What are examples of tall horse breeds?

Get a leg up on the biggest horse breeds that help you sit tall.

I’m the tallest female on my father’s side of the family, at 5’6 and considered average height by most. Being tall is relative for people, and the same is true for horses. For tall riders, finding a suitable horse can seem even harder than finding a pair of jeans that doesn’t make them look like they’re wearing capris.

If you’re the kind of rider who says, “Let me get that cereal box from the top shelf,” you’ve definitely found yourself paging through books like the Smithsonian Horse Breed Identification Handbook in search of tall horse breeds.

Draft horses like the Shire, Clydesdale, Belgian, and Percheron are among the tallest horse breeds overall, while Thoroughbreds and Hanoverians are among the tallest non-draft breeds. The largest horse in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is a Belgian called Big Jake, who is 20 hands and 2.75 inches tall (82.75 inches).

While looking for a horse, keep in mind that height is simply one of several factors to consider. You want a horse that suits your body size and also your long-term riding or driving goals.

You may also be interested in our profiles of the Three Calmest Horse Breeds and the Four Best Horse Breeds for Beginners.

How Horse Height is Measured

Before we dive into the tallest horse breeds, let’s explain how horses are typically measured. “My horse is 16.2 hands high,” you’ve definitely heard, but what does that mean?

The word “hand” refers to four inches (the typical height of a man’s hand at the time). The number after the decimal represents more inches (in our example 16 hands and 2 inches). A 16.2hh horse is one that is 66 inches tall.

Horse height is measured from the ground to the top of the withers (stand alongside and behind the front leg).

This is the most objective measurement since the wither height doesn’t change when a horse raises or lowers its head and neck. When it comes to horse measurements, neck and head height are irrelevant.


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Horse Measuring Tools

What are examples of tall horse breeds? Whether you want to know the height of your horse or if you’re going to look at a prospective new horse, you’ll need an appropriate measuring instrument (pun intended).

A measuring stick is the most often used instrument for estimating horse height.

These sticks, which are often constructed of aluminum, are identical to those used in a human doctor’s office and may be raised/lowered to reach the highest point of measurement.

What are examples of tall horse breeds?

Click to see measuring sticks at Amazon

Some models additionally have built-in level bubbles to provide the most precise reading possible.

Tall riders might also look for Kerrits TALL summer breeches, which are available on Amazon.

If you don’t have a measuring stick, a weight/height tape will do (this one at Amazon does the job). This is a quick and easy way to estimate height, and the tape is pulled snug from the top of the withers, under the chest (in the girth area), and back up until the ends of the tape meet.

The advantage of utilizing tape is that you can obtain a weight reading as well as a height reading.

Note: Although tape may provide a decent approximation of height (and weight), a measuring stick will provide a more exact measurement of horse height.

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Tall Horse Breeds

Now that you know how to measure equine height, let’s take a look at six of the tallest horse breeds that can truly enhance your ride.

Make sure your horse trailer is tall enough for him to ride in comfortably. For further information, see our article Horse Trailer Weights by the Numbers.

If you want to understand more about each horse breed, read our posts on the 3 Calmest Horse Breeds and the 4 Best Horse Breeds for Beginners.


What are examples of tall horse breeds?

Shire horses typically range from 16.2hh to 19hh.

Known as the world’s largest horse, the Shire Horse originated in England and was bred for pulling heavy loads on the farm and carrying military men in full armor. These draft horses were famous in medieval jousting competitions due to their size and power.

Because of their feathered legs, these large creatures are sometimes mistaken with Clydesdales, although they come in a broader range of coat colors, including bay, brown, black, grey, and chestnut.

While you may see a Shire in the dressage ring on occasion, this breed is more usually utilized for driving.

See a Shire stallion in action:

Eager to Learn More?  Visit the American Shire Horse Association

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What are examples of tall horse breeds?


What are examples of tall horse breeds?

Clydesdale horses normally stand between 16 and 18 hands tall.

They are, indeed, the Budweiser horses! Originating from Scotland, this breed was designed for agricultural labour and to pull hefty loads. Although its height, this generally bay type is lighter in physique than other draft horses.

The Clydesdale Horse’s feathery legs and high-stepping gaits are two of its most recognizable characteristics.

Clydesdales are often seen in parades, where their obvious presence is a crowd pleaser, in addition to carrying the Budweiser carriage or police the streets on mounted patrols.

See a Clydesdale stallion in action:

Eager to Learn More?  Visit the Clydesdale Breeders Association

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You may also be interested in our profiles of the Three Calmest Horse Breeds and the Four Best Horse Breeds for Beginners.


What are examples of tall horse breeds?

Belgian horses typically range from 16hh to 18hh.

