When picking up a new horse, there are a few things to take into consideration, including the horse’s breed, height, weight, and special affinities. It all depends on the kind of horse you’re looking for, and what kind of activities you had in mind for it. When it comes to horseback riding, it’s important to choose a horse that’s just right for your own height and weight.
So what kind of horse do you need for your weight? Generally speaking, a horse should be able to carry between 20 to 24% of its own body weight on its back, but these figures can sometimes be lower depending on the horse’s fitness levels. This weight includes both the saddle and the rider.
For instance, a pony weighing in at 600 lb would be able to carry around 120 to 150 lb, while an 800 lb horse will most likely be able to carry up to 200 lb. If the horse weighs in at 1000 lb, it will be able to carry up to 250 lb, while a 1500 lb horse can cope with a carrying weight of up to 370 lb.
Experience and fitness are very important.
And I’m not just talking about the horse’s fitness. You should take into consideration your own fitness, as well as your experience as a rider. If you’re not very good at horseback riding, you’re going to make things difficult for your horse. If you won’t know how to distribute your weight properly as you ride, you will make the horse uncomfortable even if you fall into the right weight category.
For instance, as the horse shifts between its main gaits, you might be tempted to grab the reins or the horn of the saddle in order to balance yourself. This will, in turn, cause the horse to compensate for your lack of balance. Your horse will compensate for your lack of experience in the saddle. If you know how to ride properly and are able to maintain your balance between gaits, your horse will have a much easier time carrying you around.
How to determine how much weight a horse can carry.
Say you already have a horse but you’ve never ridden it. Say you want to figure out if that horse can carry you and the saddle without any issues. In order to figure that out, you’ll have to figure out the weight of the horse, but not everyone has access to an accurate scale for horses.
Instead, you can use a relatively simple alternative that will give you the information you seek. I’m talking about weight tape. While not 100% accurate, weight tape will give you a good enough result if you use it right. The process involves wrapping the tape around the horse’s girth area and around its back.
If you don’t have access to a weight tape, you can use a measuring tape to get a general idea of your horse’s weight. In this case, you’ll need the tape itself as well as a calculator if you’re not very good at math. That’s because you’ll need to input the horse’s measurements into a specific formula. Here it is:
Heart Girth X Heart Girth X Body Length / 330
- Hearth girth represents the circumference of your horse with the girth going around the barrel.
- The body length measurement starts off at the horse’s chest and ends just a few inches below the dock of the tail.
If you apply the formula right, you’ll get a relatively accurate idea of your horse’s overall weight. You can subtract 20% of that weight in order to figure out how much a horse can carry. If your own weight and the weight of the saddle is less or close to that 20%, you’re good to go. If not, you probably shouldn’t ride that horse.
Factoring in the weight of the saddle.
As I mentioned before, we need to take into account the weight of the saddle as well as the weight of the rider. Some saddles are heavier than others. They are created using different materials, and they are designed for different jobs.
For instance, a roping saddle for the Western riding type will tip the scales at 45 lb, while a Western cutting saddle weighs just 27 lb. An English cross-country saddle is one of the lightest you can get, as it weighs in at just 12.5 lb. The absolute lightest would have to be the synthetic dressage saddle, as that one weighs just 11.2 lb.
As for saddle pads, Western saddle pads are leather-made and likely the heaviest as they weigh in between 6 and 8 lb. By comparison, most other saddle pads tip the scales at 4 lb.
Horse breeds that can carry the most weight.
Some horse breeds were created for the draft, while others are good at racing or jumping. While no two horses are the same even from the same breed, horses from different breeds can be vastly different.
Naturally, draft horses will be able to carry the most weight in general. These horses have a denser bone structure and are generally larger when compared to other breeds. However, there are certain breeds of horses that can carry a bit more than 20% of their body weight.
I’m talking about Morgans, Mustangs, and even some Quarter Horses. If you’re looking to buy a horse that you plan to ride, make sure that it is large enough, heavy enough, and fit enough for the job.
Does conformation affect a horse’s carrying ability?
Depending on how they’re built, some horses are able to carry more weight than others. Let’s see what are some of the most important conformation aspects when determining a horse’s ability to carry a rider on its back.
- The amount of bone – bone is measured by wrapping a piece of string around a horse’s front leg, just below the knee. The more bone a horse has, the more it is able to carry, and the sounder it will remain over the years. In England, horses with 8″ of bone or less are categorized as lightweight, while 8 to 9″ are middleweight. Heavyweight horses have more than 9″ of bone, and they’re considered to be the strongest.
- A horse’s back – the back of a horse plays a key role when determining the amount of weight it can carry. Horses with very long backs are likely to encounter the most issues. It’s always a good idea to reduce weight as much as possible for these types of horses. On the other hand, horses with very short backs will feel uncomfortable while carrying heavy saddlebags.
- Ponies – ponies can carry more weight on their backs in relation to their size, at least when compared to regular-sized horses. The Exmoor pony and Icelandic Horse, one of the smallest horses around, are able to carry full-grown men without too many issues.
- Draft horses – while draft horses are the largest and strongest-looking equines, they’re not always the best at carrying heavy riders. That’s because draft horse breeds were designed for pulling power and not carrying ability. For a large and heavy rider, a cross between a draft horse and a riding horse is definitely a better choice than a pure draft horse.
How to tell if a horse is overburdened?
Many horses are known for their lack of complaint even if they’re being overworked or overburdened. Most horses will keep going regardless, and the rider will have a very difficult time figuring out if the horse is working too hard or is getting too tired. It’s hard to figure out if a horse is in pain most of the time, but it’s even harder if you’re on its back and the horse gives no indication.
That being said, some horses, and ponies, in particular, will simply stop and refuse to move if their rider is too heavy. Mules, on the other hand, are notorious for lying down and refusing to move if they’re asked to carry too much. The phrase “stubborn as a mule” comes to mind.
Plan for the future.
If you’re about to buy a horse for your child, keep track of its growing spurs, and plan ahead. A horse that’s just right for your kid right now might not be good enough in a few years when the child is taller and heavier.
Furthermore, take note of your future riding goals and get a horse that will be able to help you fulfill them. Don’t ask too much of your horse! If you’re set on a specific discipline, get a horse that is known to do well in those kinds of shows. Of course, you can change horses as your skill level advances, but in my experience, bonding with one horse and progressing with it is often the best path to success.
How to choose a horse based on your height.
Choosing a horse to complement your height is more of an aesthetic choice. It’s a relatively important one, as you wouldn’t want to look too small or too big for your horse. In general, as long as the weight is right, a horse should have no issues carrying its rider, even if the rider is tall or short.
To be fair, tall riders are usually the most concerned with this. If you’re on the shorter side, you can pretty much ride any horse without looking ridiculous. There is a comfort-related issue, though, and that concerns the rider’s inseam.
Your inseam should be 60% or less of the horse’s height in inches. For instance, if you have a 34″ inseam, your horse should ideally be around 14 hands or taller. Keep in mind that a larger horse will take more strength and skill to control when compared to a smaller one.
Take your skill level into account when choosing your horse, and don’t overestimate your abilities. As we ride horses, we get better at it, true, but there is such a thing as a learning curve.
Choosing a perfect size of horse for your own weight and height is not the easiest thing in the world. However, if you know what to look for and you know how to weigh and measure a horse properly, you should be able to find one that suits your needs just fine.
Keep in mind that not all horses will let you know if you’re too heavy for them to carry. It’s up to you to figure that out and to make sure that you’re not causing your horse any pain or discomfort as you ride.