Horse sizes span a wide range from towering, 6-foot draft horses to miniature ponies that weigh about the same as a human baby at birth. The largest horses average about 16 to 18 hands (64 to 72 inches) and weigh over a ton. The smallest equines are miniature horses or Falabellas, which do not get taller than 38 inches; most never eclipse 100 pounds. Despite being mini, they are strong, hardy, and have spirit.
To measure a horse, make sure the horse is standing on level ground. Place your measuring tape on the ground at the bottom of one of the horse's front hooves. You do not include the horse's head in the measurement. Stretch the tape upward until you have reached the very top of the withers, which is the ridge between the shoulder blades (approximately the end of the horse's mane).
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The shire horse breed holds records for being one of the tallest horses in the world. It was developed in England in the late 1800s and is believed to be related to the Old English black horse from the medieval period. It has a great capacity for weight-pulling and was used for farm work, as a cart-horse for road transport, and for towing barges at a time when the canal system was the principal means of goods transport. In the current day, the shire remains popular for pulling vehicles such as sightseeing wagons. They are an environmentally friendly alternative to tractors on small farms and are still used in logging operations.
Shires and other types of draft horses are considered the gentle giants of the horse world or “cold-bloods.” This category of horses means they are bigger-boned, heavier, and slower. Cold-bloods are known for having a calm or docile temperament.
Height: 16.2 hands (65 inches) to 17.2 hands (69 inches)
Weight: 1870 to 2430 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Long, narrow head with small cheekbones; long, arched neck; short back with muscular shoulders and chest; some feathering of fine, straight, silky hair on legs
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Named for the River Clyde in Scotland where they originated, draft horses like Clydesdales are still used to pull plows, wagons, and other farm equipment. The breed was developed during the early 1800s from Flemish stallions imported to Scotland that were crossed with local mares. Clydesdales have achieved great fame as the official mascot of the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company. The Budweiser Clydesdales tour the U.S. and make appearances in parades and local fairs.
Height: 16 hands (64 inches) to 18 hands (72 inches)
Weight: 1,800 to 2,000 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Broad forehead, wide muzzle, and arched neck; well-muscled high withers with sloped shoulders; extensive feathering on their lower legs
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Called the Flanders horse in the Middle Ages, the Belgian breed is a draft horse that originated from the Brabant region of Belgium. Its main use was as a farm horse. Belgians are still used as working animals but have also become popular as show horses and for pleasure riding. This breed is also desirable for its tender horse meat, which is considered a delicacy in parts of Europe and Japan.
Height: 16.2 hands (66 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches)
Weight: 1540 to 1985 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Small, refined head; short, wide back with powerful loins; massive, muscled hindquarters with short legs and some feathering
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This breed was developed in the Perche province of France's Normandy region. Its ancestry includes Moorish Barb horses and Flemish draft horses. Later, Arabian blood was mixed in to add refinement. Percherons had been used by militaries to carry soldiers and supplies and to pull equipment and weapons. Today, Percherons continue to be used for forestry work and pulling carriages, as well as competitive riding and show jumping.
Height: 16.2 hands (66 inches) to 17.3 (71 inches)
Weight: 1,800 to 2,600 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Heavily muscled shoulders, forearms, and haunches; sturdy, elegantly arched neck; Arabian-looking head with small, upright earsContinue to 5 of 10 below.
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The "Nederland trekpaard" or Dutch draft horse was developed after World War I to help with agricultural and farm work. It was derived from the Belgian breed and averages about 16 hands in height. Despite its size, it tends to be quite active with a long working life. It is highly intelligent and has a calm temperament.
Height: 15.3 hands (61 inches) to 15.6 (63 inches)
Weight: 1540 to 1650 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Stocky, strong shoulders; straight profile; bay, gray, or chestnut coat; legs are heavily feathered
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The miniature horse breed, also called a mini, is one of the tiniest breeds. This breed is divided into two height divisions with the tallest being no more than 38 inches at the withers. They are often too tiny to be ridden, but they are driven pulling a cart, compete in obstacle courses and jumping, and serve as companion therapy animals.
Thumbelina, a miniature horse born in 2001 that died in 2018, maintains the world record for the smallest equine. The horse measured 17.5 inches at the withers. Thumbelina displayed dwarfism features. Although she was healthy, dwarfism in minis and ponies can include debilitating physical problems and defects of the internal organs. For these reasons, breeding dwarf ponies is discouraged.
The smallest foal at birth was a miniature horse born in 2010 named Einstein that weighed 6 pounds and measured 14 inches at the withers. Fully grown, the horse measured about 2 feet tall and 80 pounds, roughly the size of a golden retriever.
Height: 30 to 38 inches
Weight: 150 to 350 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Lengthy and angled shoulders; long and flexible neck; well-formed forearms; wide-set eyes; large nostrils; and medium-sized, pointed ears
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Falabella is a small horse that hails from Argentina. It is among the smallest horse breeds in the world. The Spanish ancestral stock of this horse comes from Andalusian and Iberian bloodlines. The horse is named for Juan Falabella, an Argentinian who added Welsh pony, Shetland pony, and small thoroughbreds to the Spanish mix in the late 1800s. The result was a herd of consistently small-sized horses. They can be taught to drive carts and jump obstacles. Falabellas can also be used as guide animals due to their small size and easy trainability.
Height: 25 to 34 inches
Weight: 40 to 100 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Arabian or thoroughbred-looking; smooth coat with a slender, compact structure; large head; stouter neck than normal-sized horses
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They may be short in stature, but do not let their small size fool you. Shetlands are strong, intelligent, and gentle with a little bit of spunk. These compact, sturdy ponies can outwork a draft horse. Their broad bodies make them exceptionally strong. Hailing from the Shetland Islands of Scotland, these horses were used for carting, agricultural work, and hauling coal in mines. They have thick coats that help them withstand frigid winters.
Height: 7 hands (28 inches) to 11.5 hands (46 inches)
Weight: 400 to 450 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Compact body; broad head; thick neck; short legs; lush mane and tailContinue to 9 of 10 below.
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The Noma is the smallest native breed of horse from the Japanese island of Shikoku. It is named after Noma, the former name of the Japanese district that it came from (now Ehime Prefecture). It is critically endangered with less than 50 alive in 2019. It was developed in the 17th century to primarily serve as pack animals on steep terrain and on remote islands. Today, the horse is a highly visited tourist attraction in zoos and Japanese stud farms.
Height: 43 inches to 55 inches
Weight: Averages 450 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Cylindrical body; oblique buttocks; thin legs; and durable hooves
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The Yonaguni small horse breed is another critically-endangered native Japanese breed. It hails from Okinawa's Yonaguni Island. This breed closely resembles both the Tokara and Miyako ponies, which are both native to Japan as well. The horse was initially used for farm work and transportation. As of 2019, there were about 100 Yonaguni left. This breed is used for instructional purposes in local schools and for recreational riding.
Height: 46 to 47 inches
Weight: Averages 460 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Large head; short neck; straight and erect shoulders; long, sloping back; hooves are long and hard