How tall is your horse? What is the average horse height anyways? Do they tower over you, or stand just as tall as you? What does this mean, in horse-terms? That is exactly what I will be discussing in this article. In this article, I will be discussing average horse heights, what this means, and how to talk about horse heights.
Horse measurements are different from any other measurements we may be accustomed to using. To understand average horse heights, and how they can affect our horses and horsemanship, it is important to understand all things in regards to horse measurement.
How are Horses Measured? What is the Average Horse Height?
Horses are not measured in inches and feet the same way that people are. Instead, they are measured in a unit called the “hand.” The idea behind measuring in hands is that a person should be able to stack their hands upwards to determine a horse’s height.
A “hand” is a measurement of 4 inches. Because of this, any decimal that comes after a whole number in measuring hands cannot exceed 0.3 Anything bigger than 0.3 would simply become another hand, or another whole number.
Horses also are not measured from head to toe like people are. Instead, they are measured from the top of their withers to the bottom of their hooves. This is because horses will hold their necks and heads differently during different activities. Also, some horses have longer or shorter necks than others, and this does not change how “tall” they are.
Though horses aren’t measured in inches, centimeters, meters, or any other standard unit of measurement, their height in hands is fairly simple to calculate using basic math. If you’re not mathematically inclined (such as myself), you can use the following conversion tool to convert your horse’s height from inches to hands: http://www.onlineconversion.com/horse_height.htm
Different Horse Types: Characteristics and Heights
Different horse types are divided into different “height” categories. These broadly include miniature horses, ponies, and horses. In some books and informative resources, draft horses are given their own category too, but I have not given them their own category, because they are frequently as tall as regular light riding horses, only heavier.
Miniature horses are truly horses with dwarfism. Horse breeders have been able to separate this gene and use it to create the desirable miniature horse, frequently used as a pet and for cart driving.
As the name suggests, miniature horses are the shortest category of horses. Any horse shorter than 38” qualifies as a miniature horse. Any taller than that, the horse would be considered a pony.
38” translates into 9.2 hands. So, any horse shorter equal to or shorter than 9.2 hands is qualified as a miniature horse. Any horse taller than 9.2 hands would be qualified as a pony.
Ponies are the next step up in horse height from miniature horses. They measure from 9.2 hands to 14.2 hands, so a range of 5 whole hands, which is 20 inches. Ponies are also sub-categorized into “small,” “medium,” and “large” ponies.
Not all breeds of ponies get as short as 9.2 hands, and not all breeds of ponies get as tall as 14.2 hands. It simply depends on the pony and its breeding.
Horses are any type of horse that stands over 14.2 hands. Similar to the height gap in ponies, this can range almost a full 5 hands, going up to 19.2 hands, or 20 inches. Not many horses have been stuck (horse slang for measured) at any taller than 19.2
Of course, this also depends on the specific horse and its breeding. Horse breeds like the Quarter Horse tend to be shorter, about 15 hands. This is due to their breeding and the purposes they are intended to serve. It is easier for them to be shorter and lower to the ground for them to do their jobs.
In contrast, for horses like the Thoroughbred, it is better for them to stand taller. Thoroughbreds often stand 16 hands at a minimum. It is better for Thoroughbreds to stand taller for racing and for other English disciplines they are involved in.
Draft horses typically fall in the higher end of this range, from 17-19 hands. Sometimes they can stand shorter than that. The biggest difference between draft horses and their light counterparts isn’t so much their height as it is their mass.
Draft horses are big-boned and wide, perfect for farm work and pulling. But, they typically aren’t significantly taller than tall-riding horses.
Average Horse Height
If you wanted to pin down an average horse height, it would depend on how you wanted to measure it. Do you want to measure it in terms of all horse types in existence (miniatures, ponies, and horses)? Or, do you want to measure it in terms of just the horse type? I am going to give examples of both.
All Horse Groups
Say you want to derive an average height from all horse groups in existence. Let’s say that the smallest height of a full-grown miniature horse is 8 hands. Obviously, this excludes outliers that may be shorter.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, let’s say that the tallest horse height is 19.2 hands, again excluding the few outliers that may have been stuck taller. The average between those is 13.6, which places us toward the middle to upper end of pony heights.
If you think about it, this isn’t surprising. The “pony” group is in the middle of all three groups, and mid-to-high again places the measurement roughly in the middle. If you wanted a true average, you would also need to factor in the volume of horses that exist at each height.
Average Horse Height, Only the “Horse” Type
This measurement is slightly easier to calculate. Horses range from heights 14.2-19.2 hands, again excluding any outliers that may be taller than this. The average of this height span is 17.3 hands.
This seems like a tall average, but keep in mind it is including draft horses, who commonly stand between 18 and 19 hands. Again, if we are talking about volumes, I would estimate that the majority of riding horses stand between 15.3-16.3 hands tall.
Horses vary in height much more than people do, and they are measured much differently! I hope this article helped you better understand the average horse heights and how horses are measured. If it did, please share it, and share with us your experiences measuring horses!