Horses come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and you’ll find that their bodies differ depending on their breed, genetics, diet, and the amount of exercise they get.
As a rider, it’s important that you’re able to measure a horse’s height and weight, as this information will help you in a number of areas, such as monitoring their feeding needs, sizing up for the right saddle, knowing how much exercise they require, and choosing the right size horse for you.
The average horse measures between 13.3–17.3 hands tall (or 1.4–1.8 metres), but it should be noted that this figure includes all breeds. For competition purposes, in the UK a pony is classified as being shorter than 14.2 hands (1.47m), though actual pony breeds can be taller than this — you can find out more on the differences between a horse and pony later in this section.
Looking at the different types of horse in more detail reveals more variance in height, with some being much shorter and some much taller on average. Light riding horses are typically 14–16 hands (1.42–1.63m), larger riding horses are 15.2–17 hands (1.57–1.73m), and heavy or draft horses are usually 16–18 hands (1.63–1.83m). Growth can also be influenced by genetics and nutrition.
The height of a horse is measured from the highest point of the withers, where the neck meets the back, down to the ground.
Here are some of the common breeds of horse found in the UK and their average height range:
|Horse breed||Average height (hands)||Average height (inches)||Average height (metres)|
|American Warmblood||15–17 hands||60–68 inches||1.52–1.73m|
|Arabian horse||14.1–15.1 hands||57–61 inches||1.45–1.55m|
|Ardennes horse||15.3–16.1 hands||63–65 inches||1.60–1.65m|
|Cleveland bay horse||16–16.2 hands||64–66 inches||1.63–1.68m|
|Clydesdale horse||16–18 hands||64–72 inches||1.63–1.83m|
|Connemara pony||12.2–14.2 hands||50–58 inches||1.27–1.47m|
|Dales pony||13–14 hands||52–56 inches||1.32–1.42m|
|Dartmoor pony||11.1–12.2 hands||45–50 inches||1.14–1.27m|
|Dutch Warmblood||15–17 hands||60–68 inches||1.52–1.73m|
|Eriskay pony||12–13.2 hands||48–54 inches||1.22–1.37m|
|Exmoor pony||11.1–12.3 hands||45–51 inches||1.14–1.30m|
|Fell pony||13.2–14 hands||54–56 inches||1.37–1.42m|
|Hackney horse||14.2–16.2 hands||58–66 inches||1.47–1.68m|
|Hackney pony||12–14 hands||48–56 inches||1.22–1.42m|
|Halfinger||13.2–15 hands||54–60 inches||1.40–1.52m|
|Hanoverian horse||15.3–17.2 hands||63–70 inches||1.60–1.78m|
|Highland pony||13–14.2 hands||52–58 inches||1.32–1.47m|
|Holsteiner||16–17 hands||64–68 inches||1.63–1.73m|
|Irish draught horse||15.1–16.3 hands||61–63 inches||1.55–1.60m|
|New Forest pony||12–14.2 hands||48–58 inches||1.22–1.47m|
|Percheron||16–17 hands||64–68 inches||1.63–1.73m|
|Shetland pony||7–10.2 hands||28–42 inches||0.71–1.07m|
|Shire horse||16–17 hands||64–68 inches||1.63–1.73m|
|Spotted pony||8–14 hands||32–56 inches||0.81–1.42m|
|Suffolk Punch horse||16.1–17.3 hands||65–71 inches||1.65–1.80m|
|Swedish Warmblood||16–17 hands||64–68 inches||1.63–1.73m|
|Thoroughbred horse||15.2–17.2 hands||62–70 inches||1.57–1.78m|
|Welara||11.2–15 hands||46–60 inches||1.17–1.52m|
|Westphalian horse||15.2–17.2 hands||62–70 inches||1.57–1.78m|
Ponies and horses are both equines, but, confusingly, there are two ways a pony can be classified. Biologically there are breeds that are known as ponies that have differences in their bone and muscle structure to horses, as well as thicker manes, tails, and coats.
However, in UK competitions a horse or pony (of any breed) is known as a pony if it is under 14.2 hands (1.47m) in height, while a horse is considered to be this height or taller. In competitive riding, an equine considered a pony is usually entered into a pony classification, which sees younger riders tackling smaller jumps and shorter distances.
Adults usually ride an equine in the horse classification and compete at the regular levels.
This can cause some confusion as there are larger pony breeds that regularly grow over 14.2 hands, but would be classed as horses at a competition. Likewise, smaller horse breeds can be shorter than this height, so while still biologically horses, would compete in a pony classification.
A hand is the historical unit of measurement used to measure the height of horses and is still widely used in lots of English-speaking countries. In equestrianism, it has been kept as the preferred unit of measure in spite of both imperial and metric systems as it is part of tradition. It is often abbreviated to “h” or “hh”.
Used since ancient times, the measurement was originally based on handspan, so quite a lot of variation was possible depending on the culture using it. In 1540, King Henry VIII standardised the measurement in England as 4 inches, which subsequently spread across the rest of the British Empire over the next several hundred years. This 4-inch standard was widely adopted and is still the preferred unit in the UK, USA, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Ireland. Metric units are mostly used in other parts of the world, as well as by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI).
