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Finding The Right Size Horse for Your Height and Weight

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If you are new to horses, you may be wondering what size horse you need. Whether you are a kid or an adult, choosing the right size horse can be difficult if you don’t know what things to look at.

What Size Horse Do You Need? The size of the horse you need depends on your height and weight. Most horses should be able to carry a rider and saddle that total 20-25% of their own body weight or less. This number varies based on the horse’s fitness. This chart can be used as a guideline based on that number:

  • 600 lb horse (or pony) can carry 120-150 lb total
  • 800 lb horse can carry 160-200 lb total
  • 1000 lb horse can carry 200-250 lb total
  • 1200 lb horse can carry 240-300 lb total
  • 1500 lb horse can carry 300-375 lb total
  • 1800 lb horse can carry 360-450 lb total

Let’s look at some more information about sizing a horse to fit it’s rider.

Determining How Big Your Horse Should Be Based on Your Weight

Determining the right size horse based on your weight really has to take into account several different factors including:

  • Your Fitness
  • Your Experience as a Rider
  • Your Horse’s Fitness
  • What Type of Activity You Plan on Doing

Rider size becomes more important for horses under a high amount of stress. For most people getting started riding horses this isn’t the concern.

If you are wanting to learn how to ride or purchasing your next horse, you need to think about your skill level and your intended use for the horse.

If you plan on just riding at a walk and trot on flat trails or in the arena, most horses can carry a load at the heavy end of the generally accepted safe range. A horse who is moderately fit should be able to handle close to 25% of his body weight at a walk with no ill effects.

horse and rider

As you add in speed, elevation, and duration, like a six-hour mountain trail ride, you will want to stick closer to the lower end of the safe range.

Think about rider balance and how it affects the horse as well. If you are experienced at riding at all three gaits and can do so with up and down transitions without grabbing the reins or horns you have achieved a basic level of balance. That means you are no longer as much of a burden to your horse to carry as he doesn’t have to compensate for you moving suddenly to one side or another when you lose your balance.

This chart has total weight in pounds on the left and a minimum horse weight at the recommended 20 -25% ranges for your convenience. Remember total weight is rider weight plus saddle, saddle pad, and saddle bags.

Choosing The Right Sized Horse Based on Rider Weight

Total WeightMinimum Horse Weight
(20% Value)
Minimum Horse Weight
(25% Value)
110550440
120600480
130650520
140700560
150750600
160800640
170850680
180900720
190950760
2001000800
2101050840
2201100880
2301150920
2401200960
25012501000
26013001040
27013501080
28014001120
29014501160
30015001200

Figuring Out How Much Your Saddle Weighs

If you want an accurate number for the total weight you are asking your horse to carry, you need to factor in the weight of the saddle, saddle pad and any other extras. But how much do those things weigh?

That answer really depends on what style saddle you ride in. Is your saddle leather or synthetic? Is it an English saddle or a western roping saddle? All of these things make a difference.

Western saddle pads are typically the heaviest and generally weigh 6-8 lbs or more. All other saddle pads usually weigh under four lbs.

Chart of Saddle Weights

Riding StyleTypeWeight (lbs)
WesternRoping45 lbs
WesternCutting27 lbs
WesternTrail22 lbs
WesternBarrel Racing24 lbs
WesternSynthetic18.9 lbs
EnglishJumping14.3 lbs
EnglishCross Country12.7 lbs
EnglishSynthetic13.3 lbs
EnduranceBob Marshall Treeless15 lbs
EnduranceSynthetic18 lbs
DressageLeather14.9 lbs
DressageSynthetic11.2 lbs
AustralianStock29 lbs
AustralianSynthetic18.7 lbs
saddle with saddle bag

How to Measure Horse Weight

In order to determine if a horse is the right size for you, you will have to get an estimate of his weight. This isn’t always easy. Typically the taller the horse the more it weights but that isn’t always the case.

A horses weight is commonly measured one of three ways. The first and most accurate way is to use a livestock scale to accurately measure the horses weight. This is the only way to get a true reading.

Unfortunately, livestock scales can be hard to find and are very expensive to buy. So how do you measure a horse’s weight without a livestock scale?

Using a Horse Weight Tape

Measuring a horses weight is most easily done with a weight tape. These are commercially available and generally pretty cheap.

