One question asked a lot is exactly how much weight should a horse carry? Now usually this is asked by someone watching a larger individual get on a small horse and ride the living daylights out of the poor little thing. Many people promote a rule of thumb of 10% of the horse’s bodyweight, but before I go and promote the same thing lets compare horses to humans for a minute.
How much weight can you comfortably carry for long extended periods of time 1/2 hour or more?
If you are a soldier in the army and you weigh 200 lbs then your 100 lbs rucksack is 50% of your body weight and you will be carrying that all day long!
If you are a 140 lbs Mom you can easily be carrying your 30 lbs 2 year old through a store for 15 to 20 minutes and that is just over 20% of your body weight and it depends on what shape you are in if you can carry that child comfortably or not.
SO what does this mean for a horse? If still means what kind of shape your horse is in, what type of structure your horse is, and if it has any other complicating factors such as arthritis as to how much weight they should be carrying. In my opinion the rule of thumb should be 10 to 30% of the horse’s body weight depending on condition of the horse and how long of a ride and what type of riding you will be doing. A nice easy trail ride on a good conditioned horse (meaning one that has been ridden for a couple months at least three times per week for a minimum of 20 minutes at a time) should be able to carry 25% of its body weight for an hour to two hour trail ride without a problem and with rest stops in between should be able to go all day long. That same horse should be able to carry 25% of its bodyweight in a competition setting say like jumping or dressage for 20 minutes without a concern.
So on average a horse weighs 1000 lbs (Arabs and ponies are smaller more like 700 lbs and Warmbloods and draft crosses are larger more like 1200 to 1500lbs) so that means if you and your tack weigh less than 250lbs and your horse is properly conditioned you should have no problem going for an hour long trail ride or an arena type event.
Now lets go bigger. Lets say you are a Cowboy of a larger stature and weigh 250 lbs yourself and your saddle and gear weigh 50 lbs that is a total weight of 300 lbs. Your horse either needs to be conditioned well and weigh 1200 lbs or needs to be in top condition and weigh at least 1000 lbs. These poor little Arabs that weigh only 700 lbs and have a 250 lbs lets say guy riding them on a 25 mile endurance ride are definitely more like the Army guy carrying the 100 lbs rucksack; oh it can be done but their body sure takes a beating from it.
So to be nice to your horse – if your horse is not conditioned stay at the 10% of the horses bodyweight, if it is conditioned well you can up that but stay below 30% to have a happy healthy horse!