What size horse do I need? A New Rider’s Guide

16 April 2021

Are you thinking about buying your own horse? Congratulations! You’re on the way to experiencing years of companionship with a new riding partner. However, before you go ahead and start looking, it’s important to take some time and really think about what you will need in a horse to be able to get the most out of your riding time together.

One of the most important factors you need to think about when looking for a horse is whether its size suits you. After all, you both need to be comfortable when riding, which means that you need to be well matched to one another. To choose the right size horse, you’ll need to think about:

  • Your weight
  • Your height
  • Your age
  • Your skill level
  • Your future ambitions

It’s really worth thinking about these areas before you start your search for the perfect horse, as you will be in a much better position to find the right one (and save yourself a lot of time). In this guide, we will walk you through each of the above considerations so that you can make the right choice.

Please note: This guide is intended to offer general advice about choosing a horse size and shouldn’t be taken as definitive. The best way to find out whether a horse suits you and you’re well suited to them is to take a short ride together to see if you’re both comfortable.

 

Choosing the right horse for your weight

Horse and Rider

When it comes to choosing your horse, it’s important that you have considered how heavy you are and checked that they are sturdy enough to comfortably carry you. Not only is this vital to ensure you can ride properly, but it also can have a major affect on the horse’s comfort and health.

 

How much weight can a horse carry?

As a general rule, a horse can only comfortably carry up to 15–20% of its own body weight, though this may differ slightly from horse to horse. For instance, a horse that weights 500kg can comfortably carry a load of 100kg. It’s also worth bearing in mind that this amount includes both your weight and the weight of any equipment (saddle, rug, bridle etc.).

If you’re too heavy for your horse, they will be uncomfortable when being ridden and can experience soreness, including back pain, muscle strain, joint issues, and temporary lameness, with long-term damage a real possibility if you carry on riding them. Their performance will also suffer as they will fatigue a lot more quickly, and there’s more of a risk that they’ll stumble and fall.

Thankfully, there are warning signs that indicate that a horse is carrying too much weight. You will notice that they begin to breathe heavily, sweat more, and have a much higher heart rate. It’s likely that their behaviour will change too: expect them to drag their feet and move slowly, with extra tension in the neck and back as they brace against the weight. If any horse you’re riding displays these signs, it’s best to stop the ride and allow them to rest before leading them back to the stable.

Whether your horse is capable of carrying 15% or 20% within the range may depend on whether it is a sturdy breed or if it’s an athletic horse, and the only real way to find out is to take a test ride or two together and see whether they are comfortable or showing any signs of discomfort.

 

What size horse should you ride for your weight?

To get an idea of what size horse you should be riding for your weight, there are two approaches you can take. Firstly, you can take your weight and use it to calculate the ideal weight range for your new horse, which is ideal if you haven’t started looking for a horse. Alternatively, if you already know the weight of a particular horse, you can work out if it’s suitable for you — helpful if you have a horse in mind that you’re looking to make your own. We’ll go through the steps for both methods here.

 

Calculating the ideal weight range without a horse in mind

To calculate the ideal weight range that any horse should be, you’ll need to know your own weight, so finding out how much you weigh should be your starting point.

You will also require the weight of your saddle, though if you don’t own one, you can use the upper weight for an English saddle, which tend to be around 12kg at their heaviest.

Once you have this information you can calculate:

  1. The lower end of the range if it can carry up to 20% of its body weight:
    (Your own body weight + Saddle weight) x 5 = Your ideal horse’s weight
  2. The upper end of the range if it can only carry 15% of its body weight:
    (Your own body weight + Saddle weight) x 6.66 = Your ideal horse’s weight

Example

Here’s a quick example for a person that weighs 88kg and a large English saddle at 12kg:

  1. (Body weight of 88kg + Saddle weight of 12kg) x 5 = 500kg
  2. (Body weight of 88kg + Saddle weight of 12kg) x 6.66 = 666kg

So, a person weighing 88kg would ideally need a horse between 500–666kg in weight.

 

Horse Rider Weight Chart

For quick reference, we have created a table that shows the ideal horse weight range for a rider of a particular weight. You should be able to use this to get an idea of what to look for when you begin your search for the perfect horse (we’ve incorporated the extra 12kg for a saddle into the ranges).

 

Rider weight (kg/lbs) Horse weight range (kg)
30 210–280
35 235–313
40 260–346
45 285–380
50 310–413
55 335–446
60 360–480
65 385–513
70 410–546
75 435–580
80 460–613
85 485–646
90 510–680
95 535–713
100 560–746
105 585–780
110 610–813
115 635–846
120 660–880
125 685–913
130 710–946
135 735–980
140 760–1013
145 785–1046
150 810–1080

 Calculating the ideal weight range with a horse in mind

If you already have a horse in mind, you can use their weight to find out whether they would be able to comfortably handle you as a rider.

