What Size Horse Do I Need: Beginner’s Guide

When it comes to purchasing a horse, one of the first questions you’ll probably ask yourself is what size horse do I need? Having an idea of what size horse fits you best will help you to limit your search to specific heights and breeds. I’ve written this article to help you gauge what size horse will fit you best.

How do you determine what size horse you’ll need? There are a few factors to keep in mind when looking at horses:

  • Your Weight
  • Your Height
  • Are You Done Growing?
  • Your Current Skill Level
  • Future Riding Goals


The best thing to do when you’re looking for what size horse fits you best is to simply ride a bunch of different horses! I’ve ridden a lot of horses in my day and I’ve decided that I probably won’t ever buy a horse that’s over 14.2 HH again. For my size and strength, ponies are a great ride, and I much prefer them over horses. (they’re closer to the ground too for mounting up and falling off haha.)

Riding horses that have a variety of sizes and builds will help you to determine what horse fits you best. Getting to ride a bunch of different horses is the fun thing about purchasing one!

What Size Horse You Need According to Your Weight?

How Does Your Weight Affect the Horse?

Horses can comfortably carry a certain percentage of their body weight; for most horses, it’s 20%. If you’re too heavy for a horse, you can cause discomfort to the horse, soreness and strain in its muscles, and joint issues.

If you’re too heavy for a horse, the horse will become fatigues much easier. This not only puts the horse in danger but the rider as well. The horse could stumble and fall or lay down.

It’s quite easy to see when a horse is carrying too much weight. The horse will drag its feet and walk slower than usual. Its neck and back will be braced against the rider’s weight, which makes the horse appear uncomfortable.

How to Determine How Much a Horse Can Carry:

To determine how much your horse can carry, you’re going to have to know your horse’s weight. Using a scale to determine your horse’s weight is the most accurate way of measuring how much your horse weighs. Unfortunately, finding a scale large enough to measure your horse can be hard, and they’re usually only found at large animal veterinarian offices.

While not as accurate as a measuring scale there are other ways to calculate your horse’s weight. Another way to determine your horse’s measurement is by using a weight tape; this tape wraps around your horse’s girth area and around their back. You can also use length measurements to figure your horse’s weight. Here is the equation:

(Heart Girth X Heart Girth X Body Length) / 330

The heart girth is basically the circumference of your horse where the girth would go around the barrel. The body length measures from the horse’s chest to just below to a few inches below the dock of the tail.

Once you have your horse’s measurements, you’ll figure 20% of your horse’s weight. That means a 1000 lbs (453.5 kg) horse can comfortably carry 200 lbs (90.7 kg).

What Breeds Can Carry the Most Weight?

Naturally, the larger the horse, the more weight they can carry. Draft horses can carry much more weight than your average horse. A draft’s bone structure makes them ideal for pulling or carrying heavier things.

While draft horses can carry more since their sheer size, there are other horse breeds that are built to carry a higher percentage of their body weight. Horses like Icelandic Horses, Morgans, Mongolian Horses, Mustangs, and even some quarter horses can easily carry over 20% of their body weight.

That being said, if you’re looking to buy a horse, always look for ones where you fall into the 20% range of their weight scale. This will make it easier for you and the horse.

To read more about what horse breed can carry the most weight, click here!

What Size Horse You Need According to Your Height?

How Does Your Height Affect Your Horse?

You’ve probably heard the term “outgrown a horse” a lot referring to a rider’s height. Horse people are paranoid that they’ll look too big on a horse or pony. Looking smaller on a horse is usually a desired trait that most riders want.

If you’re too tall for a horse, you’ll feel unbalanced on them, almost as if you’re top-heavy. Not only can a tall rider feel unbalanced on a horse too small for them, but they can risk throwing the horse off balance as well.

If you have to adjust your stirrups to be about at the horse’s knees, you’re probably too tall for the horse. If you’re sitting on the horse and don’t have to reach to touch the base of the tail or just behind the horse’s ears, you’re probably too tall.

How to Determine If You’re Too Tall for a Horse:

In order to determine if you’re too tall for a horse, you’re just going to have to try out a bunch of different horses and take pictures. Each horse is different, and even shorter horses can have a body structure that caters to your height more than a tall horse does.

Horses that are muscular and round can “take up a rider’s leg” as we call it, which means their width makes up for their height, and the rider appears smaller. A horse that is built with a more slender frame can make the rider look taller than they really are, even if the horse is tall.

I have a POA pony that’s stout and 13.1 HH. I at one time had a slender quarab who was about 15 HH. I looked like I fit the POA pony better than I fit the quarab! I at one point also had a very stocky 14 HH quarter pony. Her stoutness made my 6 ft tall husband look like he fit her fine.

Remember, just because the horse is taller doesn’t mean that you’re going to fit it any better in height. Don’t rule out smaller, stockier horses until you’ve tried out a few!

Are You Done Growing?

How Much More Growing Do You Have to Do?

I hate hearing the term “that rider outgrew their horse.” I’ve known riders who bought a horse right before they hit a growth spurt and they had to sell the horse the next year because they had grown too big for the horse.

Before you purchase a horse, consider your age and if you’ll be done growing any time soon. I always recommend to young riders to wait until they’ve about reached the height they’re going to be before purchasing a horse. Knowing what your full height is will help you to get a horse that fits you the best.

If you’re adamant about getting a horse before you know if you’re done growing or not, always aim to get a horse that could fit you even if you grew a few more inches. Many young riders get ponies when they’re small but then quickly outgrow them. Because of this, I recommend looking at horses rather than ponies.

