Horses are one of the best-known beasts of burden that we have in the United States, but how much do you really know about them? How much does a horse weigh? How many species are there? What does their evolutionary history look like? How intelligent are they?
You can probably fill in some of the gaps in these wide swaths of horse knowledge with a bit of commonplace information, but for the general public, horses aren’t understood so much as they’re assumed. Their portrayal in popular fiction has almost trumped the understanding that we have of them as immensely significant to our cultural history. Therefore, let’s take the time to examine the facts about these incredible animals, and see if we can’t suss out some deeper knowledge about how important horses are to mankind.
The first thing that we should get out of the way is that there is no gold-standard, representative horse that we can determine an average weight from. They come in many different breeds that have changed over several hundred years. They were bred for specific purposes, which means that each of these breeds could vary drastically in weight from the next.
Who’d have thought finding out the weight of a horse would create such a spiderweb of crisscrossed information?
It’s a blessed thing that we can narrow down the hundreds of different breeds into different categories, for better understanding the sizes of the horses in those categories, as well as understanding what the many breeds are used for. Though horses are primarily thought of as beasts of burden due to contemporary breeding and ranching, horses were once just as wild as any other animal. No matter how closely they’ve bonded with humans, they have an autonomous evolutionary history that makes them both unique and fascinating.
First, we’ll take a look at the different categories of horse and pony breeds that most experts agree upon. After examining the qualities belonging to each of those categories, we’ll move on to looking at their defining qualities. Inevitably, this will lead us to the weight ranges for the many common horse breeds!
Grouping the Major Horse Breeds
It might come as a surprise that there are no major criteria that separate all of the major groupings of horse breeds. Instead, quite a few different factors are taken into consideration, such as weight, height (measured in “hands”), and the origins of the breeds contained in the group. Put it all together, though, and you end up with a pretty solid classification system that seems to easily suit the vast majority of known horse breeds.
There are four major groups that we’ll examine below: light horses, heavy horses, ponies, and feral horses. We’ll also take a look at some of the breeds contained in each group, and the correlating weights of those breeds. Much of the credit for this information goes to Animal-World, for the site’s extensive documentation on horse breeds, classifications, and how the four major groupings are determined.
Though you might not have heard of the four horse groups before (unrelated to the four horsemen of the apocalypse, I promise), you’ve no doubt gained some familiarity with horses in the “light” group. A majority of riding horses in the world fall into this group. They’re nimble, dexterous, but also strong enough to carry a fully-grown rider without any difficulty. All horses in the “light” category are originally descended from one of the historically “oldest” horses that are officially recognized: the Arabian.
Many performance breeds across the world fit into the light horse category, due to their affinity for speed and precision with their movements. They range from 14.2 to 17.2 hands in height and typically weigh less than 1300 pounds. Their feisty, active temperaments have earned them the reputation of being “hot-blooded.”
If breeds in the light horse category are “hot-blooded,” then the breeds in the heavy horse category are the “cold-blooded” counterparts. The true beasts of burden in the horse family, this group belongs to much larger horses than are found in the above group.
Most frequently, draft horses from the heavy horse group are used for the pulling of heavy objects–wagons, carts, etc. They’re often used for field work, especially in the cold environments that they’ve grown a hardy resistance to. Their “cold-blooded” moniker comes from their calmer temperament than the breeds found in the light group, though this is by no means a rule for these breeds. Horses in this group can way up to a whopping 2000 pounds and are almost always stronger than light horses. They’re also slower, which makes them less ideal for showmanship and recreation.
Ponies are almost always smaller than the bottom end of the light horse category, falling somewhere below 14.2 hands in height. According to expert resources, ponies are often easier to care for than larger horses–they depend less on social interaction with other horses–but they’re too small to be suitable for riding. Ponies are most frequently used for recreation or are simply kept as pets if their small size is suitable for limited living space.
They developed their identifying features through hardship, by living in areas that are barely on the edge of livable horse habitats. Like many animals that don’t have a plentiful abundance of ideal conditions, they simply evolved accordingly by becoming smaller. Because they have a stockier build (similar to a draft horse), they’re slower than most breeds in the light horse category, but actually require less food per unit measurement of their own weight. Also like draft horses, this is an evolutionary reaction to living in a harsher environment, where food was less plentiful.
Feral horses are an interesting bunch, and as expected, they’re frequently misunderstood. They’re not exactly wild, but they’re not fully domesticated, either. Instead, most feral horses are wild-roaming horses. The herds consist of horse breeds that have a history of domestication, such as the mustang.
Some experts don’t include this group among the major categories of horses specifically because there aren’t many measurements dictating the sizes and breeds of horses that go into it. Most of the documented feral horse bands across the world are the ancestors of horses that were either released into the wild or escaped from captivity and did not return. An interesting but little-known fact is that horses will lose many of their domesticated qualities quite quickly when they’re reintroduced to the wild. Experts are undecided as to why this occurs, but it may have to do with the animals’ surprisingly high intelligence (they’re widely thought to have better memories than elephants.)
Horse Breeds and Weight
Using the group and classification system described above, you can probably surmise which one would contain the heaviest horse ever recorded. The Shire breed of draft horses are among the largest in the heavy group, and in 1860’s a Shire named Samson was recorded at 3300 pounds. Consider that the average horse breeds in the light group weighs less than 1300 pounds, and you can start to grasp the size of such an animal!
A record taken so long ago has only been waiting to be beaten, however. As of a Guinness Book of World Records statistic from 2013, the world’s largest living horse is approximately 2600 pounds. Big Jake is a Belgian show horse from Nebraska.
Weight is one thing, and our information thus far has helped to provide some of the average weights from different groups of horse breeds, but what height? The title for tallest living horse has changed hooves (sorry, I had to) a couple of times in the past several years, handed off from a Shire named Radar in 2007 to another Shire named Tina, who stood at 6′ and 8″ in height. Unfortunately, Tina passed away a year later, and the title went right back to Radar, who remains the current record-holder for the tallest horse.
So, how much does a horse weigh? That depends on what horse you’re looking at, and since breeds can vary wildly in height, weight, temperament, and many other defining qualities, there’s no definitively simple answer to such a question. However, the information above should set you on the path to a bit more knowledge on the subject. If you’re ever forced to answer such a broadly phrased question, your best bet is to look to the maximum approximate weight of horses in the light group–1300 pounds.
You can’t always match a horse’s height to its weight, either. As we’ve learned, horses in the heavy group often don’t have to be much taller than breeds in the light group to still be much heavier, overall. A draft horse can be just a few hands higher than any breed from the light group, and still, be carrying around a couple hundred more pounds. With this fresh knowledge, you can properly instruct anyone that asks you how much a horse weighs in the proper way of thought when dealing with these animals. Have any more questions about horse weights, breeds, or world records? Let us know, below, and consider sharing this article on Facebook and Twitter!