Determining a Horse's Weight Bearing Capacity

How can you accurately determine a horse’s weight-bearing capacity?  Most animals can comfortably carry 20 percent of their own weight.  A well-conformed and highly conditioned horse (see chapter 4 for conformation) may carry as much as 25 percent of his body weight, and a few well-built horses with heavy “bone” and the right kind of body structure may surpass that.

“Bone” is the measurement of the circumference of the foreleg cannon bone, just below the knee.  One useful formula for determining if a horse can handle your weight is to add the weight of the horse, rider, and tack together, divide this number by the cannon bone’s circumference, then divide that figure by 2; the result should be between 75 and 85.  When the number is higher than this, you are too heavy for the horse.

Contrary to popular opinion, a tall horse isn’t necessarily the best weight-bearing one as he has a high center of gravity, making it easy for a heavier, less agile rider to throw the horse off balance. (Compare this to riding piggyback with your legs low around someone’s waist, or high up on his shoulders. Which is the more secure position?) For optimum weight-bearing ability, the horse should have good bone, stand between 14 and 15.2 hands, have low-set knees and hocks, wide loins, and a short back. (see picture below).

The fitness level and balance of the rider is an important consideration when determining weight-bearing ability. A horse can more easily carry a well-balanced, agile rider than an unfit, uncoordinated person. Therefore, if you are a heavy rider, it is greatly to your advantage to work at staying as fit as possible.

The type of riding is also a factor when considering weight. If you trail ride long and often over rough, mountainous terrain, you don’t want to be on a horse at the very edge of being able to handle your weight comfortably. On the other hand, if you ride easy trails for an hour or so, or only show in the occasional pleasure class, you may do fine on a horse with less capacity for carrying weight.

If you are seriously considering a horse but are not certain he can handle your weight on your type of rides, ask if you can take him on a trial basis—or at least a trial ride—before purchase. Does the horse “lug” up hills, seem to fall clumsily into transitions, stumble frequently, or otherwise feel as though he is being physically overburdened? When this is the case, or you are unable to thoroughly evaluate the horse before buying, keep looking.

*This is an excerpt from The Gaited Horse Bible by Brenda Imus available here


weight bearing capacity for horses

This horse has excellent conformation, weight-bearing capacity and is in tremendous condition