Firstly, you’ll need the horse’s body weight in order to work this out, so you’ll need to put them onto an equine scale, use a weight tape, or use our horse weight formula t o accurately estimate it. Once you have their weight, you can calculate what 15% and 20% of the weight is to see what rider weight (plus saddle) it should be able to handle.

  1. The lower end of the range at 15% of the horse’s body weight:
    (Horse’s body weight / 100) x 15 = The combined rider and saddle weight
  2. The upper end of the range at 20% of the horse’s body weight:
    (Horse’s body weight / 100) x 20 = The combined rider and saddle weight

Example
Here’s a quick example for a 620kg horse:

(Horse’s body weight of 620 kg / 100) x 15 = 93kg combined rider/saddle weight
(Horse’s body weight of 620 kg / 100) x 20 = 124kg combined rider/saddle weight

So, a 620kg horse may be able to handle a rider plus saddle weighing between 93–124kg.

 

Can different horse breeds carry more weight?

As you’re probably aware, there are many different breeds of horse of all different shapes and sizes, which means that their ability to carry different loads varies considerably. Generally speaking, the larger horse breeds are much more capable of bearing heavier riders, which is why small horses and ponies are usually reserved for younger riders. You can get a more detailed summary of the average weights of different breeds in our guide to horse height and weight.

However, it’s also worth keeping in mind that some horse breeds are suited to carrying more weight in ways that go beyond their size. For instance, draft horses have a bone structure suited for handling larger loads, which enables them to carry or pull things that even breeds of a similar stature may struggle with. On the other end of the scale, natural ability can still outshine size, because small but stout breeds, like Connemara ponies, can handle weights that go far beyond the 20% guidelines.

In some cases, a breed’s natural ability to carry more weight could have an impact on your choice of horse. For example, you may need a horse that can handle a certain weight but isn’t too big in size to handle, which might mean you’re well suited to a small stout horse or pony. If you’re not sure, our recommendation is to speak with the stable owner or an experienced equestrian who will be able to offer more personalised advice about which breed to choose.

 

Choosing the right horse for your height

Horse and Rider Cantering

When choosing the right horse to ride, you need to make sure that you select one that is well suited to your height. If you’re too tall or short for the horse you’re riding, you may not be able to achieve a good balance when riding and have trouble controlling their movements.

 

How does your height affect your riding?

While it might not strike you as one of the most important aspects of horse riding, matching a horse to suit your height is of fundamental importance.

If you are tall and riding the wrong sized horse, you may feel like you are always unbalanced and top heavy, as the horse’s centre of gravity becomes offset. The taller you are, the more offset this is likely to become, and the more the horse needs to adjust its footing. On the other hand, if you’re riding a horse that is too big for you, you will find it difficult to exercise the necessary level of control.

It’s also important to bear in mind that your overall height is the sum of your various body parts that have their own proportions. This means that riders of equal heights can have different leg lengths, or a shorter rider can actually have a longer leg than a taller rider. As a result, the horse that’s right for one rider may not be suitable for another, even if both riders are the same height.

Finding the right balance on your horse is not just based on the height of the horse — the width also plays a part. A thicker, stockier horse will provide more room if you have longer legs, whereas a narrower horse can leave longer legs hanging too far down over their side, which can add to the unbalanced feeling a tall rider may experience. Short, solidly built horses can sometimes offer a better centre of gravity to taller riders, so it’s not always the case that a tall rider needs a tall horse.

 

What height horse should you ride?

It’s worth saying up front that there is no hard and fast rule for recommending a height of horse for a rider — the best way of finding this out is to try riding a few horses you think may be about the right size to see what you find most comfortable and manageable. Considering the fact that we all have different proportions, it’s more important to find a horse that matches you as an individual.

If you really don’t know where to start with your search, there is one general rule that can point you in the right direction: your inseam measurement should be equal to or less than 60% of a horse’s total height. With this information, you can roughly gauge how far down your leg will hang and whether the horse is suitable for general riding comfort. Below, we’ve set out a range of leg seam measurements and the minimum horse heights to match.

Please note: This method does not account for the girth of the horse’s body, so you should always use it as a rough guide and try riding together to get a true sense of whether you suit one another.

 

Your inseam (inches/cm) Minimum horse height (hands/inches/cm)
24 / 61 10 / 40 / 101
26 / 66 10.3 / 43 / 109
28 / 71 11.2 / 46 / 117
30 / 76 12.2 / 50 / 127
32 / 81 13.1 / 53 / 135
34 / 86 14 / 56 / 142
36 / 91 15 / 60 / 152
38 / 97 15.3 / 63 / 160
40 / 102 16.2 / 66 / 168

The 60% value is ideal for comfort in general riding purposes, but if you’re looking for a horse to compete in eventing, dressage, or showjumping competitions, you should be aware that a jumping saddle (45–55% of the horse height) or dressage saddle (40–50% of the horse height) will position your legs differently, so a shorter measurement can be estimated. It’s a good idea to try any competition horse you’re thinking about owning with the necessary saddling.

