Last Updated on February 24, 2022 by Allison Price
Equestrians have been debating the safe weight of horses and ponies since the domestication. You might be wondering what weight your pony can carry. The average pony can carry 10-20% of their body weight. It all depends on the ponies soundness, fitness, and how much work they do.
Continue reading to learn more about this complex problem.
The 20% Rule
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Many equestrians adhere to the 20% rule. They believe that horses and ponies can safely carry 20% of their body weight.
This is partially supported by historical evidence. Old US army specifications state that American mules can transport up to 20% of their body weight (150-300 pounds) for 15 to 20 km per day in the mountains ( source).
Mules, which are a strong cross between a donkey and horse, are well-suited to carrying heavy loads. What about ponies?
Ponies are strong for their size
The weight that a pony can safely carry will depend on his breed, work load, temperament, and fitness level.
A hunter pony might, for example, be able to carry more weight than a pony that is heavy-duty in the mountains.
Many pony breeds were developed in mountainous areas, and carried heavy loads up steep trails.
Shetland ponies are among the most tiny equines on the planet, but they’re also the strongest. Shetland ponies are capable of pulling more than twice their body weight and can carry over 100 pounds. (source)
What Weight Can A Pony Carry? It’s Math!
Like people, horses and ponies can vary in size and weight. A pony with 9-14 hands can weigh 400 to 800 pounds on average.
The 20% rule states that a pony can carry an 80-160 pound person, including tack. Ponies are often ridden by small children or adults.
A pony with a very tall and bulky body that can carry a load of 200 pounds could possibly handle it, but most ponies are below this weight.
The Science of Weight
Horses and ponies first became domesticated as useful burden-carrying animals, transporting people and goods for hundreds of miles.
Studies have shown that extra weight can cause stress to a pony’s back and other joints. The more weight a pony carries, the greater the risk of injury. Source
Imagine you decided to backpacking without any preparation or training. No matter your fitness level, carrying a heavy backpack and climbing up steep trails would likely cause injury or soreness. Ponies are the same.
Always make sure your pony is healthy and well-trained for his job. Also, build him up slowly for the tasks that he will be assigned. You wouldn’t lift heavy weights at the gym if you didn’t train first.
10% Maximum Peak Performance
A horse-drawn cat cowboy grazes cows.
Thoroughbred jockeys are so small that they can be used as children to jockey for the Shetland Grand National. The pony’s ability to perform at its peak performance is dependent on the size of the rider.
One British study found that riders who are more than 15% the horse’s weight may be causing severe damage to their joints. (source)
Most equestrians don’t want to be national champions in their chosen sport. Riders should consider their weight, their mount’s size and the activities they ask them to do.
Pony welfare should be considered paramount. Pony riders should be intelligent, cautious, and careful. It’s time for a child to get a horse that can transport him once he has outgrown his beloved horse.
Strongest Pony Breeds
Technically, a pony is a horse of small stature that stands less than 14.2 hands high at its withers.
Although a heavy draft-cross pony might be able to carry more weight than an Arabian or Thoroughbred cross, some breeds are exceptionally strong for their size.
- Shetland Pony
- Quarter Pony
- Pony of the Americas
- Highland Pony
- Welsh Pony
- Connemara pony
- Draft horse / Pony crosses
Large horses and ponies can carry a person larger than small, but that depends on what kind of work they are being asked. A lot of ponies are strong enough to handle a short trail ride or a quick trip around a flat area.
A heavier mount is recommended for those who are more experienced riders or want to take part in events such as show jumping and eventing.
Many riding programs, especially tourist-based, have weight limits between 200 and 250 pounds to ensure safety for their riders.
According to theory, a pony with a stocky build and weighing over 1,000 pounds should be capable of carrying a person 200 pounds. But keep in mind that this includes tack or extra baggage.
Pony Club Weight Limits
The United States Pony Club has set weight limits for riders in their mounted games. A rider cannot weigh more than 18% the pony’s estimated weight. These ponies can carry small adults and are usually horse-sized.
Similar weight requirements apply to the Polocrosse games. These weight restrictions apply to riders who are properly dressed and ready for riding:
- Ponies riding 12.2 hands or less may not exceed 117 pounds.
- Ponies riding 12.3- 13.2 hands must not exceed 150 pounds
- Pony riders 13.3- 14.2 hands must not exceed 190 pounds
- Riders who weigh more than 190 pounds are not permitted to participate. (source)
Limits in the world
India’s rules regarding the prevention of cruelty to draft or pack animals stipulate that mules must be 200 kilograms (440 pounds) and ponies can only be 70 kg (154 pounds).
Small Icelandic horses could only weigh 100 kg (or 220 lbs) in Iceland. This guideline is for animals that carry heavy loads and are able to move them at a pace.
Modern studies show that any animal with a load greater than 30% of its body weight will be more likely to die.
What is the maximum pony can pull?
Pony-owners who are not pony-enthusiasts would rather drive their ponies. Many adult pony-enthusiasts prefer to drive their ponies instead.
Consider these pony breeds if you are interested in driving your pony ( source).
- Hackney Pony
- Shetland Pony
- Welsh Pony
- Dartmoor Pony
- New Forest Pony
- Fell Pony
- Standardbred / Saddlebred / Morgan x Pony Cross
While there are no rules about how much weight a pony can carry, it is important to remember that horses should be happy and healthy.
Many ponies are capable of handling heavier riders if they are balanced and carry their weight well in the saddle.
It’s important to remain objective and to know when to ease the burden for your pony. Many ponies riding can have amazing careers as driving ponies or children’s lessons ponies. Always consider your pony’s needs and speak with your veterinarian if in doubt.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!