How to measure a horse – A height and weight guide

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Posted By: denise on 08/09/2022 Horse-health

How to measure a horse – A height and weight guide

Just like humans, no two equine animals are the same. Height and weight can vary greatly depending on the breed, the diet, and how much exercise they get.

There are many important reasons to know the height and weight of your horse or pony. This knowledge can not only assist with planning dietary requirements (helping you feed them properly), exercise regimes, and choosing the right size horse tack, as well as complying with competition or class height regulations, but more importantly, greatly aid the monitoring of your horse’s ongoing health, especially when it comes to de-worming or administering the correct dosage of medicine.

In this article, we will show you how to measure a horse, the easiest ways to measure your horse’s height and weight as well as answer many of the common questions related to these topics, so that hopefully you will find all the information you need in one convenient place.

Measuring a Horse’s height

If you have anything to do with horses, you will no doubt have come across the term “hands” or “hands high” when talking about a horse or ponies’ height.

Why are horses measured in hands rather than inches or centimetres?

The reference to “hands” when measuring a horse is thought to date back over 5,000 years to the Egyptians. Although the Egyptians made effective use of basic tools such as the plumb bob, the cubit rod, for short measurements, and even calibrated rope for longer measurements, there were no universal standard units of measurement. 

To solve the problem and with most male hands being broadly similar in size, the width of an adult male’s hand was used to measure a horse’s height. Hands were laid side on, one on top of the other, to estimate the height of a horse.  For example, if the number of hands it took to reach the back of the horse was 15, the horse was known to be 15 hands high. 

How many inches is a hand for horses?

During the creation of the imperial system of units, a hand was standardized to 4 inches or 101.6 millimeters or 0.1016 meters.

How to convert horse measurements

Now that we know each hand represents 4 inches, once we calculate the horse’s height in inches, we can determine the number of hands. For example, if your horse measured 60 inches tall, dividing 60 by 4 inches (60 / 4), your horse would be described as 15 hands tall. 

What if the height is not exactly divisible by 4?

Some calculations do not divide exactly into a whole number. For example, 73 / 4 = 18.25. Rather than show the result as a decimal place, when describing a the height of a horse in hands, each quarter = 1 inch

0.25 = 1 inch
0.50 = 2 inches
0.75 = 3 inches

So in the above example, the result would be 18.1 hands (18 hands and 1 inch)

Does every country still measure their horses in hands?

Whilst the vast majority of countries still use this unit of measurement, some areas including continental Europe, and FEI-regulated International competition, insist on the metric system (meters and centimeters) to measure a horse’s height. In South Africa and Australia, the rules demand that both measurements are to be given. Some very small breeds of pony, Shetlands, and miniature horses are usually measured in Inches.

How to Measure a Horse’s Height – Three methods

Before we discuss the three methods, you need to get your horse ready for measurement and ensure you know how to measure your horse’s height from the correct place. Firstly your horse should be standing squarely on an even surface such as concrete or tarmac, with the pasterns evenly flexed. Secondly, you should measure from the ground to the highest point of the withers (marked on the image below). Finally, if your horse is shod, make sure to deduct the height of the horseshoes or remember to measure when the farrier has removed them.

How to measure a horse

Method 1. Using a measuring stick

A proper measuring stick is the easiest way to measure the height of your horse or pony. A measuring stick is made of either wood or aluminum with an extending arm (the latest models even contain spirit levels) The stick should be placed on the ground using the spirit level (if one is available) to ensure the stick is level. Bring the extending arm down gently until it is touching the highest point of the withers and read off the height. Most sticks show dual measurements of hands and centimetres so that you don’t have to mess around with conversions.

Horse Height measuring stick

Method 2. Using a tape measure

If you don’t have a measuring stick to hand the next easiest way to measure the height of your horse is to use a fabric or soft tape measure. Measure from the ground up, to the highest point of the withers. Make sure the tape measure is taut and as vertical as possible, read off the measurement in either inches or centimetres, and use the handy conversion chart below to calculate your animal’s height in hands.

It should be noted that this task is almost impossible to carry out on your own and it may even need three people, one to hold the horse, one to hold the tape to the ground, and one to note the result. You must ensure the tape is pulled tight and is completely vertical or the result will be compromised. A metal tape measure would ensure there are no bends, but they can make a horrendous noise and may end up spooking your horse.

