When we say the phrase, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse”, typically what we’re really saying is: I could eat an enormous amount of food right now. However, we never really stop to consider just how much weight we’re talking about when we spout off that idiom.
Conventional wisdom tells us that the average weight of a light horse falls around 1,000 pounds. Yet even the newest horse owner knows that using averages can be a mistake when talking about the typical weight of a horse. A horse’s weight can be impacted by a variety of factors including its breed, diet, and function.
Plus, speaking in averages isn’t something you’d want to do anyway when it comes to your horse’s weight. We have to be as precise with our numbers as possible if we’re going to give our equine partners the best care.
Why is Understanding Your Horse’s Weight Important?
Knowing precisely how much your horse weighs is a crucial part of caring for them properly. Without exact numbers to work with, portioning your horse’s daily intake of food and water will be riddled with errors and may lead to overeating or malnutrition.
Knowing your horse’s weight is also necessary in order to determine accurate dosing levels of medication. Also, knowing your horse’s weight helps you determine what the maximum amount of weight they can pull is. Asking a horse to carry too much weight for its size can not only lead to worse soreness, but can also result in musculoskeletal issues down the road.
What Are Heavy Horses and Light Horses?
Generally, horses can be easily separated into two categories based on weight: heavy horses and light horses. Heavy horses are the big, working mares you see out in the fields. Breeds in this category include Clydesdales, Percherons, Belgians, and Shires and they tend to weigh between 1,700 and 2,000+ pounds. Light horses, however, are often used for riding, racing, driving, and herding, and are often between 900 and 1,500 pounds. Breeds in this category include Arabians and the American Saddlebred.
How Are Horses Weighed?
While some people believe they can eyeball a horse’s weight, this almost never produces an accurate result and should never be relied on for any serious purpose.
Another common method that yields slightly more accurate results involves the use of a measuring tape that is marked at certain intervals with rough estimates of weight. These measuring tapes, commonly called heart girth tapes, can be bought at any local feed store.
To use, wrap the tape around the circumference of the horse’s heart girth, found at the base of the horse’s withers. Once the tape has fully been wrapped around and meets your original starting point, read the number that is indicated. This number is supposed to serve as a rough estimate of your horse’s weight. However, remember that heart girth measurements only take a single measurement of a single portion of your horse’s body, so they’re not meant to be precise measurements.
Some horse owners also make use of nifty math formulas, some of which have been passed down over the generations and others of which are found online, due to their simplicity and semi-consistently accurate results. Typically, these calculations involve plugging in your horse’s heart girth and length from the point of their shoulder to the point of their buttock. You can find many of these calculators for yourself online just by Googling “Horse weight calculator”.
However, one thing to remember is that you’ll need to add or subtract some amount of weight with any numbers you get from these calculators, depending on if your horse is underweight or overweight.
You’ll need to get your horse weighed with a scale to get the most accurate results, preferably one from an equine veterinarian. If scheduling an appointment with a local equine veterinarian is not an option, call around to local feed mills and tack shops and see if they have any leads on local, certified livestock scales available in the area.
Things to Consider When Weighing Your Horse
When you’re evaluating your horse’s weight and general health, there are a few areas you should pay special attention to.
For starters, you should not be able to see your horse’s spine with your naked eye. Likewise, a horse’s ribs should be able to be felt, but should not be visible. A horse’s trailhead, withers, and neck bone structure being visible may also indicate a horse that is too thin.
However, one of the best ways to ensure your horse is at an ideal weight is to pay attention to their body condition score.
What is a Horse’s Body Condition Score?
A horse’s body condition score is a score assigned to them after examining critical areas of the body based on palpable fat and visual appearance.
This system, developed by Dr. Don Henneke of Texas A&M University, examines six parts of a horse – its neck, withers, shoulder, ribs, loin, and tailhead – to determine the horse’s weight condition. Horses are assigned a score from 1 – 9, with horses having a condition score of 7 or more being at the greatest risk for developing health issues down the line. The ideal body condition score is 5 or 6.
If your horse’s body condition score is a 7 or higher, begin to seriously consider changing major portions of your horse’s lifestyle in order to get their weight down.
What Factors Affect a Horse’s Weight?
Our four-hooved friends are a lot like us when it comes to their weight. Their dental health plays a huge role in how much food they eat, and how much food they eat is directly proportional to their weight. A horse that is steadily losing weight or suddenly begins to take longer to eat than normal should immediately have their mouth looked at. A horse with decaying or rotting teeth will likely not want to eat so they can avoid pain caused by cavities or oral infections.
A horse needs to eat 1.5% to 3% of their body weight per day. However, if they don’t exercise, their daily caloric intake can soon turn into overeating and lead to weight gain. If left unchecked, this slow weight gain can result in equine obesity which is a serious health concern. Equine obesity results in a variety of health issues down the line including laminitis, insulin resistance and/or diabetes, and increased stress being placed on the heart and joints.
For more information on how to keep your horse happy, healthy, and trotting along without a care in the world (even while they’re being treated for things like rain rot, thrush, or fungal infections), visit our horse page!