To measure a horse, you should make sure they are standing on an even surface and measure from the ground directly up to the highest point on their withers (A), as shown on the image below.
It’s best to use a measuring stick marked with hand intervals, but you can convert from inches or centimetres. It is also possible to use a tape measure, but you’ll probably need someone else to help you keep it straight.
Note: Looking to choose a horse that’s the right size? Then be sure to read our advice on choosing the right horse for your height.
Once you have your horse’s height in inches, you can convert it to hands by dividing it by 4. There’s a chance that your horse will have a measurement that can’t be split exactly into whole numbers — for example: 63 divided by 4 is 15.75. For these measurements, hands use a decimal place to represent the extra length that isn’t divisible:
For example: If your horse is 63 inches tall, 63 divided by 4 is 15.75, which is 15.3 hands. Or, if your horse is 57 inches tall, 57 divided by 4 is 14.25, which is 14.1 hands.
We’ve provided a handy conversion table below to help you convert your measurements.
A horse can weigh anything from 300–1,000kg. Like their height, this measurement will vary drastically across different breeds that are different sizes. For instance, a thoroughbred would be expected to weigh 450–500kg, while a shire horse would come in at 700–1,200kg. Ponies are smaller and can range from a Shetland pony at 180–200kg to a larger breed like the fell pony at 350–450kg.
Height is a major factor for a horse’s weight, as the increased frame of a taller horse will add bulk, so this needs to be considered when deciding if a horse is at a healthy level. Other influences that play a role are the horse’s age, diet, and level of activity. There is also the impact of their genes, which can control traits like how weight is carried, metabolism, and appetite.
Here are some of the common breeds of horse found in the UK and their average weight range:
|Horse breed||Average weight (kg)||Average weight (lbs)|
|Cleveland bay horse||550–700kg||1,212–1,543lbs|
|Irish draught horse||600–700kg||1,322–1,764lbs|
|New Forest pony||230–330kg||507–728lbs|
|Suffolk Punch horse||750–900kg||1,653–1,984lbs|
Here are the three of easiest ways to weigh or accurately estimate the weight of your horse:
Please note: We recommend carrying out these measurements every 1–2 weeks and keeping a record of your horse’s progress. This way, you will be able to see how they’re doing and if there need to be any adjustments to feeding or medicines.
Checking your horse’s weight is a process that you will need to familiarise yourself with if you’re going to take the best care of them. This is because they need to stay within a healthy weight range for their breed, otherwise they may develop serious health issues. Being overweight can cause laminitis, heart disease, lung problems, and insulin resistance, while being underweight can be a sign of disease and dental issues. Checking weight can also help you to estimate the correct dosage for any medicines they require, as well as ensuring their feeding routine is balanced for their needs.
We’ll begin with the most obvious method: putting your horse on an equine or livestock scale, also known as a weighbridge. They feature large, heavy-duty platforms that are able to take the weight of a horse. However, while a scale will be completely accurate, they are not widely available, are quite large, and can be expensive to buy, so it may be the case that you don’t have access to one.
A horse weight tape is a soft tape measure that is marked with pounds or kilograms (or both) rather than standard length measurements. The idea is that, by measuring around the horse’s heart girth, which is from just under the withers, around the underside of the body (B), and back around again, it’s possible to estimate the overall weight. This method has about 90% accuracy and is the most common way that riders regularly check how much their horse weighs.
To use a weight tape:
For a more accurate picture of your horse’s weight, you can use a regular tape measure to take their measurements (heart girth and body length) and use a widely used weight formula to calculate an estimate. There are two versions of the formula for metric and imperial measurements:
For this formula, you need to measure the heart girth, which can be done following the same steps as using a weight tape. You will also need to measure your horse’s body length as shown in the image below (C), which will likely need a second pair of hands. Follow these steps:
Here’s an example of each calculation so you can see how they work.
A horse has a heart girth of 78″ and a body length of 81″, so the formula would be:
((78 x 78) x 81) ÷ 330 = 1,493lb
A horse has a heart girth of 198cm and a body length of 206cm, so the formula would be:
((198 x 198) x 206) ÷ 11,990 = 674kg
Note: Do you need to find a horse that’s the right size? Then take a look at our advice on choosing the right horse for your weight.
So, now you know approximately what your horse should weigh and how to check it, you will be able to track their progress every one to two weeks. However, you may be wondering what you should do if your horse starts to gain or lose weight in an unhealthy way — you can refer to our weight chart as a general guide to a weight range, but you should assess your horse individually if you’re still not sure. Our body scoring guide will walk you through how to get a better idea of your horse’s body condition. In this section, we’re going to share a few tips for managing the weight of under- or overweight horses.
Please note: This advice is intended as guidance only. You should always seek the opinion of a vet or equine nutrition specialist if you’re concerned about your horse’s weight.
Being able to accurately measure your horse’s height and track their weight will help you keep them as healthy as possible. It will also make other tasks easier, like when you’re buying tack or planning what eventing, showjumping, or dressage categories you’re going to enter. We hope this guide has given you an insight into how important height and weight are and how to monitor them.
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