Method 3. Using a Plumb Line

If you don’t have access to a suitable tape measure, you can still measure your horse with a plumb line, or make your plumb line with a piece of string or twine. Although this method may not be as accurate, you can still get a good idea of the height of horses or ponies.  If you are making your plumb line, tie a suitable weight such as a large washer or nut to the end of the line.

The weight ensures the line will be vertical. Hold the line up to your horse, making sure the weight is just touching the ground, and mark off with a marker pen or felt tip where the line meets the top of the withers. You can then use a normal tape measure to measure the length up to the mark and use the handy conversion chart below.

How to convert horse measurements

We have created a Horse Height conversion chart below, to help you with your conversions. It runs from 10 hands to 19.3 hands. Against each measurement, you will see the equivalent scale in feet and inches, or metres.

How to measure the height of a horse - Conversion Table

Common questions regarding a horse’s height.

At what age does a horse reach its full height?

  • Racehorses (Thoroughbreds and quarter horses) 4 -5 years
  • Warmbloods and Arabians 5 – 6 years
  • Ponies 5 years
  • Larger Draft horses 5 – 7 years
  • Ponies 3 – 5 years

All equine breeds should progress skeletally at similar rates. The very last growth plates interfuse at the top of the neck at around five and a half years old, except for larger breeds that may need additional time due to their size.

It follows that the smaller the animal the quicker the growth. Most small ponies for example will see the majority of their growth in the first two years.

You can find many examples on the internet of horse owners who speak of their horses continuing to grow in height, beyond estimates, but you must remember that muscle development continues long after the bones have stopped growing and as a horse fills out and gains more muscle, particularly in the chest area, this lifts the front of the horse (the wither area) and may account for several additional inches in height.

What is the average height of a pony?

The average height of a pony is around 13.2hh (54 inches 1.37m)

Any equine animal up to 14.2 hands can be classed as a pony (except for miniature horses. These are small horses bred to look like larger horses and cannot measure more than 34 inches at the withers).

In the showing world, ponies are divided into three groups

  • Small ponies under 12.2hh at the withers (<50inches, <1.27m)
  • Medium ponies 12.3hh up to 13.2hh (51 inches – 54 inches, 1.3m – 1.37m)
  • Large ponies 13.3hh up to 14.2hh (55 inches – 58 inches, 1.4m – 1.47m)

The average height data for specific breeds of pony are
American Sport Pony 13.2 to 14.2 hh  (54 to 58 inches, or 1.37m to 1.47m)
Hackney Pony 11.2 to 14.1hh (46 to 57 inches, or 1.17m to 1.45m)
Welsh Pony 11 to 12.2hh (44 to 50 inches, or 1.12m to 1.27m)
Highland pony 13–14.2 hh (52 to 58 inches, or 1.32m to 1.47m)
Shetland pony 7–10.2 hh (28 to 42 inches, or  0.71m to1.07m)
New Forest pony 12–14.2 hh (48 to 58 inches, or 1.22m to 1.47m)
Connemara pony 12.2–14.2 hh (50 to 58 inches, or 1.27m to1.47m)
Dales pony 13–14 hh (52 to 56 inches, or 1.32m to1.42m)
Dartmoor pony 11–12.2 hh (44 to 50 inches, or 1.11m to 1.27m)
Exmoor pony 11.1–12.2 hh (45 to 50 inches, or 1.14m to 1.27m)
Fell pony 13.2–14 hh (54 to 56 inches, or 1.37m to1.42m)

What is the height of an average horse?

The height of an average horse is 16 hands.

Horse heights range from 14.2 hands (58 inches, 1.47m) to 18 hands (72 inches, 1.83m) so the median height of a horse in that range is 16 hands (64 inches, 1.63m).

Although this answer gives you a rough idea. In reality, this is impossible to answer very accurately, because firstly there is no record of the height of every horse in existence, and secondly what constitutes an average horse.? The height of a horse varies according to the breed and the genetics. 

Smaller riding horses range from 14 – 16 hands. Larger riding horses including Warmbloods, Hanoverians, and Holsteiners between 15 and 18 hands, and larger breeds, such as draught horses, Shires and Clydesdales can reach up to 19 hands.

Measuring from the ground to the withers:
A 14-hand horse is 56 inches or 1.42 metres high
A 15-hand horse is 60 inches or 1.52 metres high
A 16-hand horse is 64 inches or 1.63 metres high
A 17-hand horse is 68 inches or 1.73 metres high

What is the difference between a horse and a pony?