Unsurprisingly, this draft breed originated in Belgium. They were bred for agricultural work and are now see in halter and hitch classes, as well as pulling competitions.

This breed is popular among draft horse fans because to its powerful backs, large feet (understatement of the year), highly muscled midsections, and enormous hindquarters.

According to the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America, there are more Belgians in the U.S. than all other draft breeds combined. Belgian horses have chestnut or sorrel coats with flaxen manes and tails.

Foals are born weighing roughly 125 pounds (consider that the next time you hear a woman moan about delivery) and may grow to weigh more than one ton (2,000 pounds).

Note that the tallest horse in the current Guinness Book of World Records is a Belgian called Big Jake, who is 20 hands and 2.75 inches barefoot (no shoes).

See a Belgian stallion in action:

Eager to Learn More?  Visit the American Belgian Draft Horse Company.

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What are examples of tall horse breeds?

Percheron horses normally vary in height from 16 to 18 hands.

The Percheron originated in France and was developed for combat service before being used to pull carriages and for agricultural work. Today, the breed is mostly used for forestry work, carriage driving, and occasionally, english riding.

While American Percherons may be registered as roan, bay, or chestnut, they are mainly black or grey with little or no white markings. They have lighter feathering on their legs, wider chests, stronger hindquarters, and more elegant features than other draft breeds.

Percheron crosses are increasingly becoming more popular as performance horses in dressage and show jumping arenas, however they are most often seen pulling carriages or working on farms.

See a Percheron stallion in action:

Eager to Learn More?  Visit the World Percheron Congress USA

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You may also be interested in our profiles of the 11 Best Breeds for New Horse Owners.


What are examples of tall horse breeds?

Thoroughbred horses generally stand 15 to 17 hands tall.

Draft horses aren’t your only options if you’re seeking a tall riding and/or performance horse. Thoroughbreds tend to be taller, and you should have no trouble finding horses in the 17hh range.

Thoroughbreds, which originated in England and were bred as racing horses, are today among the most popular all-around athletes in the horse world.

Their ground-covering stride offers them an edge in timed jumping events and on the cross-country course, while their height gives them an advantage over jumps.

The Thoroughbred Horse, on the other hand, has a hotter temperament than the “cold blooded” draft breeds.

See a Thoroughbred stallion in action:

Eager to Learn More?  Visit The Jockey Club website

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What are examples of tall horse breeds?

Hanoverian horses normally stand between 15 and 17 hands tall.

This royal warmblood horse was developed in northern Germany as a carriage and military horse.

These natural athletes are now bred as real performance horses, excelling in dressage, show jumping, and eventing (along with driving, as originally designed).

Hanoverians are known for their ground-covering and rhythmic gaits, as well as their beauty and elegance.

If you’re searching for a tall drink of water with the athleticism to compete at the highest levels, the Hanoverian should be a contender.

See a Hanoverian stallion in action:

Eager to Learn More?  Visit the American Hanoverian Society

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You may also be interested in our profiles of the Three Calmest Horse Breeds and the Four Best Horse Breeds for Beginners.

What are examples of tall horse breeds?

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the best large horse breeds for riding?

  • If height is the priority, Consider getting a Thoroughbred. This breed can give tall riders the height they crave without a stouter frame or added heft.
  • If a studier body type is desired, Choose a Hanoverian if you still want an athlete capable of high-level performance riding. This breed combines height with a bigger build, but it’s still bred for work under saddle.
  • If pure size is the priority, Any of the tall horses on our list are *ridable. Large draft breeds, like the Shire or Clydesdale, are bred for non-riding purposes like pulling a lot of weight. Prepare to feel less “refined” under saddle than you would with a horse bred for gait quality and agility.

Q: What is the largest riding horse breed?

As we said above, all draft breeds can be ridden.

These are some of the biggest horse breeds suited for riding rather than pulling/working:

  • Thoroughbreds (15-17hh)
  • Hanoverians (15-17hh)
  • Friesians (15-17hh)

Remember that you may combine a draft with a lighter-framed riding horse to obtain the best of both worlds. “Half drafts” are becoming increasingly popular in a variety of disciplines for mixing athleticism with friendly temperament.

Q: What are the best horse breeds for tall riders?

Tall riders might consider Thoroughbreds, Hanoverians, and Warmbloods.

But, horse size may vary greatly within a single breed, so don’t count out finding a tall Quarter Horse if another breed is more your style!

Q: What breed of horse is best for heavy riders?

The best breed will differ depending on the rider’s weight.

Most heavyset riders may be carried by warmbloods, draft crosses, Gypsy Vanners, Friesians, and even breeds like Norwegian Fjords.

For riders weighing more than 200 pounds, full draft breeds such as Belgian horses, Clydesdales, and Percherons may be required.

