Beasts of Burden

Any horse owner who tours the medieval gallery at a museum must stop at the displays of suits of armor and marvel. Imagine the sheer weight of such an outfit–then imagine trying to maneuver oneself into the saddle wearing it! Visions of metal-sheathed knights being lowered by crude cranes and slings onto their groaning draft horses might in fact be hyperbole since historians say knights

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Any horse owner who tours the medieval gallery at a museum must stop at the displays of suits of armor and marvel. Imagine the sheer weight of such an outfit–then imagine trying to maneuver oneself into the saddle wearing it! Visions of metal-sheathed knights being lowered by crude cranes and slings onto their groaning draft horses might in fact be hyperbole since historians say knights usually managed to mount without extreme methods of assistance, but the burden borne by a noble warhorse of the 14th Century must still have been staggering. And it begs the question: How much weight can a horse carry?

How Much Weight?

The optimum weight a horse can safely carry will vary according to his size, conformation, condition, age, and the duration of the work to be done, as well as the footing and the speed at which work is done.

Those who study equine anatomy and physiology agree that if you really want an animal that's built to be ridden, you'd be better off seeking a camel than a horse. Even a cow would be a more logical choice, from the point of view of its vertebral construction–it has interlocking lumbar spinal articulations which, in theory, make it capable of bearing considerable loads (although its suitability as a riding animal can be questioned in a number of other ways!). The equine spine lacks these strength-lending links, and with its suspension-bridge construction, the horse's back is actually rather poorly designed for weight-bearing

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Karen Briggs is the author of six books, including the recently updated Understanding Equine Nutrition as well as Understanding The Pony, both published by Eclipse Press. She’s written a few thousand articles on subjects ranging from guttural pouch infections to how to compost your manure. She is also a Canadian certified riding coach, an equine nutritionist, and works in media relations for the harness racing industry. She lives with her band of off-the-track Thoroughbreds on a farm near Guelph, Ontario, and dabbles in eventing.

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