Although the answer to this question is arbitrary, and not true in all cases, there are several obvious differences between a horse and a pony.

  • A pony is no taller than 14.2 hands high (14 hands if you are a western rider)
  • Ponies live longer
  • Ponies mature quicker than horses
  • Horses take longer to be fully grown
  • Ponies tend to be hardier than horses
  • Ponies can withstand greater ranges in temperature, especially the cold
  • Ponies have thicker manes and tails

How Can You Predict a Horse’s Height When They’re Young?

There is no scientifically proven or accepted method to accurately determine the full height of a horse when they’re young and the only real way is to wait until they are aged between 4 – 5 and fully grown.

However, listed below are six different methods found on the internet that owners swear by to estimate the actual height of a fully grown horse. (Disclaimer we have not tested any of these methods as to their accuracy)

Method 1.

For weanlings, measure the distance from the elbow to the ground and double this measurement to estimate the horse’s mature height.
For foals aged 4 – 6 months measure from the elbow to a point halfway between the ground and the fetlock and double this measurement to estimate the horse’s mature height.
For foals aged 7 – 12 months measure from the elbow to a point about one-fourth of the way from the fetlock to the ground and double this measurement to estimate the horse’s mature height.

Method 2.

To estimate the fully grown height of a horse divide the present height by the percentage according to the age chart below;
A horse is 73% of its final height when aged 3 months
A horse is 82% of its final height when aged 6 months
A horse is 89% of its final height when aged 1 year
A horse is 95% of its final height when aged 18 months
and 97% of its final height at 24 months

Method 3.

Measure the length from the horse’s knee to the ground (this represents 25% of the horse’s mature height)
If your horse is a newborn calculate the measured length divided by 61 x 100 x 4= mature height.
If your horse is 6 months old calculate the measured length divided by 84 x 100 x 4 = mature height.
If your horse is 12 months old calculate the measured length divided by 92 x 100 x 4 = mature height.
If your horse is 18 months old calculate the measured length divided by 95 x 100 x 4 = mature height.

Method 4.

Note the heights of the sire and dam and compare siblings of a similar age to see if they take after the sire or the dam. There is a good chance that your horse will follow a similar pattern.

Method 5.

On foals over 3 months in age measure from the middle of the knee joint to the coronary band in inches and times by 4. This will give you an estimation of the horse’s mature height.

Method 6.

On your foal measure the distance from the fetlock to the elbow. Add two inches to that measurement and hold it straight up from the elbow. The top of the tape will be the approximate mature height of your horse.

Which horse is the tallest horse

A British species called the Shire is the tallest breed of horse. The average Shire is 68 inches tall (17 hands).

The tallest recorded horse was a shire named Sampson born in 1846, who was 21.2 hands tall (86 inches or 2.18 metres).

The tallest horse recorded in the Guinness Book of records was a Shire called Goliath which measured 19 hands high (76 inches 1.93 metres).

Which horse is the smallest horse

At between 5.1 – 8.2 hands (71 – 86cm, or 21 to 34in) the Falabella is the smallest horse breed in the world.

The smallest horse recorded in the Guinness book of records was a dwarf miniature horse called Thumbelina which measured 4.1 hands (17 inches, 0.43m.

How to weigh a horse

As briefly mentioned at the top of this article there are several beneficial reasons for knowing the weight of your horse.

  1. You should weigh your horse every one or two weeks. By keeping a regular record of your horse’s weight, you quickly become familiar with your horse’s health which helps keep your horse within the breed’s recommended weight range. A sudden change in body weight is also an important indicator of a change in health.
  2. You monitor your horse’s weight by keeping a regular written record. Regular monitoring of your horse’s weight greatly assists the planning of a balanced feeding routine, especially when manufacturers of horse feeds and supplements recommend quantities according to the weight of your horse.
  3. Aids the preparation of a relevant exercise regime (e.g. exercise designed to help weight loss).
  4. A horse that stays within the breed weight range is less likely to suffer from laminitis, lung and heart problems, or insulin resistance.
  5. Helps establish an accurate dosage for worming, anesthetic, tetanus, or vaccines.
  6. Provides an accurate record of racing weight. (in racehorses).
  7. Allows you to monitor competition, travel stress, and recovery rates.

