Horses are big. Some can be startlingly big! Some are tiny, of course, but most are larger than people are used to, and it can give people pause. If you have spent your life around ponies, Shetlands or Miniatures then you won’t necessarily have the idea that horses are big, but some are really huge, defying imagination! Here is a list of some of the tallest horse breeds.
What You'll Learn Today
The Shire has held the record for being the largest horse at various times throughout its history. They stand between 16.2 and 17 hands, and are well known for their pulling abilities.
In fact, in 1924 a pair of shires were estimated to pull a starting load of 45 tons! Traditionally they have been used for farm and draft work, but nowadays they are generally used for showing purposes as well as agriculture.
Clydesdales hail from Scotland, where they used to be a small but heavy breed. They have been improved with other draft breeds over the years, so they now stand taller, at an impressive 16 to 18 hands.
They are typically bay,and generally have white stockings and feathered legs, and are known for their quiet, friendly temperaments. Clydesdales are used for policing crowds, shows and for pulling the Budweiser carts.
A typical Percheron stands between 16 and 18 hands, and is usually gray or black very few white markings. The Percheron was bred in France, and was originally used as a war horse.
When horses were no longer used in the military the Percheron was extremely useful as a farm worker, being incredibly strong, but following the mechanisation of agriculture they were once again out of a job.
These days they are used mostly for forestry, carriage driving and sometimes English riding. They are a really great breed for heavier riders.
Belgian Drafts are seriously big. They range from 16 to 18 hands, and tend to err towards the taller end of this scale. In fact, the world’s current tallest horse is a Belgian Draft! His name is Big Jake and he stands an impressive 20.2 3/4 inches high, with no shoes on.
The Belgian Draft is most commonly chestnut, with a flaxen mane and tail and long white stockings. This draft breed was bred for agricultural work, but nowadays they are mainly used for halter and hitch classes as well as pulling competitions.
Bred around the end of WW1 from crossing the Belgian Draft with other heavy horses like the Belgian Ardennes, the Dutch Draft is another heavyweight contender in the tallest horses stakes. They stand around 16 hands and are usually bay, gray or chestnut.
They are shorter in the leg than some draft horses, but they are still seriously strong, as was necessary in their original work as heavy draft and farm work. They are still used for this sort of work, as well as for harness work.
This is the only draft horse that was developed in the US that is still in existence – although it is a rare breed, with fewer than 1,000 individuals. This horse stands between 15 and 16 hands, and they are big, stocky horses, although the head is refined.
They are an unusual color, caused by the Champagne gene, which makes horses with pink skin, amber eyes and a pale mane and tail. Originally bred for farm work, these horses are now mainly used for carriage rides for tourists, and showing.
Russian Heavy Draft
One of the smaller “tallest horse breeds”, the Russian Draft was developed in Russia during the days of the Soviet Union. Despite its relatively small stature (it stands around 15 hands) this horse has to be included because it is just so big!
Incredibly muscular and heavy, it was well suited to its hard labor and the rough terrain in which it lived. The Russian Heavy Draft is usually chestnut or strawberry roan, but may also be bay. Nowadays they are kept for their high milk yield, which is used in the making of Kumis, a fermented milk drink.
This breed has been in existence since the early 16th century, and is largely unchanged in its appearance since then. They stand between 16 and 17 hands, and are always chestnut in color – the traditional spelling used by the Suffolk Horse Society is “chesnut” – with variations from dark red to light existing in the breed.
They are shorter but more massively built than some other draft breeds, which is what gives the second half of their name – the “Punch” comes from their powerful, muscled stature.
They were initially developed for farm and agriculture work, as well as for pulling heavy artillery during wars, but these days they are used for forestry, advertising, and for cross breeding with other horses.
The Dole stands about 16 hands, and although it is not the tallest horse on the list it is renowned for its use as a heavy work horse. It originated in the Gudbrandsal Valley in Norway, and was used for the transport of heavy goods.
Doles were used during the German occupation of Norway, and after this time they were used as harness horses. They are usually brown or black, though gray, dun and tan horses also exist within the Norwegian breed. They are muscular and perfect for the Norwegian terrain.
Although most of the tallest horses are drafts, not all the tallest are heavy horses. The Thoroughbred stands between 15 and 17 hands, and they are rangy, athletic horses with a ground-covering stride.
They are used primarily for racing, but are also good riding horses and can turn their hoof to many other disciplines. Thoroughbreds and their crosses have been seen in the medal boards of many equestrian shows throughout the world.
Standing between 15 and 17 hands, the Hanoverian is one of the largest non-draft horses. They were originally bred in Germany as carriage and military horses, as they have truly eye catching gaits and are very hard working, but nowadays they are known for their prowess at showjumping, dressage and eventing, as well as driving, in a hark back to their original use.
They come in all solid colors and are well known for their good temperament as well as their beauty.
Frequently Asked Questions
Height is not as important as strength. Your horse should be able to carry about 25% of his or her weight comfortably, and you should be able to get on and off your horse comfortably. If you are a slightly heavier older rider, you may be better off getting a smaller, stockier horse. If you are a very tall, agile rider, you may be more comfortable on a taller horse. A young, small, agile rider might enjoy a taller horse more and wouldn’t have to worry about outgrowing the horse.
Draft horses are typically quiet and agreeable, so a draft horse can be a good choice for a beginning rider, an older rider or a heavier rider. These days, because Americans are typically heavier than we once were, retired draft horses are often used in “dude ranch” settings to carry inexperienced vacationers on trail rides.
Taller, bigger horses can be significantly more expensive to care for. They eat more, need more space, need larger sized tack and can be more prone to unsoundness – meaning more veterinary bills.
If you are very tall, yourself, you may feel much more comfortable on a very tall horse. Riders who are over six feet tall often say that they feel better fitted to a horse who is over 17HH. Interestingly, very small (jockey sized) riders also often prefer a very tall horse, perhaps just for the novelty of being up high.