Best Horses for Heavy Riders

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic
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Contrary to popular belief, heavy-set riders can enjoy riding horses without any issues. Sure, some mounts cannot bear the extra weight and might end up hurt, but not all horses are equal. While no horse can safely support excessive weight on their back, some breeds that excel in hard work thanks to their strength and stature can be a good choice for plus-size riders. Thanks to their unique traits, they are ideal mounts for heavy riders, as they will maintain their balance under the added weight, and won’t lose stamina or endurance. So, if you are of a heavier build, here are which breeds you need to consider. Read on as we discover the world of strong and stout horses, and the prerequisites for riding one – here’s our list of the 10 best horses for heavy riders.

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#1 Clydesdale Horse

When it comes to horses for heavy riders, you cannot overlook the powerful and popular Clydesdale Horse. Originating in Scotland, around the river Clyde, this horse breed was developed for hard work. This included farming, pulling loads, and other heavy tasks. Of course, such work requires plenty of strength and stability, and Clydesdale has it all. Today, they are known for their beautiful looks, with long manes and lovely feathers. They are calm, very smart, and eager to work. For an average heavy rider, all this comes as ideal – the horse will easily carry your weight and is sure-footed and balanced besides. Also, they are known for their unique and comfortable gait, so you are ensured a comfy ride as well. Caring for a Clydesdale, however, requires plenty of work – and plenty of food too! 


#2 Friesian Horse

One of the most famous and loved horse breeds in the world, the Friesian horse won’t fail to take your breath away with its charming appearance. Large and muscular, with striking black colors and a shiny coat, long flowing manes, and curly feathering, these animals are built to stun you with their looks. Originally, however, they are very strong working horses. As such, they won’t have the slightest issue with carrying a heavier rider on their back. Interestingly, they are amongst the lightest of draft horses but are immensely strong nonetheless. In the past, these were highly sought-after war horses. If you are looking for a horse to carry you (not into battle) with relative ease, then you should definitely consider a Friesian. They are also smart, easy-going, and eager to please their owner. 


#3 Shire Horse

The Shire horse is one of the largest, heaviest, tallest, and most powerful horse breeds in the entire world. With an average height of 173 centimeters, they will definitely tower over other, more slender breeds. Originating in Britain, these horses hold many world records for their impressive size. Of course, they were developed primarily to be able to complete difficult jobs, but also to pull carts, and carry riders. As such, they are versatile – but primarily working – animals. For a heavy rider, however, a Shire horse is a dream come true. They will carry most riders with ease, especially when you consider that the Shire horse can weigh up to 1100 kilograms on average! That is quite the weight for a horse, certainly, and it requires a lot of strength and stamina - both of which these horses have in abundance. Besides, they are generally well-tempered, balanced, and have a surefooted gait. Great for some casual and enjoyable riding!

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#4 Irish Draught Horse

Considered the national horse breed of Ireland, the Irish Draught boasts incredible stature and strength. Like other such horses, they have been developed a long time ago, primarily for heavy farm work, when farmers depended on horses for pulling the plow. Today, the Irish Draught is somewhat rarer than other such breeds but is nonetheless loved in Ireland and elsewhere. They are very tall and heavy, but perfectly muscular and elegant. To carry all that muscle, these horses boast fantastic stamina and pulling strength, and will be the ideal mount for heavy riders. Getting your hands on one, however, might be a challenge, as pure Irish Draughts can be difficult to find and with a heavy price tag. But either way, they might be the pitch-perfect mount for any heavy riders looking to enjoy the experience with absolute ease.  

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#5 Percheron Horse

Seeing the images of a full-size Percheron can quickly take your breath away. Stunning, powerful, muscular, enormous but endlessly elegant, these French-bred horses are the true image of sheer power. Developed long ago for purposes of war and farm work, these animals evolved into some of the strongest horses in existence. The Percheron boasts incredible stature – at most, they can weigh around 1,200 kilos and have a height of 193 centimeters. In the equine world, this is considered truly gigantic. These animals are considered quite easy to keep, thanks to their laidback attitude, their readiness to work, and their hardy health. Of course, all that size comes with tons of strength. While they are best at pulling things, they are equally good for riding too. Even the heaviest of riders will sit snuggly atop a Percheron, feeling tiny all the while. Interestingly, the Percheron can be a good family horse, as they are considered to be true “gentle giants” – they love being around kids, animals, and friendly people. What’s not to like? 

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#6 Cleveland Bay Horse

No, this is not an American breed – the Cleveland in its name refers to the Yorkshire district of the same name, in England. These powerful horses originated here long ago, bred as pack animals and for pulling coaches and carts. They are the oldest established breed in England. The secret to the strength and power of these horses is in their physique – the breed has slightly shorter legs in comparison to the body, and as such is well-built, stocky, and strong. The horses have good stamina and strength and can carry heavy riders with little issues. At one time, even the late Queen Elizabeth was the president of the Cleveland Bay horse society. They are so admired in England and can be rare and expensive to acquire. But even so, this old and established breed has all the prerequisites to excel as the versatile and balanced mount for the heavier rider. 


