Measuring the height of a horse is important for ensuring it gets the right amount of food and exercise for its size. It is also necessary for entering horses into competitions or for selling them.
In much of the English-speaking world, horse measurement is done in' hands' units. Other countries may use other units, but the process of measurement - the dimensions taken to measure the horse - are the same.
There are a few different ways you can measure the height of a horse, and some are more accurate than others. We are going to take you through each of them.
So let's jump in and find out how to measure the height of a horse.
You measure a horse's height from the highest point of the withers - where the neck meets the back - to the ground. If you have one, you should use an equine measuring stick, but you can also use a measuring or height tape, though they are less accurate.
You can often also use equine height tape to take weight measurements from the horse. We will explore this in detail later, but let's first take a closer look at a step-by-step guide on how to measure a horse's height.
- Begin by standing the horse squarely on a level surface.
- Find the top of the horse's withers. This is the point where the horse's neck meets its back. It is the one part of a horse's top line that does not change whether it lifts or lowers its head or arches its back. The top of the withers is the standard point of measuring a horse.
- If you have an equine measuring stick, lower the bar to the top of the withers and note the height.
- If you have a measuring tape, you will probably need another person to hold the tape in place at the withers and then measure to the ground.
There several different measuring instruments you can use to measure a horse. However, by far the most accurate and the simplest to use is an equine measuring stick.
An equine measuring stick is a tall stick with measurements marked up the length, with a horizontal bar that slides up and down the stick. You hold the stick beside the horse and slide the bar until it touches the horse's withers. The stick may also have a spirit level to ensure you hold the stick flat and not at an angle.
Alternatively, you can use height tape to measure the horse. Height tape is a loose tape measure you can buy from general homeware, haberdashery, and equine stores. However, the issue with height tape is that it can be hard to pull tight enough to measure the horse accurately. One person has to hold the top against the horse's withers, and another has to hold the bottom to the ground. Any bend or crease in the tape can lead to an inaccurate reading of the horse's size.
You can also use a metallic tape measure, though it has many of the same issues as height tape. There is also the added problem of the rattling noise metal tape makes, which can be distressing for the horse.
Measuring horses is important as it helps to monitor the amount of food they need and how much they should exercise.
The height of a horse can also be a crucial factor in determining whether a horse should compete in horse or pony events. Horses are usually judged as being a minimum of 14.2 hands tall, though some competitions say 14. Anything shorter than that is considered to be a pony.
When measuring horses for competition purposes, it is also important to determine whether the measurement should include the horseshoes. Horseshoes can add several inches to a horse's height, and they can be the difference between a horse and a pony.
Horses have traditionally been measured in hands, which is still widely used in equine measurement, particularly in the English-speaking world. Hand measurements can be abbreviated to "h" or "hh."
The measurement of horses in hands began in the ancient world, with records from Ancient Egypt showing that the royal cubit measurement was divided into seven palms of four digits. There are also references to hand measurements in the Bible.
However, because everyone has different-sized hands, the measurement would not have been precise. So, in 1540, King Henry VIII standardised a hand as 4 inches. This measurement was then spread throughout the British Empire over the course of the next few hundred years, and it is still used for horse measurements in the UK, USA, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Ireland. Most of the rest of the world use metric units.
As we just saw, one hand is equal to four inches. So it is common for a horse's height to be expressed as decimals as their height does not fit into a multiple of four.
The numbers after the decimal point of a horse's height represent whole inches, not fractions. So a horse that is 15.2 hands tall is 15 hands plus two inches. The horse's height in inches would therefore be 62 inches (15 x 4) + 2.
So you will never see a horse with a height of 16.5 hands, for example, as this would be equal to 17.1 hands.
You can convert a horse's height from hands to inches by multiplying the whole number by four and then adding the number after the decimal point to your answer.
- A horse is 12.1 hands tall
- 12 x 4 = 48
- 48 + 1 = 49
- The horse is 49 inches tall.
Similarly, if you have a horse's height in inches, you can convert it into hands by dividing it by four. When converting this way around, there's a good chance the horse's height will not be able to be split into whole numbers. When this is the case, you need to use a decimal place to express the length that isn't divisible:
- 0.25 = 0.1 hands
- 0.5 = 0.2 hands
- 0.75 = 0.3 hands
- A horse is 63 inches tall
- 63 ÷ 4 = 15.75
- 15.75 = 15.3 hands
Horse height conversion chart
An average riding horse is usually between 14.2 and 16.2 hands tall. However, plenty of horses - riding and draft breeds - are outside this range.
We saw earlier that horses below 14.2 hands are considered ponies, but miniature horses are also anything under nine hands. And some shire horses grow over 20 hands tall.
The size of a horse is generally down to its breed and genetics, but its health, nutrition, and exercise levels are also important for enabling it to grow.
As with measuring the height of a horse, weighing a horse is important for ensuring your horse remains healthy, well-exercised, and properly nourished. Measuring a horse's weight can also be useful for determining whether the horse has worms.
The easiest way to weigh a horse is to use a livestock scale. However, if you don't have one of these, there are some cheaper (though less accurate) alternatives you can use.
Earlier, we looked at height tape for measuring the height of a horse. If you buy equine height tape from a specialist store, you will see that many also have weight tape measurements on the other side.
Equine weight tape is used to estimate a horse's weight. However, it can be out by as much as 100kgs.
Here is how you use it:
- Stand the horse on a flat, even surface
- Hold the tip of the tape at the zero end and drape the rest of the tape over the horse's back, just behind its withers.
- Reach beneath the horse's belly and pull the tape so it is wrapped around the horse. Pull the tape to meet with the zero end. You want the tape to be snug but not too tight.
- Where the zero touches is the weight of the horse.
Another way to weigh a horse is to take the weight measurement outlined above but to take the measurement in inches. Then you need to measure the length from the horse's shoulder blades to the point of the buttock. You can then use the following formulas to estimate the horse's weight depending on the age of the horse:
- Adult horses: Girth x Girth x Body Length ÷ 300 = Body Weight in lbs.
- Yearling (a foal in its second year): Girth x Girth x Length ÷ 301 = Body Weight in lbs.
- Weanling (a recently weaned foal): Girth x Girth x Length ÷ 280 = Body Weight in lbs.
- Pony: Girth x Girth x Length ÷ 299 = Body Weight in lbs.
On average, horses weigh between 400kg and 700kg. However, as with their heights, horse weight varies significantly. Some horses can weigh well under 200kg, while others can be in excess of 1,200kg.
Horse owners need to know how to measure their horses to feed and look after them properly. It can also be important for entering the horse into competitions or sales.
The best way to measure a horse is to use a proper measuring stick designed for equine measurements. However, you can also use height or measuring tape.