Measuring Equines
Just how tall is a hand?
by Shlei


Equines are measured in units. Which unit of measure is used depends on the association doing the registration. Some registries use inches to determine size, since it is easier than trying to convert to hands. A hand is four inches. The story behind this unit of measurement is that a kind went to measure his favorite horse. Not having a device to measuer with, he used the only thing he knew would be consistent: the palm of his hand. Since then, the hand has been the unit of measure for equines. The letters HH or hh after the numbers stand for Hands High. The single letter H or H may be used, standing just for "hands".

Parts of a hand are given after the whole unit, following a decimal. 10.2 hands (can also be read as just Ten-two) means ten hands and two more inches. (4 inches x 10 hands equals 40 inches, plus two additional inches, so 10.2 is 42 inches tall). 10.3 would be 10 hands and 3 inches, forty-three (43) inches. There is no such thing as 10 hands 4 inches, as 4 inches would be an additional hand. However, even fractions of an inch can be listed, such as 10.3 hh. (Ten hands, 3 " inches, or Ten-three and three-quarters: just " shy of a full 11 hands.)

3.3 hands - 15 inches at the withers, the smallest horse ever documented. Too Small! But, this animal reportedly only lived to be two years old (just short of what anyone would call mature).
4.2 hands - 18 inches.  A few Miniature foals are only 18 inches high at birth.
6 hands - 24 inches. There have been a few Miniature Horses reported at this height (short?) in recent years.
6.1 hands - 25 inches - unverified report of the smallest known mature Miniature Donkey
6.2 hands- 26 inches - the height of the smallest known breeding Miniature donkeys (in the USA) and also the height of the smallest known mule in the world (General Grant).
7 hands - 28 inches. A few Miniature donkeys this small, difficult for females in pregnancy and birthing. Animals this small prized in some circles, but conformation tends to suffer.  Either malproportioned in some cases, or very tiny with weak bone.
7.2 - 30 inches. Was once being debated as the cut-off point for breeding size in Miniature donkeys (no plans by ADMS to do this)
8 hands - 32 inches. Miniature size for horse, donkey or mule. Good average for Miniature Donkey height.
9 hands - 36 inches - breakover point from Miniature to Small standard for donkeys with no pedigree (Maximum height 36") . Still miniature height for mules.
9.2 hands - 38 inches. Maximum allowable height for Miniature donkeys with BOTH parents registered as Miniature. Still classified as Oversized in MDR.
10 hands - 40 inches. Breakover for small standard to Standard donkeys. (Still Miniature height for mules)
11 hands - 44 inches. Standard donkeys in this height range. Common height for most of the Plains zebras (Grants, Damaraland, Chapmans)
12 hands - 48 inches. The breakover from Standard to Large Standard in donkeys
12.2 hands - 50 inches. The breakover from Miniature to Saddle Mules.
13 hands  - 52 inches - large Standard donkeys. Considered Pony height in horse breeds. Top end height for zebras, only Grevy's species usually get this tall.
13.2 hands - 54 inches - breakover from Large Standard to Mammoth height in Jennets
14 hands -  56 inches - breakover point from Large Standard to Mammoth for Jacks and Geldings
14.2 - 58 inches - in horses considered the line between Pony (under 14.2) and horse height. Typical size of many Mustangs, although a recent infusion of outside blood in some herds produces larger animals now.
15 hands - 60 inches - typical for many saddle horse breeds, mules, and reaching the top end for Mammoth height. About average height for Arabians and some Gaited breeds.
16 hands - 64 inches. Getting pretty large for a donkey, but a few jacks reported close to this height. Typical range for saddle mules, draft horses, and many saddle horse breeds.
17 hands - 68 inches. Extremely large for a donkey, they tend to "fall apart" in conformation at this height. Commonly seen in some Draft horse breeds, Warmbloods, and a few saddle mules.
18 hands - 72 inches. A few specimens this tall, but unusual in all but a few breeds, mainly Warmblood or Drafters.
19 hands - 76 inches! (6 foot, 4" at the withers). Taller than most men!
19.1 hands - 77 inches high, 6 foot 5 inches at the withers. The height of the tallest Mule in the World, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Apollo, (b 1977, in TN) is listed with teammate Anak at 18.3. (75 inches)
20 hands - 80 inches.
21 hands -  84 inches
21.2 hands - 86 inches at the withers. Tallest horse ever documented, a Shire gelding named Sampson (aka Mammoth with good reason!) measured in 1850 and listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

How do you measure an equine?
You must use a measuring stick, with a cross-piece and preferably a level. Stand the animal on a hard, level surface (a drive, aisle, or sheet of plyboard). A muddy field or uneven ground won't give you an accurate reading.
Place the level/crossbar at the withers. The stick should be straight up-and-down and not leaning. Measure at the top of the withers (the last hair of the mane on most equines). If you are not sure where to measure, put a small treat like a bit of apple or carrot on the ground in front of the animal. Look at the shoulders when they put their head down. The part of the shoulders that sticks up HIGHEST when their head is down is where you measure to.

If you try to measure just using a flexible tape measure you won't get an accurate measurement. A version of using the tape used to be called "Jackstock Measuring" and resulted in additions of fractions of an inch to more than 2" to an animals height.

Measure three times, and average the readings if you have to. You will find it's very hard to make an animal measure up exactly the same every time. Remember, too, that measuring should be done when the animals hooves are freshly trimmed, or at least of proper length. Long toes and the addition of shoes can add to a height.

Height measurements should not be given in most cases in fractions of anything smaller than 1/8 of an inch. A thick winter coat or a little extra hoof can cause that much difference with ease.
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The information provided on this page and website is (c) by the ADMS.  Permission is granted to copy for educational purposes (ie school papers, 4-H work, general education websites, fairs, expos) provided that the work is sited as provided coutesy of the American Donkey and Mule Society.  (c) 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004