Testing a Real Bronco: How Much Horsepower Does a Horse Have?

The Ford Bronco is one of the most highly anticipated models in years. And so far, the hype seems justified. It beats several rivals in comparison tests, including the Toyota 4Runner. A mean Ford Bronco Raptor is also scheduled for release sometime next year.

The Ford Bronco gets a unique emblem of a bucking bronco kicking up dust, true to the SUV’s can’t-be-tamed nature. Engineers and automakers took inspiration from horses to coin another popular term: horsepower. It leads us to wonder: How much horsepower does a real horse make?

What is horsepower?

Real horsepower: 'Pony-Chaise,' open carriage pulled by two ponies, 1852, engraving by Henri d'Ainecy Montpezat from Chevaux et voitures, France, 19th century
‘Pony-Chaise’ (1852), engraving by Henri d’Ainecy Montpezat | DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI via Getty Images

In the 18th century, a term was needed to gauge the power of steam engines. James Watt was the engineer responsible for creating the word “horsepower,” according to Energy Education. To determine this unit of power, divide the use of that energy by the time it takes to be used.

Horsepower refers to the engine’s continual output, not necessarily its acceleration. It’s easy to get caught up in a car’s specs and forget that horsepower isn’t everything.

If you’re interested in how fast that power is delivered, you need to refer to the model’s torque number. Torque is delivered instantly, so cars with more torque will likely (though not always) be faster than models with tons of horsepower.

How much power can the average horse make?

Contrary to popular belief, horsepower isn’t the readily available strength of a single horse. Watt based the term on how much work a draught horse could do in one day. According to Science Focus, he determined that a horse could turn a 24-foot mill 2.5 times per minute.

That means one horsepower is equal to 33,000 foot-pounds a minute, almost 746 watts. Recent studies have tried to apply this formula based on how much muscle a horse can have. Based on that logic, it was determined a horse could make up to 24 hp.

However, most still regard the real-world experiments made in the 1920s as the most reliable benchmark. These found that a single draught horse is capable of almost 15 hp. Racehorses can also achieve a maximum of 15 hp because of their selective breeding.

Of course, a horse’s breed and physical health also factor into the horsepower calculation. Zoological World says some horses are slower than others, such as Clydesdales. These horses typically aren’t pushed to their limits and, thus, make only around 5 hp. 

A horse’s horsepower vs. the Ford Bronco’s horsepower

It’s no spoiler that the Ford Bronco’s engines are more powerful than even the strongest horse. According to Car and Driver, the Bronco’s base engine makes 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. The more powerful 2.7-liter engine harnesses 330 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque.

If you don’t use premium fuel, those numbers are slightly lower. Science Focus also reminds us that cars can lose horsepower as they age, similar to actual horses. The engine’s components wear, and combustion byproducts can form on the valves, drastically reducing engine pressure.

That aside, it’s unlikely the Ford Bronco’s output would drop to a mere 15 hp. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate a horse’s output. After all, even the most highly skilled athlete can produce only around 2.5 hp.

Ford Authority research concludes that the Bronco almost wasn’t named for a bucking bronco. Developers also considered “Caballero,” “Trail Blazer,” “Sprint,” and even “Wrangler.” In its early phases, the iconic SUV was called “Project Shorthorn,” after a cattle breed.

Nothing against cows, but we’re happy that Ford decided to go with “Bronco.” 

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