Horses have been pulling things for humans since the dawn of civilization. Back in the day, when horses weren’t pulling carts or plows, they helped move military equipment around such as weapon crates or large canons. The most powerful draft horses in the world are capable of amazing feats of strength, but how much weight can horses pull on average?
Typically, a horse can pull 10% of its body weight in dead loads such as tree logs or plows, assuming we’re talking about a regular 8-hour workday. If it has to pull something with wheels on it such as a cart, a horse will be able to pull 1.5 times its body weight over eight hours.
In simple terms, it all depends on the weight of the horse, but also on the type of load and the pulling distance.
For short distances, a healthy draft horse is capable of pulling 10 to 15 times its own body weight. This means that a draft horse can pull as much as 8,000 (3,600kg) to 10,000 pounds (4,500kg) of weight in short bursts. That’s very impressive.
What are the main factors that influence a horse’s pulling performance?
There are certain factors that need to be taken into consideration when calculating a horse’s pulling power output.
- The horse’s body type and fitness levels. If the horse is well-built, it will be able to pull greater weights.
- How willing is the horse to work, and what is its overall temperament?
- How long will the work take? Horses can pull heavy loads over short distances, or lighter ones over longer distances.
- What type of load is the horse pulling? I’m referring to dead weight or rolling carts.
- What type of surface is the horse stepping on? A paved road is the best, while a gravel road could pose more difficulty. Muddy roads are the worse and will make the horse’s job difficult. Also, we need to take into account if the horse is pulling uphill, downhill, or over a flat surface.
- What is the weather like? A horse will fare better in a dry and cool environment. Humid weather can be an inconvenience.
Things to consider when a horse is pulling dead weight.
Obviously, a horse will have a much harder time pulling dead weight when compared to wheeled carts. When it pulls a plow, a large rock, or even a cannon, the horse exerts a great deal of effort, and it requires frequent resting times. At the end of the day, it will be able to get the object in question to its destination, but it will need frequent breaks, as well as plenty of water and food.
The reason why horses have a more difficult time pulling dead loads has everything to do with friction. The more friction the object has with the ground below, the more difficult it will be for the horse to pull it. Even so, a pair of horses are sometimes able to pull as much as 12,000 pounds over short distances if they work together. It’s not uncommon to witness such feats of strength as part of various US-based competitions.
That being said, 12,000 is very close to the maximum load that a pair of regular horses can pull without risking injury. Trained horses are able to pull much heavier loads.
A horse is able to pull a wagon with greater ease.
When it comes to pulling carts, things are considerably easier for horses. Thanks to the cart’s wheels, there is less friction with the ground below, and the horse can pull up to 1.5 times its own body weight over long distances.
Some breeds such as the Belgian Draft will sometimes be able to pull even twice as much of its body weight in longer journeys. I wouldn’t recommend forcing a horse to do this, though, as it can be very uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. You’ll also need to bring plenty of food and water along. The horse will need to rest along the way, of course.
Then there’s motivation. A motivated horse will pull a cart over miles and miles without causing any problems, but an unhappy horse will protest and even stop at times simply because it won’t want to keep on pulling. Caring for the well-being of your horse is of paramount importance, particularly if you want it to perform well.
What are the best horse breeds for pulling weight?
Some breeds of horses are generally better suited for pulling weight than others. That being said, all horses are able to pull carts and heavy loads to a certain degree. Just because a horse isn’t a draft horse, that doesn’t mean that it can’t pull at all. It will handle weights as best as it can, although it might tire quicker than a draft horse, and it might be more difficult to convince to pull in the first place.
The best horse breeds fit for pulling weights and wagons are listed below.
- Clydesdale – One of the most powerful and best horse draft breeds, the Clydesdale is capable of pulling impressive weights thanks to its dominant height and powerful muscles.
- Belgian Draft – The Belgian is one of the largest horses in the world, and as such, it is able to pull tremendous weight. At the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado, a team of two horses in the Heavyweight class pulled 17,000 pounds over a distance of 7 ft 2 in.
- Shire Horse – The largest horses in the world, and also some of the heaviest. The Shire is a British breed of draft horse that can handle anything from farm work to pulling barges.
- Percheron – This is a breed of draft horse that originated in the Huisne river valley in western France. Towering and powerful, this horse is also known for its intelligence and willingness to work.
A word on teamwork.
If one horse is able to pull as much 8,000 pounds, you’d think that two horses would be able to pull 16,000 with ease, right? The answer might surprise you, as a team of horses is able to pull no less than 22,000 pounds in this case. If they are trained properly and are able to work in unison, they might be able to pull even more than that.
Team builders in various fields use this analogy to illustrate the importance of working together as a team or as a single unit if you will. Horses are truly incredible animals, and we still have much to learn from their discipline and fortitude.
Horse pulling records and competitions.
As I mentioned before, there are a number of competitions taking place across the United States that involve horses and weight pulling exercises. Most of the time, the competitions will involve individual teams of horses that are tasked with dragging various weights across an arena floor.
One of the most impressive feats of strength ever performed by a team of horses took place in 1924. It was then that a pair of Shire draft horses managed to pull a weight of 50 tons (some sources say 45) or 100,000 pounds. This just goes to show how amazingly powerful these animals can become with proper training and discipline.