How Much Can Horses Pull? 9 Examples With Real-life Numbers

We’ve just written a bunch of articles about horses and we had a hard time finding good information on exactly how much weight a horse can pull.

How Much Weight Can A Horse Pull?
A healthy horse will typically be able to pull 10-15 times its own weight for a very short distance, depending on the breed and age of the horse. During a normal workday of 8 hours, a horse can pull around 1,5 times its own bodyweight with a cart.

Many factors come into play and we have some amazing numbers to look at.

Let’s get started!

How Much Can A Horse Pull?

Horse pulling a cart at max capacity

Again, this is something that really depends a lot on the specific breed as well as the mood of the horse itself.

Let’s first set some ground rules for what we are talking about here. There are some factors we need to get straight. These factors are important to consider:

We need to distinguish between “dead weight” and a cart with wheels.

Pulling dead weight

Let’s first talk about pulling dead weight.

The horse will typically be able to pull around 10% of its own body weight for a full working day of eight hours. For the horse to be able to work in these conditions it needs breaks once in a while and lots of water and hay.

Horses will typically be maxed out when they have to move around 10-15 times their own body weight. Some horses have been noted to pull much more than this but this is on average for a strong and healthy working horse.

In the U.S. you find many competitions around the country where people gather up to see whose horses can pull the heaviest load.

Check out this video below where to draft horses are pulling more than 12,000 pounds.

It’s a really amazing effort and the horses are clearly close to being maxed out at this challenge.

You can tell from the posture of the animals how they are being pushed to their limits. They are leaning forward and they are using all the strength of the four legs combined in order to accelerate the very heavy load.

It’s important to point out that this is the weight of a “dead load”. This is very different from pulling a cart with wheels.

As soon as you add wheels into the equation the horses can pull it a lot more because of less friction with the surface below.

It’s just more fun to do it this way with a competition of this sort because you don’t need a super heavy load. This is also more similar to how farm animals would sometimes pull a plow in the field.

Pulling carts and wagons

In general, a fully grown and healthy horse will typically be able to pull up to 1.5 times its own body weight. This is when we are talking about a cart over longer distances.

That being said, you might find specific breeds that can pull up to twice their own body weight for a longer period of time. While other breeds will pull a lot less.

When we are talking about a cart with wheels they can often pull up to six times their own weight. This is not something you want the animal to do over a long stretch.

If you’re going for a longer trip it’s better to stick to 1.5-2 times its own body weight even though the cart has wheels.

It also depends a lot on the type of work and the distance and time. If the horse is really motivated it will be able to work with great force for a long time. But if it lacks motivation it might not be as willing to work with you.

You need to make sure you bring food and water to keep the animal at maximum capacity.

Which Horse Breeds Can Pull The Most?

As we mentioned above, some horse breeds can pull a lot more than others.

All horse breeds are able to pull a cart and a heavy load. But some breeds are bred specifically to pull the heavier loads.

Horses have always been used in almost all cultures around the world for pulling stuff. This also means that people have bred them specifically to be strong and sturdy. Some with more success than others.

Here are some of the strongest breeds around when it comes to pulling stuff:

  1. The Belgian Horse
  2. Friesian Horses
  3. Shire Horses
  4. Clydesdale
  5. Suffolk Punch

One of the most common horse breeds are the Quarter horses. They are also amazing workhorses though they are typically used for riding these days.

According to “The Book Of Drafts Horses: The Gentle Giants That Built the World”, a pair of Shire horses pulled around 50 tons (100K pounds) of logs:

Shire breed horses pulling a heavy load of logs

How Fast Can A Horse Pull A Cart?

This depends on four different factors:

  1. The weight of the cart
  2. The surface
  3. The age and condition of the horse
  4. The length of the trip

Let’s talk about the top speed of a typical horse pulling a cart. Let’s assume it’s a lightweight cart that’s only loaded up to around the same weight of the horse itself.

And let’s also assume we are driving on a gravel surface.

In that case, the horse will probably be able to run as fast as 20 mph (32 km/h). But this is not something that horse can hold up for too long. If you are looking for a long stretch of around an hour or so a realistic top speed would be closer to 15 mph (24 km/h).

The horse will typically work best at a pace around 3 to 4 mph (5-6.5 km/h). It depends a lot on the horse breed and the load of the cart.

When the cart is loaded heavily you need to make sure you don’t push the animals to go too fast. Remember the maximum capacity is around 2 times the body weight of the horse and only over very short distances.

How Long Can A Horse Pull A Cart?

You should expect a fully grown and healthy horse to be able to work eight hours per day pulling 1.5 times its own body weight without problems.

The typical workday for workhorses is around 8 hours. You don’t want to stretch the animal too much because it will not respond well to working long hours.

Just like you and me, they need to rest after a long day of work. You also need to make sure you give it a break once in a while in order to drink some water and eat some hay.

So if we assume the pace is 3.5 mph (5,6 km/h) on average during a full workday this adds up to around 20-30 miles (32-48 kilometers) in total. This is for a good cart on an even surface.

But you need to make sure the horse gets a lot of rest if you push it to its limits. When the horse is pulling a cart more than 40 miles per day you need to give it several days of rest.

This is to make sure the legs and the heart of the animal stay healthy and also to make sure it doesn’t suffer from overwork.

How Much Weight Can A Donkey Pull?

Donkey and horse differences

A healthy donkey can typically pull twice its own body weight on an even road. That equivalent to 200-400 pounds (91-181 kilograms) depending on the size and breed of the donkey.

Donkeys are excellent at pulling stuff. They are stronger than horses when you take their size into consideration.

All through history, donkeys have been used to carry heavy loads at a slow pace. They are not fast but they are very strong.

This is the greatest advantage of the donkey over a horse, its ability to pull a very heavy load while being a rather small animal.

How Much Weight Can A Mule Pull?

An average mule can pull a wagon equal to their own body weight for 10 hours per day. This will typically be a distance of 25 miles (40) per day.

A mule is a crossover between a horse and a donkey (more here). A mule can typically pull more than a horse when we factor in that they are smaller animals than horses.

Remember, that in order for the mule to do this you need to give it a break once in a while. Not only for an hour during the day but after a few days of working at this pace it needs a solid day of rest before it can continue.

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