In ancient times, people didn’t have standard measuring tools, so they commonly used hands as a standard to measure horses ; this tradition continues to the present. Describing a horse’s height by hand made sense in the past, but is it still a viable method to use today.
Henry VIII standardized the hand measurement at 4 inches in the 1500s. Having a consistent width allowed buyers and sellers of horses to have a standard reference.
After I explain in more detail how we measure a horse, we will look at what role height plays in racehorses? In the United States, the hand remains the primary unit of measure as in most English-speaking countries such as Britain, Canada, Australia, Ireland etc…while other European countries and the Federal Equestrian International (FEI) use meters.
These tools provide a more accurate result and have markings to determine hands, inches, and centimeters for easy conversion. Horse measuring built convert inches to hands is easy.
In other words, a horse that stands 14.2 is 14 hands high plus 2 inches. The average riding horse will usually range between 15-17 hands.
There have been no studies confirming that height translates to a speed of a horse. Stride is the length a horse covers while running in a single leap.
However, the champion Man O’ War had a stride length of 28 feet. Quarter horses on average have a faster stride rate than thoroughbreds.
But thoroughbreds have to maintain their stride over a longer distance and time. For the racehorse to be able to run efficiently while taking such a long stride and maintain a high stride frequency takes the perfect balance of the body’s anatomical systems.
During a race as horses extend their bodies, they take in air through their nose, and as they constrict their legs in they exhale. Another term used when talking a horse racing speed is stride angle.
In other words, the stride angle is a method used to determine how far a horse will flatten out when racing. Proponents believe stride angle to be an essential factor in determining the success of a racehorse.
Long-striding horses are more likely to have a superior energy system than their short striding counterparts. He had a great racing career and is the subject of many racehorse books.
Sir Walter Gilda wrote a book entitled, “Small horses in Warfare.” published in 1900. During the Crimean War, horses -all under 14.3- ridden by Armenian and Bash Bazooka, consistently performed, “beyond the capabilities of the English Thoroughbred cavalry.” D. Preschool, a Cossack, left Blagoveshchensk, Siberia, in November 1889.
He and his tack weighed 180 pounds, but he rode his pony, which was only 12.3 hands, 5,478 miles in 193 days. The pony, named Semi, crossed Siberia in the winter and averaged 37 miles per day.
Sampson was 21.2 1/2 hands (7 feet 2-1/2 inches at his withers)and was said to have weighed 3,300 lbs. Cubit was the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger.
If someone asks you to pour them a “finger” or two of liquor, it’s that height in a short tumbler. That distance is called a “span,” which for most people am almost exactly half a cubit.
They are measured to the wither, the highest point above the horses shoulder that doesn’t move. The hand remains the primary unit of measuring horses in Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, South Africa, and India, while most European countries and the FEI use meters and centimeters.
But metric is making some inroads in the UK, with British Showjumping saying it uses it for continuity with the FEI. Us Brits are sticklers for tradition, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the noble sport of equestrianism...
No one really knows why some places stuck with the antiquated measurement system (though it’s notable that the other countries still using hands were colonized by Britain). However, no historical sources offer much insight on why some countries continued using hands, aside from ‘tradition,’ and humans are creatures of habit and pass on what they learned.
For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound, out every Thursday The measurement is taken from the ground to the highest point on the horse's withers.
The red line is where the measurement would be taken, about in the middle of the withers, at their highest point. Below is a table that converts the average height of horses to inches, feet, and meters.
A horse’s height can be measured using either the hands unit or in centimeters. Breeders from the United States, Canada, and England commonly use hands to measure their horses ; other locations use the metric system.
With your halter and lead rope or bridle, hold your horse steady and make sure that it is standing squarely on all feet. To determine if your horse is standing straight, check the hooves to make sure they are not spread too far apart or too close together.
Here are some examples of incorrect and correct hoof placement for measuring height on your horse. In this picture the mare has her feet too close together to be accurately measured.
It isn’t perfect but it should still result in a fairly accurate measurement. Of the three pictures of this horse, this is the better position for height measurement.
These mares back legs are almost perfectly aligned and in the correct position. In any case, you would be able to get a fairly accurate height measurement with the horse standing in this position.
A horse’s withers is the intersection where the shoulders meet the neck. You place the end of measuring stick on the ground and then lower the bar until it touches the horse’s withers.
If you are unable to get a hold of a proper height stick, you can go ahead and use some twine and tie something substantial to hold the twine steady. Use that to measure the horse and mark the cord where it meets your horse’s withers then you measure the length of the cord all up to the marked spot.
For horses that haven’t been measured before, it may be good to introduce the measuring stick in a more confined space like a round pen or large stall. After converting, you now have the measurement of your horse and can safely determine if it is growing accordingly or needs some help.
You can convert your measurements from meters to hands using this convenient height chart. Convert your horse’s height from inches, feet, meters (or centimeters) to hands.
It is a common unit of measurement now used only for quantifying the height of the horse. We know that today a “hand” is 4 inches, with one inch increments, and the measurement is from level ground to the highest non-variable skeletal structure on the horse, the withers.
History suggests that at one time, perhaps 5,000 years ago, it was as rudimentary as stacking a man's clenched fist one upon another, which tells us it was rather rough and inaccurate. At some point, horse owners, and especially traders, agreed that the “hand” will always represent 4 inches, and will always measure the height from level ground to the withers.
The rules of trade demanded the same measurement everywhere, and the hand was eventually standardized by the Egyptians around 3,000 BC based upon a complex system including the “cubit.” The Egyptian cubit is generally recognized as having been the most widely accepted standard of linear measurement in the very ancient world.
The cubit was based on the length of the arm from the elbow to the extended fingertips, an arbitrary distinction, which was then standardized by a royal master cubit of black granite. It was kept in a royal vault and all the cubit sticks in use in Egypt were measured at regular intervals.
It evolved, growing out of custom and popular usage, unlike planned systems of measurement like the Metric or the International System of Units (Is) that we are more familiar with today. The standardized “hand” has become as good an increment to use in the determination of a horse's height at the withers as any other.