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Guidelines for weight-carrying capacity of horses

Quick facts

You can determine the appropriate carrying capacity of your horse by following the 20-percent rule, and considering fitness, conformation, activity level and equipment.

Understanding your horse’s weight carrying capacity can ensure their welfare and continued partnership for years to come.

Common activities where horses carry weight

In the United States, horse owners commonly use horses for recreational and competitive riding. In a recent federal census, the leading use of U.S. horses was for recreation (47 percent), which ranges from trail riding to arena work. Farm and ranch work followed at 25 percent, which can include sorting cattle, carrying equipment in packs and pulling carts or lumber.

When asking our equine partners to participate in these activities, we also need to consider their welfare. Owners must be aware of how much work is appropriate for their horse. In order to help determine this, researchers have studied the ideal weight carrying capacity of horses. 

How much weight can your horse carry? 

In 2008 at an Ohio University, researchers evaluated the impact of rider and tack weight. They monitored horses for heart rate, breathing rate, rectal temperature and loin muscle condition when carrying loads of 15, 20, 25 and 35 percent of their bodyweight.

The researchers found that an average adult light riding horse could comfortably carry about 20 percent of their ideal bodyweight. This result agrees with the value recommended by the Certified Horsemanship Association and the U.S. Cavalry Manuals of Horse Management published in 1920.

What affects how much your horse can carry?

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Aubrey Jaqueth, postdoctoral research associate

Reviewed in 2019

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