What is the Size of Some of the Horses You Ride Now?

To help you gauge what size horse you need, look at some of the horses you ride now if you’re in a lesson program. What size horse fits you best? Is there any horse you ride that could take on a little more height if you continue to grow? If so, maybe you need to look for a horse with the same size and build as that one.

If you have a riding instructor, ask them about what size horse they recommend for you. Your instructor can help gauge what size horse you need depending on your skill level, height, weight, and growing room. They may also have a horse in mind for you to purchase!

What Size Horse Would Best Fit Your Current Skill Level?

Before you go and purchase a horse, you need to ask yourself and your instructor, what size horse would best fit my current skill level? Believe it or not, but the size of the horse can really test your knowledge when it comes to riding. Bigger horses are going to take much more control and strength compared to a pony or a smaller horse.

There are only a few exceptions to when a beginner should ride a large horse. Big horses can take advantage of smaller inexperienced riders. Before you settle on getting a magnificently tall horse, consider these things:

How Long Have You Been Riding?

How long have you been around horses? Are the only horses you’ve ever been around or ridden the well-behaved lesson horses? How much do you know when it comes to caring and riding a horse? Do you know what to do if your horse has a hoof abscess? Do you know how to handle a horse if they bolt and take off?

Not only are these great questions to ask yourself about the size horse you need, but these are also great questions to ask yourself in general when it comes to purchasing a horse. Do you have the knowledge to handle a bigger horse? The longer you’ve been around horses, the more knowledge you gain when it comes to handling all different sizes of horses.

Remember, even leading a taller horse is different than leading a shorter horse. Taller horses can raise their heads above yours, which makes it much easier for them to ignore your space and evade your commands. Taller horses are stronger; they can easily be pushy and feel like they’re dragging you when you lead them.

Consider these things; talk to your instructor. If you want a taller horse, your instructor may have a specific horse you can work with to help you get accustomed to working with a horse of a bigger size.

How Confident Are You in the Saddle?

When you’re riding, do you often feel out of control and like you’re bouncing everywhere? Are you a confident rider who loves a challenging horse or would you rather have a trustworthy and safe horse? Wanting a good trustworthy horse is nothing to be ashamed of; I’m more that way myself.

A rider’s confidence in the saddle can sometimes depend on the size of the horse. I am much more intimidated to start or train a big horse while when it comes to ponies, I’ll hop on anything.

If you’re like this as well, always pick a horse that’s the size you are comfortable working with. This is especially important if you’re planning on starting the horse or training a green horse.

If large horses intimidate you, just know that they can be much more intimidating when it comes to putting a saddle on for the first time or sitting on their back for the first time. However, it can also be very rewarding!

How Strong Are You?

The larger the horse, the more strength you may need to control it. Consider your size and your strength when it comes to choosing what size horse you want.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many nice big horses that have been trained really well and respond great to all different sizes of riders. However, there’s also the complete opposite out there. If a big horse hasn’t been properly taught to respect people and their cues, you could have a lot of problems on your hands.

A great way to gauge your strength is by riding a variety of different sized horses to see where you are. Lesson horses are a great place to start, especially since they usually come with a riding instructor.

What Size Horse Will Advance Your Future Riding Goals?

What Are Your Future Riding Goals?

What are your future riding goals? Do you want to compete in the Grand Prix or upper-level eventing? Do you want to do a specific discipline or activity? All these are questions to ask yourself when considering the size horse you should get.

To rise up through the ranks of upper-level hunter shows, having a bigger horse is required as you graduate from the pony classes and into the adult or junior classes. If you want to do the Grand Prix or eventing, it’ll be much easier on a larger horse to clear those big jumps compared to a pony (but I’ve seen ponies do it!)

Maybe your future riding goal is to graduate to a bigger horse. If that’s the case, there’s nothing better than lessons and good instruction.

What Types of Horses Are Used for What You Want to Do?

What types of horses are used in the discipline you want to excel in? In most jumping rings and eventing circuits, you’ll see thoroughbreds, warmbloods, Hanoverians, Selle Français, and types of sport horses. In endurance, there’ll be Arabians, mustangs, and Akhal-Tekes. Western events will be mainly quarter horses.

If you want to excel in a specific discipline, you can start by investing in a horse made for the events and activities you need to be able to do. If you plan on doing lower-level competitions, most any horse or breed can do well, but when it comes to the big leagues, find a horse that was made to compete in the discipline.

Does Ability Depend on Size When it Comes to Your Future Riding Goals?

Does the ability depend on the size of the horse when it comes to your future riding goals? For example, yes, you’ll probably need a bigger horse in order to jump higher; however, small ponies can even do upper-level dressage. Determine whether the size of your horse means more success in your discipline.

I’ll stick with ponies as long as I can. I had a pony that could compete in 4 ft jumpers, and I have a pony now that could probably win a novice dressage test and do well in an endurance race. If you want a smaller horse or pony but don’t want to compromise your future goals, just know that ponies can do a lot!

If you can train a pony to be successful in a discipline, chances are you can teach a horse to be successful in a discipline as well. Go all-out training your pony, and when you’re ready, think about moving to a horse.

When it comes down to it, the size of the horse is important when you’re interested in purchasing an equine. Can the horse help you achieve your riding goals but not be too strong and intimidating for you? Can you grow in size and in skill with your new horse?

Choosing the right horse can be daunting; purchasing a horse is a big investment that must not be taken lightly. To help make the process a little easier, I wrote this article, Choosing the Right Horse: 10 Expert Tips.


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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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