H is for Hands High

How tall is your horse or pony? Is he 12.2 hands high or is he 16 hands high? A hand is what we use to measure the height of a horse or pony. It is a unit of length and was originally based on the breadth of a human hand which is today equal to an average of four inches.

When measuring the height of your horse or pony you measure from the ground to the top of the highest non-variable point of the skeleton which is the withers. To measure a horse or pony it is best to ensure they are stood squarely on solid ground as this will give the most accurate height measurement. There are tape measures marked out in hands but it is difficult to ensure an accurate reading so most people tend to use a measuring stick. A measuring stick is designed for measuring a horse's height is the best way to measure a horse. A measuring stick consists of an upright wooden ruler marked out in hands and/or centimetres with a sliding wooden arm containing a spirit level at right angles. The stick is then stood upright alongside the horse and the horizontal arm lowered until it sits on the withers and adjusted until the spirit level in the arm indicates the arm is level. At this point the height measurement is taken from the ruler to give the height of the horse or pony.

As a rule a pony measures less than 14.2hh (hands high) 58 inches, 147 cm, from the ground to the top of the withers. A horse measures anything from 14.2hh upwards. Most competing horses range from 14hh to 16hh; draft horses can measure up to 18hh and can weigh from 700 – 1,000kg.

The largest horse in recorded history was a Shire horse named Mammoth, who was born in 1848. He stood 21.2½ hands high and his peak weight was estimated at 1,500kg. The Shire horse is a breed of draught horse and has an enormous capacity for weight pulling. Shire horses have been used throughout history for pulling barges and wagons delivering goods to customers. The breed is still used today for forestry, leisure and promotional pursuits.

9.2hh and under is a Miniature horse, these are the smallest horses and depending on the particular breed they usually measure less than 34–38 inches (86–97 cm). Miniature horses are friendly and interact well with people and for this reason they are often kept as family pets.

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