Q: What are “the big horses” called?

People usually refer to draft horses when they use this phrase. Breeds like Clydesdales, with their impressive height and feathered legs, have been made broadly popular by Anheuser Busch.

Q: Which is bigger Percheron vs Clydesdale?

Percherons and Clydesdales are both 16-18hh in height.

Q: Are Belgian horses bigger than Clydesdales?

Belgians and Clydesdales are both approximately 16-18hh in height.

Q: Are Clydesdales good for riding?

Although some riders like riding Clydesdales, the breed was not bred to enhance conventional riding traits such as movement, suspension, suppleness, stamina, and speed.

Go for it if you’re just meandering about trails. If you want to spot this breed in high-level dressage, jumping, or western riding arenas, you’ll be disappointed.

Q: Are taller horses faster?

Speed is not usually proportional to height. It has more to do with the length of a horse’s legs. Horses with longer legs tend to be speedier.

Speed may also be influenced by genetics. For example, with short distances, Quarter horses can outpace Thoroughbreds, thanks to the design of their hind legs.

Skinnier horses may outrun larger horses. There’s a fine line with weight, but racehorse owners tend to keep their horses slender for a reason.

Ultimately, a horse’s heart size may make a difference. A horse who wants to win always seems to find a burst of speed when he needs one.

Q: What is considered tall for a horse?

If the normal height of a horse is between 14.2 and 16.2 hands, any horse 16.3 hands or taller would be called tall.

Most equestrians consider any horse taller than 17 hands, especially horses 18 hands and higher (some horses are as tall as 19.2 hands, or roughly six and a half feet tall) to be giants.

What is considered tall might vary depending on breed. A 15.3-hand Arabian may be regarded tall, although 15.3-hand Quarter horses are common. A horse might also seem tall if it is the wrong size for you.

Q: How big of a rider can a horse carry?

Weight limits vary based on each stable or outfitter, but it’s common to see limits at 200 pounds. If a facility has access to large draft horses, the weight restriction may be raised to 225 or 250 pounds.

The rider and gear should not weigh more than 20% of the horse’s body weight as a general rule.

Be considerably more cautious if the horses are working in the mountains or being ridden for long periods of time.

Verify ahead of time with the people you’ll be travelling with to ensure that everyone in your party is under the weight limit.

Q: Would a draft horse breed make a good trail horse?

It is determined on your objectives and the specific horse. If you wish to compete in endurance riding or trail classes, breeds like Arabians and Quarter Horses are significantly more popular. The Arabian Horse are arguably the most popular breed for endurance, as they have incredible stamina and toughness. American Quarter Horses are among the most popular choices for everyday trail riding, though any breed should be able to handle at least light trail rides.

Having said that, draft horses (and draft crosses) may be patient and agreeable trail companions. They are more often seen packing supplies instead of being ridden, as a heavy horse has the heft and strength for the task.

Go Big or Go Home

Height is seldom the most significant element to consider while looking for a horse, but it should be considered. If you’re a smaller rider, think about how often you’ll be getting on and off your horse without assistance (e.g. on a trail).

If you’re a taller rider, consider whether you want to compete in in-hand halter classes or higher level jumping contests.

Finally, prioritize temperament over appearance.

A high draft breed may be a good option if you want to remain calm, cool, and collected. If you need a tall horse with boundless energy to go cross country, you may want to consider one of the taller non-draft breeds like a Thoroughbred or Hanoverian.

P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:

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  • Keep Calm & Ride On: 3 Calmest Horse Breeds
  • Friendly & Fun: 4 Best Horse Breeds for Beginners
  • What is the maximum weight that a horse can pull? (You’ll be surprised!)
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Related Questions

  • What is the tallest riding horse breed?

    The Shire Horse

    The Shire Horse is a British horse breed that holds the world record for both the tallest and biggest horse breed.

  • What are the tallest horses?

    Shires are the world’s tallest horses. It is not unusual for one of these ladies to be 20 hands long. In fact, the biggest horse ever measured is the Shire gelding Sampson, who is now called Mammoth. Mammoth was born in England in 1846 and stood at 21.2-1/2 hands, over 7 feet 2.5 inches tall!

  • What are the big tall horses called?

    Five breeds that tend to produce the largest horses are Shire, Clydesdale, Belgian Draft, Percheron and Suffolk. Shire horses are well-known for their height and power, and they have held several records for the biggest and tallest horse.

  • What horse is bigger than a Clydesdale?

    Belgian horses are larger than Clydesdales, standing between 16.2 and 17 hands tall and weighing between 1,800 and 2,200 pounds. Clydesdales are somewhat taller than horses but weigh less. Belgians are slightly larger overall than Clydesdales; however, size isn’t the only characteristic that distinguishes the two breeds.

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