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What Is The Best Horse Breed For Heavy Riders?

If you are a larger person, you may want a horse that is more of a weight bearer than someone who is tiny and petite. It is kinder on the horse to not have to carry more weight than its frame can comfortably take, and luckily there is no shortage of the best horse breeds for heavy riders! They aren’t all draft horses either, so don’t think that your only suitable mount is a Shire horse.

Highland Pony

highland pony
Source: Wikimedia.org

This pony is native to Scotland, and is the largest of the Mountain and Moorland breeds of the UK. It officially dates back to the 1880s, and it is thought that it descended from French and Spanish horses which were taken to the Scottish highlands in the 16th century. These ponies were first used as work horses in the Scottish mainland and islands, and they are extremely hardy and very strong for their size.

A Highland pony would suit a heavier rider who is not overly tall, as they stand about 14.2 hands at their biggest. They have good bone and a strong, compact body, and are also known for their kind temperament. Highlands come in a range of dun shades, often with primitive markings. They are used for riding and driving, and are sometimes crossed with Thoroughbreds to make a good eventing horse.

Westphalian

westphalian horse
Source: Wikimedia.org

The Westphalian is a warm-blooded horse from Western Germany. The first stallions to contribute to the breed were similar to the Trakehners of the time; large and big boned, and suited to cavalry riding. WW2 was disastrous for the breed, as for so many others, but it prevailed and now these horses are well known and flourishing – Westphalians have been seen on the medal tables of the Olympics!

They are big horses, standing between 15.2 and 17.2 hands, and they are strong creatures though less coarse than “cold blooded” horses. They are generally black, bay, chestnut and gray and are generally used for pleasure riding as well as dressage and show jumping. Their strength and size make them good contenders for a heavier rider.

Percheron

percheron horse
Source: Pixabay.com

This is a draft horse, but it is notably finer than some of the others, because of the introduction of Arabian blood into the breed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They were originally bred as war horses, so they have centuries of experience carrying heavy loads! They are agile and sure footed as well as being large, and they also have a notably kind and willing demeanor.

Percherons range between 15 and 17 hands high, and they all carry the same robust, muscular frame. They are generally gray or black, though the American registry allows roan, bay and chestnut colors. Although they are often used for draft work, Percherons are also used for driving, forestry, and for improving other breeds, and they are successful riding horses.

Spanish-Norman

This large, weight-bearing horse is ideal for the heavier rider. It is not only strong and sturdy but also extremely elegant – it is a cross between the Andalusian and the Percheron, and combines the best of both these breeds. Both the Andalusian and the Percheron are influenced by the Barb, along with many other breeds including the Arabian – although it is a much heavier horse than the traditional Arab.

This heavy yet attractive horse stands 15.3 to 17 hands, and has plenty of muscle and bone from the Percheron, along with the refined head and generous mane and tail of the Andalusian. The Spanish-Norman is usually gray, though bay and black do appear in the breed, and they are used for the show ring, eventing and driving, as well as for pleasure riding.

Irish Draft

Irish Draft horse
Source: Wikimedia.org

The national breed of Ireland is a large, strong horse that is believed to have been developed when native Irish ponies, namely the Hobby horse, were bred to Anglo-Norman war horses, as well as Clydesdales, Thoroughbreds and Connemara ponies.

These horses are easy to keep, strong and robust with good bone, stand between 15.2 and 16.3 hands, and come in most solid colors including bay, brown, gray, chestnut, black and dun. The Irish Draft is a great all-rounder, and is used in eventing, showing, hunting and cross-breeding with other breeds. They are fantastic horses for riding, as they have a generally docile, willing temperament.

Clydesdale

clydesdale horse
Source: Pixabay.com

Originally a small draft horse breed, the Clydesdale is now a much taller horse. It was developed from crossing Flemish stallions with native Scottish mares, which created a strong, muscular draft horse that stood considerably taller than its predecessors. All these characteristics make him one of the best horse breeds for heavy riders.

The Clydesale as we know it today stands around 16 to 18 hands, and is a heavy breed, though they have active gaits and energetic movements. Clydesdales are most often bay or black, and usually have white markings on the legs and face, with heavy feathering on the legs. Originally used for haulage and agriculture, Clydesdales are still used for driving, logging and parades, as well as for general riding purposes.

Friesian

friesian horse breed
Source: Wikimedia

Originally bred as war horses, Friesians would have had to have carried hundreds of pounds in weight, with the rider plus all his battle armour and weapons, so they are well suited to the larger rider. The Friesian is considered a light draft horse, although these days they do less draft work and more riding. The breed stands between 14.2 to 17 hands, though it averages 15.3.

They are extremely attractive horses, with a “Baroque” body structure which is heavy at the same time as being elegant and refined. They are almost always black, though some carry the chestnut gene, and there may be a white star or foot among them. Another advantage to the Friesian is their notably calm, gentle temperament, making them suitable for the larger learner.

Final Words

A few things to remember when looking for the best horse breeds for heavy riders is that it is not just the breeding you want to be looking at. You must make sure that any horse which is to be used to carry heavier riders must be fully mature (over 6 years old), and that it has good strong bones.

A medium length back is better than too long or too short – too short means less space for the saddle, too long means a weaker spine. Western saddles distribute the weight more evenly over the horses’ back than English ones, and you should consider limiting your riding time to an hour or so before giving your horse a break.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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