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How To... Measure Horse Height

It's easy to measure you horse's height accurately.

To determine how tall a horse is measure the horse, in inches, from the ground in a straight line up to the highest point of the withers. This is illustrated in the photo below by the yellow line.

Measure a horse's height

Above: The height of a horse is properly measured, in inches, from the ground to the highest point of the withers.

For the most accurate measurement the horse should be on firm, level ground with its front feet even, or close to even.

Calculating The Results

After you have measured your horse you will need to convert the results from inches to "hands." Horse height is correctly referred to by a unit of measurement known as a "hand." One hand is equal to four inches.

The gray mare in the photo above is 58 inches from the ground to the top of her withers. When 58 is divided by 4, you have 14.5. The 14 is the number of hands, and the .5 means another half of a hand, or another 2 inches. This means she is 14 and one-half hands tall.

Correctly Writing And Speaking The Results

The correct way of writing "14 and one-half hands" is to write "14.2". It is not correct to write it as "14.5". When correctly written, the number before the period is the number of hands, and the number after the period is the remaining number of inches. The number after the period should NOT stand for a fraction. Horseman usually say a measurement like this one out loud as "fourteen two" or "fourteen and a half."

A Few Examples

Below are a few examples of how to correctly write down a horse's height. Remember, the number in front of the period is for hands and the number after the period is the remaining inches.

If you like, you can add "hh" to a measurement, as in "15.1hh". The "hh" stands for "hands high."

Horse Measuring Devices

There are measuring devices on the market for horses that have hand and inches measurements marked on them. Some devices are rigid poles with short cross bars toward the top that can be raised or lowered to rest on a horse's withers. These are very handy and give accurate measurements easily.

Another common device is a special tape measure with hands and inches marked on it. These are inexpensive and are accurate if the person doing the measuring makes sure to run the tape straight up and down, and to read the measurement at a level angle.

Where Did "Hands" Come From?

As stated above, a horse's height is measured in hands. The origin of measuring a horse this way is very old, but easy to understand. In days long ago people did not have the common measuring devices (like tape measures, etc.) that we do today. To measure a horse, they used what was handy (no pun intended): Their hands. At various times in history and in different locales a "hand" was defined as the with of a person's hand using the fingers only, the width of a person's hand using the fingers and the thumb, the height of a clenched fist, and possibly others. Somewhere along the way, the measuring unit of a hand was standardized to mean four inches. Though the origins are ancient, a hand is still the unit of measurement for horses that modern horse owners use today.

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