Have you ever wondered how horses are measured? They’re not typically talked about in inches or feet but rather a unit of measurement known as a hand. But what exactly is a hand, and how did it become the standard for measuring horses? Let’s take a closer look.

The History of Using Hands to Measure Horses

The answer to this question is surprisingly simple. The relationship between horses and humans goes back thousands of years. In the earliest eras, there weren’t any standard units of measurement. You couldn’t pull out a ruler and decide how tall your horse was in feet or inches. When selling or trading, people needed to communicate essential information. So, they used what they had on them: literally their hands.

How Much is a Hand?

So how much is a hand exactly? For example, as women in the industry, our hands tend to be smaller than many men who train horses. So, who decided what the standard hand measurement was? That goes back to the 1500s, when a hand was determined to be four inches. So even though we could multiply hands by four and get inches, everyone involved in horses still uses hands as the standard.

Horse measurement is from top of the withers or where the back and neck meet, straight down to meet the ground behind the front foot. Since we don’t measure to the top of the head, a horse can seem far taller to an average person than measurements indicate.

The Smallest and Largest Horses on Record

The Guinness Book of World Records is everyone’s resource for all things extraordinary. We are fascinated with things being the biggest, smallest, longest, fastest, or any other superlative we can apply. What about horses?

The tallest horse on record was a Shire gelding named Sampson. He was born in 1846 and stood at 21.2½ hands, which is 7 feet 2.5 inches at the withers. The smallest horse was a dwarf miniature horse named Thumbelina, who measured only 17 inches high, which is only 4.25 hands.

Typical Hand Size of a Thoroughbred

At horseOlogy, though we love all horses, we work with thoroughbreds every day. So, what is the typical height of these racing horses? They average around 16 hands or a little over five feet tall at the withers. Thoroughbreds are bred for speed, so they typically are an athletic, compact body type in comparison to other breeds that may benefit from a larger or smaller frame for their discipline. Though if you don’t have a lot of experience with thoroughbreds, they’re still pretty big animals.

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