#7 Suffolk Punch Horse

We are again in England, this time in the region of Suffolk, where this distinct and incredibly large horse breed emerged far back in history. “Punch” is an old English term that denotes a stout and stocky person or animal. That is exactly what these horses are – strong, stocky, and hardy, with great power and a muscular, looming appearance. The Suffolk Punch is a true draft horse: they are chubby, powerful, muscular, and stocky, with great endurance and mild temperament. In England, they are known as “good doers”, meaning that they are easy to keep and maintain, and that they require little food. They can be great for casual riding as well, contrary to popular belief. Especially for heavier riders. Thanks to their low center of gravity, their balanced but energetic gait, and their eagerness to work and pull, these horses have everything that a good mount needs. All that remains is to get your hands on one, which might not be an easy thing. Either way, the Suffolk Punch is one of the best horses for heavy riders.

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#8 Irish Cob Horse

The Irish Cob, also known as the Gypsy Vanner, is a unique Irish breed of a draught horse, known for its unique charm and great stature. In appearance, they are most similar to Clydesdales and Shire horses, and other draught breeds. They were first bred for doing heavy work, and pulling predominantly Gypsy caravans. That’s where their name comes from. Their coat colors are usually mixed, giving them a unique, patchy appearance, and they are well known for their kind, laid-back, and friendly demeanor. When purebred, the Irish Cob can grow to a considerable height, boasting good stature, stamina, and strength. For heavier riders, they are an exceptional mount. The Irish Cob has a smooth gait, great balance, and is surefooted. That is all that a good mount needs to have. They will require some maintenance, however: they have long flowing manes, long “bangs”, and excessive feathering on their feet. It is a big part of their charm, and you definitely want to maintain it. 

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#9 Highland Pony

Originating in the rugged Highlands of Scotland, the Highland Pony is considered the largest of all the mountain and moorland horse breeds in Britain. With a pedigree reaching far back in the past, this breed is well-established in Scotland and is a direct glimpse into the rugged nature of that country. The Highland Pony is a curious mix between a pony and a draught horse. They are stocky, stout, chubby, hardy, and very strong. A very tough animal, they rarely require shoeing, they adapt to many environments and are considered quite economical to keep. Their legs are much shorter in relation to their body, and that gives them plenty of balance. Being a Highland breed, they are very surefooted on rough ground, and that can be a big advantage for heavy riders, where balance and stability are very important. However, finding a true purebred Highland Pony can require some work, as they are not as common as they once were. 

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#10 Belgian Draught Horse

One of the strongest of the heavy horse breeds, the Belgian Draught Horse originated in the Brabant region of Belgium. A true draught, this is an animal developed solely for hard work. They are very strong, immensely powerful, enduring, and charismatic. For pulling plows, and carts, and doing hard work, these horses are unparalleled. But they are also quite good for riding as well, especially if you are a heavy rider. The true giants of the equine world, they seldom find a task that they cannot complete. Their demeanor is calm and easygoing, although some stallions might be spirited. Of course, the Belgian Draught is eager to please and to work, as is firmly rooted in its genetics. And, being so squat and heavy, these horses will maintain their balance even with a very heavy rider in the saddle. That means that you can enjoy the thrill of the ride – without worries of burdening your mount or losing balance in a critical moment or in rough terrain.  

What is the Weight Limit for a Horse Rider?

One of the most popular questions amongst heavy riders is related to the abilities of a horse. How much weight can a horse carry without being strained or overburdened? There are many theories around, but one rule of thumb is always applicable. A horse can safely carry around 20% of its body weight. So, for example, if you weigh 250 lbs (113 kgs), you would need a mount that weighs 1,250 lbs (around 550 kgs). It all boils down to simple math. And once you realize that some of the mounts on our list can weigh more than 1,000 kilos (2,200 lbs), then you know that there is plenty to choose from and that every rider will find their own mount.

Still, there are some logical boundaries to respect. If you are a plus-size person, but still have that desire to ride, it might not be the safest choice to do so. For plus-size persons, balance is often tricky, and that is an important thing to have when in the saddle. Besides the chance of burdening your mount, you can also potentially fall off and injure yourself if you happen to lose balance. It is always the safest option to find the middle ground and to respect your own abilities – and those of the mount. 

In the end, most specialists agree that the uppermost weight limit for a rider is 300 lbs (137 kilos). Anything beyond that is a risk to a horse’s well-being, as they might end up seriously hurt. 

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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