Each weight tape comes with a series of markings. Typically one side is used for measuring height and the other used for measuring weight.

Keep in mind that this method is not as accurate as weighing your horse. The results can be 100 – 200 lbs off even for people experienced using the method.

The process of using the weight tape is fairly simple. Here are some basic instructions:

  1. Lay the weight tape over the horse’s back so that the weight measurement side is facing up.
  2. Pull the tail end of the weight tape under the horse’s belly. It should be placed vertically level right around the horse’s cinch area.
  3. Pull the tape taught but not too tight.
  4. Take a reading where the zero mark meets a weight mark. This is your horse’s estimated weight in pounds.
  5. Record weight.

TIP: Take multiple measurements. Your readings should be fairly close to each other. If not, practice your technique until you can reliably get the same weight measurement.

Using Measurements to Calculate Horse Weight

A horse weight tape is just basically transferring the calculated weight method onto a measuring device. If you don’t have an actual weight tape handy, you can do this calculation yourself.

This method isn’t as easy as using a weight tape but it is typically more accurate. The calculation for horses weight is:

[(Heart Girth (in) x Heart Girth (in) x Body Length (in)) / 300] = Weight (lbs)

First you need to obtain two measurements:

  1. Measure the horse’s heart girth which is the area all the way around its barrel, where the cinch normally goes. This is the Heart Girth measurement.
  2. Measure the horse’s body length from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttocks. This is the Body Length Measurement.

Let’s go through a sample horse weight calculation using this equation.

  • Heart Girth = 70″
  • Length = 68″

[(70 x 70 x 68) / 330] = 1,009 lbs

Some sources note that the divisor should be changed based on the horse’s age. In that case, you would calculate horse weight with the following equation:

  • Adult Horse = [(Heart Girth (in) x Heart Girth (in) x Body Length (in)) / 300] = Weight (lbs)
  • Yearling Horse = [(Heart Girth (in) x Heart Girth (in) x Body Length (in)) / 301] = Weight (lbs)
  • Weanling Horse = [(Heart Girth (in) x Heart Girth (in) x Body Length (in)) / 280] = Weight (lbs)
two horse riders

Choosing Horse Size Based On Rider Height

The ideal horse size for a rider has little to do with the rider’s height although a tall rider on a small horse might look odd. The reality is, tall men ride short horses and short women ride tall horses. As long as the horse is physically capable of carrying the rider, height does not matter.

But what height horse should you choose if you don’t want to look like a giant human on a small pony?

The reality is the concern for height is only really for tall riders who may worry that they appear too big for a shorter horse. For the short-statured men and women out there, there is no horse too big for you.

I’m 5’8″ so I know what it is like to feel too big for a horse. My horse is 16.1 but what is reasonable?

I can’t give you an exact answer, I don’t know of a scientific study that addresses this. Instead, I offer up the following general guideline.

Your inseam should be 60% or less of the horse’s height in inches. That means, if you have a 36″ inseam, your horse should be at least 15 hands tall.

It’s not that you couldn’t ride a taller or shorter horse, you absolutely could, based on the information above.

A 14 hand Hafflinger horse is going to feel much bigger than a 14 hand Arabian. That is why the weight is so important.

Again, this is just a general guideline, based on my own opinion of how you might “feel” on a horse based on its height.

How Tall Should A Horse Be Based On Rider Height

Rider InseamMinimum Horse Height
24"10 hands
26"10.3 hands
28"11.2 hands
30"12.2 hands
32"13.1 hands
34"14 hands
36"15 hands
38"15.3 hands
40"16.2 hands

Related Questions

What breed of horse is best for heavy riders? For riders over 250lbs, draft breeds are most suited such as the Belgian horse, Shire horse, Percheron Horse, Clydesdale Horse and Ardennes Horse among others.

Am I too tall for my horse? Height is not a factor in determining appropriate rider size for a horse. The only true scientific studies are tied to appropriate rider weight. Although a rider may feel tall on a horse, as long as the rider’s weight is within 20-25% of the horse’s body weight, the rider is not too big for the horse.

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April Lee

I've owned horses for 25 years and have a particular love for gentling wild horses. I write these articles to help others learn more about horses. If you enjoyed the article please take a moment to pin it to Pinterest or share on social media. It really does help! Check out my about page for more detailed information.