Last Updated on January 21, 2022
When it comes to horses, measuring their height accurately is very important! But why do we need to know how high a horse is, and what is the best way to measure the height of a horse?
Accurately measuring the height of a horse is not an easy task, and may require specialist equipment and a registered professional. Many of us could have a good guess at the height of a horse, but sometimes we need to know the precise measurement.
Let’s take a look at why horse height is important, and how to measure the height of a horse!
Why Does Horse Height Matter?
When you see a horse advertised for sale, you will notice that it will be described by its age, gender, color, breed, and height. But why do we need to know the height of a horse?
The first reason is that the height of a horse will determine the size of rider it can carry. It is essential that horses and riders are well-matched in terms of size. This is not only because of the amount of weight they can carry but also ensure the rider is well balanced.
A tall rider on a small pony will struggle to stay in balance with the movement and may injure the horse’s back. A tall rider may also find that their legs extend below the girth, making it difficult to give effective aids. On the other hand, a small rider on a tall horse will also struggle to use their legs effectively.
Another reason that horse size matters is for equestrian competitions. Horses are normally grouped in classes according to their size, to make the competition fairer. It would not make sense to have a jumping competition between a tall horse and a small pony!
Horses also need to be evenly matched for size if they are to be worked in pairs or as a team. A group of carriage driving horses needs to be the same height to be able to pull in unison. The same applies to pairs of plow horses or a team of scurry ponies.
Read more about How Big Is A Horse In Size Compared To A Human?
Why Is Measuring Horses Done In Hands
While the height of humans is measured in feet and inches, or meters and centimeters, horses are measured in units called hands! This is an ancient method of horse measurement and is still used to this day.
The measurement of a hand relates to the width of an average man’s hand, which is four inches. This meant the measurement could be used by anyone, giving a standardized method of measuring horses. The height of a horse was equal to how many hand widths above the ground it stood.
Each hand is subdivided into smaller units of inches. So, a horse may be an exact number of hands high or could be a certain number of hands plus one, two, or three inches. This will be written in numbers, for example, ‘13.3hh’.
How To Measure A Horse
To measure the height of a horse, we firstly need an accurate and standardized point to measure. If we measured the height of a horse’s head it would be different every time, as they move their head up and down!
The most consistent point of a horse in terms of height is the withers. This is the section of the spine at the base of the neck, directly above the forelegs. If you’ve ever sat on a horse and felt a bony lump just in front of the saddle, this is the withers!
A special measuring stick is used to calculate the height of a horse. This consists of a vertical stick with measurement markings. Attached to this is a horizontal stick that moves up and down.
The vertical stick is placed next to the shoulder of the horse, making sure it is upright. The horizontal stick is moved down to the horse’s withers. The measurement is then taken from the upright stick.
To ensure the measurement is accurate, the stick should have a small spirit level. This makes sure that the upright stick is truly vertical, and that the movable section is also level.
There are several other steps that also must be taken to ensure you have an accurate measurement:
- The horse must be standing on a firm, level surface
- You must make sure that the horse is stood square, with each hoof placed firmly on the ground
- The head of the horse must be in a relaxed position, with the neck aligned with the body
- Take a measurement from each side of the horse; if you get two different results then take an average
- If the horse is shod then this will affect the measurement.
Learn more about Draft Horse Height – Breed Comparison
Alternative Horse Height Methods
So, if you have a measuring stick at your barn, it is relatively easy to measure your horse. However, in some circumstances, you may want to measure a horse without a stick.
Do this you can use a simple measuring tape, but you will need two people to hold it taut. If you can, place a straight stick across the horse’s withers, and measure from this to the ground.
You can also measure the height of a horse with a piece of string. Tie a heavy object to the end, and hold the string up alongside the horse’s shoulder. Visually observe where the string is at the same point as the withers, and mark this point. You can then measure the length of the string with a tape measure or yardstick.
Learn more about Top 3 Heavy Horse Breeds Revealed!
So, as we have learned, the height of a horse is measured in hands and inches. The measurement is taken at the withers, which is the section of the spine directly above the forelegs. The horse must be stood square on a level surface for an accurate measurement to be taken.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on how to measure a horse! Does your horse have an official height certificate? Or maybe you are very good at estimating the height of a horse? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE