase your fitness level, work on balance, connect with animals, and enjoy the outdoors. However, since horses are living animals, they can only carry so much weight. Knowing what the proper limits are and choosing horses that can bear your weight is essential for the safety of both you and the horse.
Is there a weight limit for riding a horse?
There are no strict weight limits or laws regarding weight limits when it comes to riding. However, most equestrians feel that a horse can safely carry up to 20% of its own weight. If this limit is exceeded, especially for long periods of time, it can put strain on the horse’s joints and muscles, which can cause injury and sometimes even permanent damage.
This 20% weight includes not only the weight of the rider but also the weight of the saddle and saddle pads, more commonly referred to as tack, plus any other saddle bags or items.
Exactly how much a horse can carry without injury depends on the horse and its specific health, strength, and build. Some horses might be able to carry more than 20% of their weight for short periods, while other older, less healthy, or finer-boned horses might not be able to carry 20% of their weight at any time.
It’s always important to consider the horse, their age, and what type of work they were bred for before you determine how much weight they can carry.
An average horse weighs about 1,000 pounds, meaning it can carry a maximum load of about 200 pounds. Larger horses, such as draft horses, often weigh closer to 2,000 pounds.
Although they weren’t bred for riding, draft horses are a good option for heavier riders, as they can carry up to 400 pounds, and their strong, stocky features are more able to bear heavy loads easily.
How much does tack weigh?
The weight of a horse’s tack can vary depending on what style and size it is. In general, saddles usually weigh between 10 and 60 pounds.
English saddles, which are much smaller and have smaller saddle pads, usually weigh between 10 and 25 pounds. Western saddles, with their larger seats and tall horns, generally weigh between 25 and 60 pounds.
How can you tell if a horse is carrying too much?
If you think a horse has been carrying too much weight, you can look for a few signs. Horses that have repeatedly or frequently carried riders that were too heavy for them might appear more lethargic than normal. They may also be more prone to injury, and you might notice muscle soreness or even a limp.
You can also check for rub marks or sores on the horse’s back where the saddle might have pressed down too hard due to too much weight.
Horses that have carried too much weight might also display soreness along their back. If a horse drops it back to avoid touch or pressure, this can be a sign of serious muscle strain due to carrying excessive weight. Some horses also show signs of pinched nerves after carrying heavy weights.
Is it dangerous for a rider if they are too heavy for the horse?
A horse that is carrying too much weight will be uncomfortable at best and in pain at worst, and this can be displayed by the horse’s behavior. If a horse is in pain, it might reach around and attempt to bite the rider.
Horses that are uncomfortable also often refuse to move forward or might dance to the side instead of walking or trotting in the direction they’re asked to. In severe cases, horses in pain will attempt to throw their rider.
A rider who is too heavy for their horse can also have problems propelling themselves up and into the saddle or getting back down. Once on the horse, heavy riders might have a hard time balancing and keeping a correct seat on a horse that is too small, and that can lead to falls.
Does height matter as much as weight?
When you’re riding a horse, you can help to reduce the strain of your weight by sitting upright and balancing properly. This makes it much easier for horses to carry even heavy riders. However, if you are too tall for a particular horse, you might not be able to balance as effectively, which can increase strain on the horse.
How tall your horse should be compared to you can also vary, but one easy way to tell is to measure your inseam. This measurement should be no more than 60% of the horse’s total height.
Remember that horses are measured from the withers, or shoulder, not the nect or head. Horses are measured in hands, and 1 hand is equal to 4 inches.