Horses have been a powerful animal for thousands of years, used to pull various heavy loads such as carriages, covered wagons, trees, military supplies, and farming equipment. They have helped shape the world as we know it and can pull up to 15 times their body weight. Horses can pull 10% of their body weight in “dead weight” such as a log or plow, but when added to wheels, they can pull two to three times their body weight. Some strong horse draft breeds can pull an impressive 10-15 times their body weight over short distances. The world record for the heaviest weight pulled by a single horse was a Shire horse that pulled 58,000 pounds.
Draft horses, such as the Belgian, Percheron, and Shire, are considered the strongest breeds. These breeds have a stocky build with well-muscled bodies and legs, often having broad shoulders, large hindquarters, and short backs, making them capable of pulling very heavy loads. The three strongest horse breeds are the Belgian, Percheron, and Shire.
Belgian draft horses are known for their stunning chestnut and roan coats, descended from medieval war horses. They can range anywhere between 16-18 hands and weigh between 1,800-2,400 pounds. The Percheron breed is known for their beauty and incredible power, with a well-muscled body and graceful carriage. They typically range in height from 16-19 hands and weigh between 1,700-2,600 pounds.
Shire horses, originally from England, are big and strong, while also being athletic and beautiful. They can vary in height anywhere from 16-20 hands and weigh between 1,800-2,400 pounds. They are known for their arched necks, powerful hindquarters, sturdy builds, and well-muscled body. An average horse has 14.9 horsepower.
Factors affecting how much a horse can pull include regular exercise, body type, type of load being pulled, terrain, and shoeing. A large horse with broad shoulders and strong legs is bred for pulling heavy loads, while a small horse with a refined build may not have the same strength as a much larger, stockier horse.
The type of load being pulled plays a large factor in how much weight a horse can pull. Loads can be classified as dead-weight or wheeled vehicles. A horse can pull 10% of its body weight over an eight-hour workday with a dead weight, but over a short span of time, horses can pull significantly more dead weight.
Pulling competitions have become a popular event to test horses’ strength, with pairs often pulling dead weights upwards of 12,000 pounds. When it comes to weight on wheels, such as carriages, wagons, and carts, horses are able to haul more weight over time. A horse can generally pull up to 2-3 times its weight when out for a pleasure drive.
Terrain also plays a significant role in how much weight a horse can pull. Over a smooth surface, such as a road, arena, or flat pasture, a horse can pull up to three times its weight with a wheeled vehicle. On uneven terrains, such as hills or rocky surfaces, a horse can safely pull 1-2 times its weight.
Shoeing is another important factor for horses, as shoes with slip protection and studs help them with traction while hauling large loads. While draft breeds make great carriage driving horses, many other breeds excel at carriage driving.
When it comes to pulling a large amount of weight, it is better done together than apart individually. Pairing horses actually improves their load capability.