Tall Horse Breeds
What Are the Tallest Horses?
Horses are big animals. Unless you’re a giant, probably every horse is going to tower over you. But some horses even tower over other horses.
But how tall can a horse get?
Which is the tallest breed of horse?
Draft horses are the tallest horse breeds, horses like the shire, Dutch Draft Horse, Australian Draft Horse, Belgian, Percheron and Clydesdale. Other warmblood horses like the Hanoverian, the Oldenburg and the thoroughbred are a close second and are the tallest non-draft breeds. If you look at the Guinness Book of World Records a horse named Big Jake was the biggest ever and he was 20 hands and 2.75 inches tall, he was a Belgian.
To give you a rough idea of how many breeds there are, there have been about 350 breeds of horse over the past few thousand years. Most of this has come through selective breeding, with big breeds of horses preferred for their ability to help around the farm, to pull heavy machinery, and to ride into war.
You probably won’t be riding your big black steed into battle anytime soon, but you still might want to have a tall horse. Tall horses are better for taller people in the same way shorter horses are better for shorter people. You wouldn’t put a midget on a humungous horse, and you wouldn’t put a seven-foot man on a pony.
How Do You Measure Horses?
Before we start bragging about which horses are the tallest, it’s important to understand how horses are measured. Yes, you can measure your horse using feet and inches like you would with a normal person, but horses are typically measured in hands.
Each “hand” represents approximately 4 inches, which at some point had been the average length of a man’s hand – supposedly. So, if your horse is 16.2 hands high, it means they are 66 inches. 16 x 4” + 2”.
The usual way of measuring horses actually involves a standing measuring stick. The horse is measured from the ground to the top of the withers, which is the top of the horse’s back. This is the only reliable way since the withers don’t change when the horse moves its neck and head.
The Tallest Horse on Record
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the tallest living horse is named Big Jake. Big Jake stands at approximately 20 hands, meaning he is 80 inches tall. This horse currently lives at a farm in Wisconsin. And even though he is the tallest horse in the world, he’s actually a very gentle creature who has never hurt anyone. However, big Jake does eat about twice the amount of food as a normal horse and has a habit of chewing peoples’ hair.
When it comes to the biggest horse in history, that goes to the Shire named Sampson, also known as Mammoth. Samson was born in 1846, and he still holds the record for being the tallest horse ever at 21.25 hands. That means he was 86.5 inches tall. Samson weighed 3,360 pounds. Because of his weight, he was also the heaviest horse ever recorded.
The Shire Horse Breed
Shires are the largest breed of horse in the entire world. They range anywhere between 17 and 19 hands and can weigh between 1,800 and 2,400 pounds. That makes these horses enormous. Just like with most draft horse breeds, shires were bred selectively to be massive for industrial work and farm work.
Shires traditionally towed barges through canal systems, pulled carts, and assisted with heavy plows for farmers. They were also used to deliver ale from breweries, which is still practiced today in some parts of the world. Because of their huge size and calm demeanour, Shires are also one of the best horse breeds to ride if you are a beginner.
However, because of the mechanization of the farming industry, Shires are not needed much anymore. This has caused their numbers to start decreasing, and today they are almost at risk of extinction.
Australian Draught Horse
The Australian Draught horse is another giant animal. They are a weird mixture of several different breeds, including Clydesdales, Shires, and Percherons. They first came around in 1976, bred for the harsh Australian environment. They combine all the strengths of their ancestors to be one of the most rugged horse breeds in the world.
A typical Australian Draught horse will stand between 16.2 and 17.2 hands, weighing somewhere between 1,300 and 1,900 pounds. These horses are admired for their strength, their gentle disposition, and their great work ethic. These are some of the best draft horses ever.
Dutch Draft Horse
The Dutch Draft is a huge horse. These beasts first appeared after World War I, and were a direct result of crossbreeding between Belgian Draft horses and Ardennes. Because of their enormous size and powerful legs, these were some of the preferred horses for heavy pulling jobs. But after World War 2, there was a sharp decline in Dutch Draft horses, and now they are one of the rarer breeds in the world.
But they are still one of the strongest horse breeds ever to walk the Earth. If you’re going to be entering some kind of horse-drawn event, you definitely want a Dutch Draft. These horses are shorter than others but extremely tough. They only stand between 15 and 17 hands. So, not really tiny – but not massively tall either.
Clydesdale horses come from Scotland. These are undoubtedly the most popular draft breed in the world. Almost everybody at least knows the name Clydesdale. They are a little smaller than Shire horses but still stand at impressive heights of between 16 and 18 hands. They also weigh up to about 2,000 pounds. For anyone familiar with the Budweiser Clydesdales, a horse must register at least 18 hands and be somewhere between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds to be a Budweiser Clydesdale horse.
These horses are typically gentle, energetic, and lots of fun. All around the world people still use Clydesdale horses for agriculture, forestry, and other important tasks. They look gorgeous, which is why they are so popular as parade horses and show horses. However, despite their wild popularity, Clydesdale horses are still at risk of going extinct in some countries.
But that will probably never happen in Scotland, where many experts believe the Clydesdale horse goes back to somewhere in the middle of the 18th century.
Belgian horses are massive and typically range from 16 – 18 hands.
The Belgian horse, as you would suspect, originated in Belgium. They were used for agricultural work and are really good for driving and heavy work. They are also strong competitors and will often be seen in halter and hitch classes, as well as pulling competitions. They have massive feet, and big bones. Their size and strength makes them a favourite among driving clubs.
Belgians are typically chestnut or sorrel with flaxen manes and tails, although if they are bred with another type of horse those colours can change. They usually weigh about 2000 pounds when all is said and done, they take some time to get there though. Draft breeds take a little longer to fully mature, usually not till 5-7 years old.
Hanoverian Horse Breed
If you have ever been to Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Alberta, Canada then you have definitely seen these beauties. They are one of my favourite breeds and they are very expensive. They are typically used in the show ring for jumping and dressage, but they can also make great pleasure horses and drivers.
Hanoverians are warmbloods, which means they are a mix of draft horse and hot-blooded horses like Arabs and Thoroughbreds. The Hanoverian is from Germany and was produced with other breeds like the Andalusian and the Holsteiner.
Hanoverians have a wider range than other horses, but they can get very tall, and modern breeding is actually after a taller more athletic style. They can be as short as 15 hands but also get up to 18 hands.
The Percheron is a a great big horse, and also has a really great personality. As with most draft horses the percheron is a mild mannered horse, great for driving and hitch classes, but can also be rode under saddle.
The Percheron typically falls in the 16-18 hands high range and will weight 1500-2000 pounds. They have big feet, big bones and usually a flaxen mane and tail.
The Percheron started in France and was bred as war horses, and then for driving carriages and agricultural work. Today, the breed is typically used for forestry work, carriage driving, and sometimes, English riding.
This breed is usually black or grey with small or no white markings, though American Percherons may be registered as roan, bay, or chestnut. They feature feathered legs, wide chests, tough hindquarters, and more refined faces than some of the other draft breeds.
Oldenburg Horse Breed
You may not find the Oldenburg on most lists of tall horse breeds, but they belong there. Not only that but they also belong on lists of beutiful horses as well. These guys are amazing atheletes, and you will find them at English show competitions, dressage and even halter classes.
The Oldenburg will definitely reach 17 and 18 hands high, but they are generally slimmer and more refined than the other draft breeds mentioned in this article. These horses are athletes and they are primarily bred for show jumping and hunter classes.
Although a warmblood, the Oldenburg doesn’t typically suffer from some of the same flightiness that other warmblood horses are known for.