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.
What You'll Learn Today
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Originally bred as war horses, Friesians would have had to have carried hundreds of pounds in weight, with the rider plus all his battle armor 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
According to the founder of the Equine Studies Institute, Deb Bennett, PhD, there is no breed or build of horse that can safely carry over 250 pounds, total, tack included. Horse enthusiasts heavier than 200 pounds are well advised to pursue driving rather than riding.
A rider who is unfit will throw the horse off balance. This added stress causes the horse to work harder and contributes to muscle fatigue and exhaustion.
Exercises that focus on lower body strength, such as walking lunges, single leg dead lifts, stair climbing and the like are important; however, building core strength and improving balance and posture are also key to good horsemanship.
Yoga is excellent as riding preparation. The exercises improve both strength and flexibility throughout your body. Focused breathing is an important skill to have when riding. Your ability to control your breathing and maintain your own sense of strength and calm is conveyed to your horse and can improve your overall riding experience.
You’ll be using your thighs, pelvic muscles, back and abdominal muscles a great deal, but riding correctly and well also involves developing a firm, but light hand. This can be done through focused isometric work on hands, arms and shoulders.
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.