Horses are big. That isn’t exactly an outrageous statement, but it is very much true. There are animals that are bigger than them and certainly ones that are heavier, yet that doesn’t mean that a horse should be ignored in terms of talking about how much they weigh. As you might imagine, there are different weights for a horse depending on numerous different factors. The likes of whether they are a male or female horse will make a difference, as will whether they take part in flat or jump racing, which might be surprising to some.
When you realise that horses weigh anywhere from 900 pounds to 2,000 pounds, you can see that there is a big difference on the spectrum. It is also important to note that a horse’s age will have an influence on how much they weigh, on account of the fact that muscle weighs more than fat and the older a horse is the more muscle it will have built up during its life. It is also important to acknowledge that a horse will weigh a different amount depending on its breed, though this will not be a shock to most people that know horses.
Things That Affect A Horse’s Weight
Let us start by having a look at the things that tend to have an effect on a horse’s weight. The first factor worth considering is their breed. When most people consider a horse, they will doubtless be thinking about a thoroughbred. These are the horses that run in some of the most prestigious races in the world, from the Epsom Derby through to the Dubai World Cup, via the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the Kentucky Derby. Whilst that is a useful starting point, it is not the only type of horse that exists and takes part in races.
The likes of quarter horses, Arabians and Standardbreds will all take part in races, depending on where in the world you view your racing. Thoroughbreds are unquestionable the most popular, though, having been bred for their refined heads, broad chests and generally slim build. They are surprisingly light, in comparative terms at least, with several other factors changing how much they weigh. Sex is another key factor, with male horses weighing much more than their female counterparts. This is why you will often read about fillies and mares being given a certain amount of weight in allowance for some races.
As with humans, there is also a weight disparity when it comes to the age of a horse. A 1,000 pound mare will be expected to give birth to a foal that weighs about 100 pounds, helping you to understand how much the weight is going to increase year on year. As they train and develop, the horses will put on more weight as they grow and their muscles change to help them deal with the rigours of their life. What is asked of the horse will make a difference when it comes to how much they weigh and what they are able to handle.
The other thing that is worth pointing out at this stage is the difference between jump racing horses and those that are bred to run on the flat. In short, flat racing prioritises speed over all other factors, meaning that the horses tend to be younger and more sleek and streamlined than their jump racing siblings. Jump racing tends to be more about stamina and being able to take on the challenge of getting over obstacles, so horses that take part in that discipline will have more muscle and therefore weigh much more in general.
A Horse At Birth
One of the most random facts about horses is that foals tend to weigh about 10% of their mother at birth. That isn’t all that unbelievable in and of itself, but it does become a touch more surprising when you realise that it is true irrespective of their breed. If a mare weighs 2,000 pounds then their foal will, if it’s healthy, come in at about 200 pounds. If you’re looking at a small horse or pony, meanwhile, then they’ll probably be about 900 pounds and their foal will weigh around 90 pounds. From birth, they will often grow quite quickly.
Most horses will have reached about 90% of their adult height by the time that they are two years old. Interestingly, it then takes about the same amount of time for them to complete the remaining 10% of their height, meaning that they don’t tend to reach full size until they are four. This can be influenced by the feeding program that their owner or trainer introduces them to. Feeding too slowly will stunt growth, but feeding them too much or too quickly will mean that they are liable to fall foul of any number of problems and diseases.
What Matters More: A Jockey’s Weight Or A Horse’s?
You will no doubt know that jockeys that ride the horses in races are also weighed both before and after the race. This is because the amount of weight that a horse is asked to carry can be crucial to the outcome of an event. In handicap races, the handicapper looks to add a certain amount of weight to each horse in order to make the race as fair as possible. The handicapper’s dream is that they get the weights right to the point that all horses cross the finish line at exactly the same time, though this has obviously never happened.
The weight that a horse carries is one factor that will lead to victory or defeat, but it isn’t the only one. Even so, how much the jockey weighs can make a difference to a horse’s chance of success. If a jockey doesn’t weigh enough then the horse will be asked to carry more weight to make up the difference, whilst if they weigh too much, then it could put an unfair burden on the horse and result in it running much slower than is expected. Of course, the horse still needs to be of a healthy weight or else the jockey’s weight will be immaterial.
Weighing A Horse
There are actually several ways to weigh a horse, some of which are more accurate than others. For an average horse, you can use a weight tape to get a sense of how much they weigh. Weight tapes look a little like the sort of thing that you might see a tailor run up your inside leg when you’re getting a suit made or having your head measured for a hat, but on horses that tape is wrapped around the barrel. This is their girth area and, presuming that the horse is healthy, will give you at least a sense of how much they weigh.
Of course, using something like tape isn’t the most accurate thing, especially if the horse is still growing or is larger or smaller than they should be for their age, gender and breed. As a result, a livestock scale will usually be used to give the most accurate weight possible. This is much less arbitrary and far more accurate. If you’ve had a dog or a cat weighed when at the vet’s then you will know what sort of thing we’re talking about, though of course they’re on a much larger scale when you’re using them to measure the weight of a horse.
If you are particularly desperate to figure out the weight of your horse then you can turn to an online calculator. These will use a formula in order to offer you an estimation of your horse’s weight, but should be relied upon if you need to be more exact. It will be better than the method known as eyeballing, however. This is where you simply look at your horse and use your knowledge of other, similarly sized horses to guesstimate their weight. When you consider that even the most experienced veterinarians can be about by ask much as 200 pounds, you can see why this method isn’t all that useful.
Why A Horse’s Weight Matters
It might seem obvious, but there are numerous different reasons why a horse’s weight matters. The key reasons are actually only relevant to their owners, trainers or the people responsible for their health and safety at the yard. Knowing a horse’s weight is key to understanding how much they should eat, for example, as well as how much medication they can receive. On top of that, a horse will tend to lose weight during the winter, so having the knowledge of how much they normally weigh will stop you from panicking.
From a punter’s point of view, knowing a horse’s weight will give you information about how much weight they can be expected to carry safely. Typically speaking, a healthy horse can, on average, carry between 15 and 20% of its body weight. This is helpful when you’re looking at betting on a handicap race, for example, because you know that if a horse weighs 2,000 pounds, for example, and is carrying 100 pounds, that’s just 5% of its body weight and means that it should be able to cope with it relatively easily.