There is no exact weight limit for horseback riding, but as a general rule, horses should not carry more than 15%- 20% of their total body weight. This includes the weight of the tack as well as the rider. How much a horse can carry depends on a range of factors such as height, weight, build and its overall condition, discussed below.
When we ask for weights, it means we are concerned with the well-being of our horses and that we are taking a responsible approach to horse riding.
Although there is no formal weight limit for horseback riding, most reputable equestrian centers and horse riding tour operators will have a set maximum weight for riders. You may see that these can vary a little from establishment to establishment and that is usually because they will all have different types of horses, which impacts the weight they can accommodate.
There are many reasons to set a rider weight limit, and although it may for some perhaps come across as discriminatory, this really isn’t the case or the intention. Rider weight limits ultimately exist to ensure the safety of the rider and the well-being of the horse.
Effects for the Horse from Carrying Too Heavy
Carrying too heavy can cause a range of issues for a horse and these adverse effects can also occur surprisingly quickly. Some physical issues that could arise are:
• Rub-sores from the saddle being pressed too firmly against the horse’s back
• Sore and strained muscles needing physio
• Pinching of nerves due to the added pressure- requiring vet
• Sensitivity/flexibility of the back (the horse drops its back when gentle pressure is placed on each side of its spine) causing muscle spasms
We have a vested interest in keeping our horses in good health and condition. This is particularly important when using a horse for commercial purposes, for instance within the tourism industry. If that horse gets injured this can have a significant negative impact on income.
Dangers for a Rider who is Too Heavy for a Horse
Rider weight limits are not only there to protect the horse, but it is also in place to keep the rider safe. If a rider mounts a horse not strong enough to carry his weight it may react in negative ways, such as:
• Bucking or rearing is an attempt to remove the rider.
• Attempts at biting the mounted rider’s legs to signal discomfort
• Show other signs of irritability and stress
• Collapsing on mounting
All of these situations can be dangerous and is the horse’s way to object and communicate displeasure. This is how they communicate to us, and a knowledgeable caring owner will listen.
If a heavy rider is also inexperienced or unbalanced, this will influence his ability to sit correctly in the saddle and distribute weight evenly as the horse moves, which in turn increases the risk of a fall. A heavy rider has a greater potential for injury when falling from a horse as the impact with the ground will be harder than for a lighter rider.
Another aspect is mounting and dismounting the horse. Heavier riders will find it difficult to create the momentum needed to push from the ground and lift their leg over and across the horse. This is a problem as it can cause the horse to get stressed and agitated during the mounting process. Also, if a fall occurs on a trail ride, the rider will struggle to get back on without aid.
Height and Weight
How large a horse is will obviously impact how much weight it can carry. In general, larger horses can carry more than smaller ones . The weight we refer to here is the ‘normal’ weight of a horse. If it has spent weeks grazing in the fields and comes back fat and heavy, this does not mean it can carry a heavier load (rather the contrary because it is unfit and has no muscle built) Just like you, if you have a solid fitness routine and regularly do exercise, you can probably also lift heavier. It’s no different for horses. A toned horse with an overall good exercise regime will be able to take a heavier load on its back than a horse of the same breed and size that has been spending the majority of its time at rest.
There are hundreds of different horse breeds in the world , they all also have different builds. Some are small and stocky with robust legs and short backs, while others are larger with longer weaker backs.
How a horse is built, and especially bone strength and back length will impact its capacity to carry heavy loads. Horses with strong legs and thicker bones as well as medium length backs are better for heavier riders. (An average 400kg which is quite big already, means at 20%- the total weight including a saddle should only be 80kg- so rider weight should be 75kg only )
The last very important consideration is environmental factors to add to the equation.
– What type of terrain will you be riding in? It will be significantly easier for the horse to carry someone across a flat surface than across an uneven rocky terrain.
-What gait will go at? Walking will be much lighter than going at a trot or canter.
– finally, saddle fit is very important. In order to correctly distribute the weight across the horse’s back, it is very important that the saddle fits both horse and rider correctly to prevent any discomfort.
All of these are important considerations when evaluating how much a horse can carry. And understandibly, people that know a horse, its attributes, daily routine, and personality will be best placed to make a decision around rider weight limit for that particular horse.
There are many horse breeds that are better suited to heavier riders. They typically have strong bones and medium length backs, such as Percherons, Drafts, Clydesdales and Friesians.
We know weight can be a contentious subject and the aim of this article is to provide insight as to what capacities horses have and what aspects are important to consider if you are a heavier rider. Our horses care is very important to us , as well as our riders safety.