What size horse do you need for your age?

Horse and child

If you’re younger or the horse will be ridden by someone younger, you also need to think about the fact that any horse you choose right now might be outgrown in a short amount of time. After all, you don’t want to put much time and research into finding a horse for yourself or a youngster right now, only for a growth spurt to make riding difficult or awkward.

So, before looking for a horse, it’s worth putting the spotlight back on the rider for a moment and considering whether they’re likely to grow. If you or the person you’re helping is at an age where a rapid spurt in height is likely, it may be worth holding off on buying a horse until full height has been reached. Should waiting not be an option, it might be worth exploring rental options where you can have temporary ownership of the horse, or, assessing rider height and weight to find a horse large enough to accommodate some extra growth over the next few years.

If you’re still not sure about what size horse is suitable for you or another young rider right now, it’s worth thinking about the size of any horses or ponies ridden in recent lessons, as the instructor or stable owner has probably chosen them as they’re the right size. Think about whether that horse feels right when you’re riding it and whether you’d still be comfortable if you grew a few inches. If the answer is yes, it may be worth finding a horse with a similar height, weight, and build.

It should be mentioned that asking an experienced instructor about suitable horses is a good idea, as they likely have a keen eye for identifying the right horse for young riders.

 

What size horse can you handle at your skill level?

Horse Training

Another factor to consider when determining what size of horse is right for you is your skill level as a rider. Typically, larger horses are more challenging to control than smaller horses because they require higher levels of strength and balance. They can often take advantage of a rider who is too small and doesn’t have the expertise to control them properly. As a result, it’s really worth thinking about whether you’ve built up enough skill to handle a larger horse. Consider the following points.

 

How much experience do you have?

If you’re thinking of getting a bigger horse, it’s worth considering about how much experience you have with them. For instance, if you have only ever ridden well-drilled lesson horses of a certain size or have only groomed small horses, you may not be prepared for the extra challenges that getting used to a large horse can present. Even leading the horse could be problematic — if they are tall enough, you won’t be in their head space, making you easier to ignore. There are also safety issues to think about, such as whether you’d be able to handle the horse if it bolts or rears up.

It may be worth asking your instructor if you can build up some experience by working with some of their larger horses, which should give you more of a grounding in what to expect when the time comes to get your own horse.

 

Do you enjoy working with large horses?

Think about the type of horses that you enjoy riding the most: are they a comfortable size? Are they safe and obedient? Or, are you confident enough to prefer a challenging horse? Your preferences as a rider should play a big role in your decision as to whether you should be riding a large horse. There isn’t anything wrong with sticking to a favoured type of horse, so you shouldn’t pressure yourself into getting a bigger horse.

Remember that a lot of your confidence as a rider stems from how secure you feel on your horse, so if you aren’t comfortable, you won’t be able to perform as well or enjoy yourself as much. If you find the size of a horse intimidating, there’s a chance that your opinion will change when you have to saddle up and ride them. However, you may soon grow to love riding at a new height, so feel free to go for a test ride or two together.

 

Can you physically handle a bigger horse?

In most cases, the bigger the horse, the stronger they will be. This also means that large horses have extra strength that you will need to be able to handle when riding them. If you simply can’t muster the power, then you may not be able to exercise the right level of control when riding them. This can make your riding experience worse and gives the horse free reign to do what they like. There are obedient and well-mannered big horses out there, but when you try to ride one with a mind of their own and can’t handle it, it’s much harder to bring them to heel than a smaller horse.

To get a better understanding of what size horse you are physically capable of handling, it’s a good idea to ride a few sizes of horse and see how things feel. You can always improve your own strength over time, and if you still have some growing to do, you’ll develop greater power with age.

 

What size horse matches your future ambitions?

Horse Dressage Rider

When it comes to choosing your horse, try to keep your future ambitions in mind, as they may have an effect on what size horse you need. For example, if you intend to start competing at events, or in jumping or dressage, you may wish to choose a horse whose size aligns with that goal. On the other hand, if you only plan to pursue horse riding as a fun past time, then size is not a key factor and you can stick with any horse that you feel comfortable riding.

If you’re still a young or helping a younger rider choose a horse, it’s worth remembering that many competitions have a pony class that allows competition with other kids on smaller horses and ponies. However, if it’s time to make the step up, it might be worth looking at bigger horses that will allow them to compete at the next level, where quicker times and higher jumps are necessary.

 

Choosing a horse that is the right weight and height to suit you as a rider is important for both the horse’s welfare and your riding experience. Hopefully, with the advice in this guide, you will be able to find the ideal horse for your needs.

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