There are three methods to obtain the weight of a horse, Equine scales, equine weight formulas, and using a horse weight tape.

1. Using an Equine Scale

The most accurate way to weigh a horse is to use an equine scale which is the most accurate of the three methods for obvious reasons. The equine or livestock scale is a platform large enough to be able to stand a horse upon. The concept is similar to that of a weighbridge which weighs heavy good vehicles (but a lot smaller). Platforms vary in size from a heavy-duty single-piece designed to remain in one place, to a portable 3-piece weigh platform, enabling transportation and setup by one person.

Equine scales are normally accurate to within 0.1% making them the perfect solution for weighing your horse. The downside is the cost at between £2,000 – £3,000 and if you just own one horse for leisure purposes, they may not be a cost-effective method for weighing your horse.

2. Using equine weight formulas

If you don’t have access to equine scales, an alternative method of estimating your horse’s weight is by using a weight formula.

Over the years there have been quite a few attempts to estimate a horse’s weight through the use of body measurements and mathematical formulae. Whilst it is agreed that the formula method is more accurate than reading body weight from a tape measure, a recent study concluded that overall, the most accurate method was devised by Carroll and Huntington and proved to be 95% – 97.5% accurate across a range of breeds.

The study concluded that “For a more accurate estimate, the body fat and muscularity of the horse should be considered. Horse weight can vary greatly depending on the quality of work performed; horses in sport training should, in principle, be heavier due to greater muscle development.”

The most common weight formula method

The first method we are going to look at appears to be the most common and widely used formula, known as “The heart girth, heart girth, body length formula”.

To estimate the weight of your horse using this method, you will need two measurements, the heart girth measurement, and the body length measurement. The heart girth measurement is the circumference of the horse taken from just below the horses withers, aiming down and around the underside of the body (just behind the front legs ) and around to the other side (Marked A on our image below)

The second measurement is the body length measurement. Take your tape measure and start at the shoulder,  measure back to the end of the buttocks, (Marked B on our image) making sure the measure is tight and straight against the horse.

How to weigh a horse

You can measure in centimetres or inches, and the result will be in kilos or pounds depending on which metric you use. The calculations are as follows;

If using inches: ((heart girth x heart girth) x body length) ÷ 330 = body weight in pounds.
If Using centimetres: ((heart girth x heart girth) x body length) ÷ 11,990 = body weight in kilos.

Below are a couple of example calculations to help you understand the method
Your horse has a heart girth of 83″ and a body length of 85″, so the calculation would be:
((83 x 83) x 85) ÷ 330 = 1,774lb

A horse has a heart girth of 203cm and a body length of 211cm, so the calculation would be:
((203 x 203) x 211) ÷ 11,990 = 725kg

 Apart from the fact this method appears to be popular, we have no statistical evidence of its accuracy.

The Carroll and Huntington method

This method also uses two measurements and is most accurate when used on adult horses. Both measurements must be made in centimetres. The first measurement is the girth circumference from the base of the mane hairs (Marked C on the image. The second measure is from the shoulder to the ischium (essentially the horse’s buttock) (Marked D on the image).

The Carroll and Huntington method of weighing your horse

The calculation is a little more complicated
=(G (cm)2 × L (cm))/11877

If the horse had a girth measurement of 198cm and a body length measurement of 211cm the calculation would be as follows:

198 x 198 x 211 / 11877 = 696 kilos

This method was proved to be around 95% accurate

3. Using a horse weight tape

The final method of estimating horse body weight is the use of a bodyweight tape measure. Although an extremely common method used by horse owners, the latest study proved that “Mathematical formulae have better accuracy than methods of reading Bodyweight from a measuring tape, whose estimation of body weight compared to the actual weight may differ significantly”.

How do you weigh a horse with a weight tape?

 
A weight tape is similar to a standard tape measure, but instead of metres or inches, the tape is marked in kilos and pounds. Modern tapes will measure up to 825kg.

Your horse should be on a level surface and relaxed. Use the heart girth line Marked A in our first image as a guide. Carefully place the end of the tape over the top of the horse. Then reach under the belly and gently pull the end of the measure until it meets the other end. The tape should be on a slight diagonal as per the image and not too tight. Read the measurement from the tape to give you an estimate of the horse’s weight.

This article will help you understand how to measure the height of your horse,  how to measure the weight of your horse, and the reasons why it’s important. If you have any questions about the content, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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