See ‘Sampson’ – The Largest Horse Ever Recorded

Written by Eliana Riley
Updated: November 20, 2023
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Key Points:

  • The average height of a horse ranges between 55-71 inches, but Sampson was no average horse — growing to over 3,000 lbs and 7 feet tall by the time he was four years old.
  • Shire is a breed of horses that is particularly large; however, it is not the only breed that can grow to enormous sizes.
  • Draft horses are the heaviest and tallest type of horse, and these qualities aid them in working and carrying heavy loads.

Discovering the Amazing World of Horses

Horses are majestic and versatile creatures, and some horse breeds are known for their incredible size! Many of the heaviest and tallest horses are used as draft and working horses. Others have gained recognition for their massive weight and height alone. For instance, the world’s largest recorded horse stood 85 inches high and weighed more than some car models do today! Discover just how big some horses can be!

Average Size of a Horse

white Arabian horse running

The Arabian horse is a beautiful breed that measures around 15 hands.

©Osetrik/Shutterstock.com

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The average height of a horse ranges between 13.3 and 17.3 hands, which is between 55.12 and 70.87 inches. In addition, horses can weigh between 660 and 2,200 pounds. However, these figures are a generalization based on all breeds of horses. Size can depend on several factors, including diet, genetics, and exercise. Therefore, different horse breeds have different average heights and weights. For instance, while the Arabian horse measures between 14.1 and 15.1 hands on average, the Spotted Pony has a height that ranges from eight to 14 hands. Other height and weight averages for large horse breeds are described in other sections below.

The Biggest Horse in the World

Picture of Sampson the horse

This photo is believed to be of Sampson/Mammoth, although it cannot be confirmed. It does depict a large horse that can be used as a reference point for what the size of Sampson was.

©https://horseyhooves.com/brooklyn-supreme-horse/, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Sampson is the name of the biggest horse on record. This Shire horse was born in 1846 in the county of Bedfordshire, England. Sampson weighed in at 3,360 pounds when he was just four years old! By comparison, many cars don’t even weigh that much. For instance, a 2022 Honda Civic weighs between 2,877 and 3,077 pounds, depending on the model. Sampson was reported to be over seven feet tall, or 21.25 hands, too. As you can see in the picture below, due to his unbelievable size, Sampson was rightfully renamed “Mammoth.”

Sampson’s height is also recorded in hands, which stood at 21.25 (the photo depicts a large horse not confirmed to be Sampson).

Why are Horses Measured in Hands?

Przewalski's horses stand in the middle of the steppe.

Przewalski’s horses are bulky and only reach a maximum height of fourteen hands.

©Yantar/Shutterstock.com

Horses are measured in hands because in ancient times there were no units of measurement apart from the human body. Feet, inches, meters, yards, and other units of measurement did not exist as they do today. Therefore, people used their hands to measure the height of horses. Why did they need to measure a horse’s height, to begin with? Height measurement was necessary for buying and selling. A buyer would want to know how tall a horse was before purchasing it for riding or working purposes.

Using the hand as a unit of measurement became problematic, though, because no human hand measures the same length. Therefore, King Henry VIII determined that a better form of measurement was needed. He labeled the width of a “hand” as four inches. Therefore, if a horse is reported to be 16 hands in height, then it is 64 inches tall.

Horses are not measured head to toe, though. The head of the horse moves, so measuring a horse beginning at its head is unreliable in determining its true height. Thus, the horse is measured at the withers (shoulders), which are the first stable and stationary part of the horse at the top of its body. Then, a horse can be measured from the ground next to its hooves up to its withers.

The Shire Horse and Other Large Horse Breeds

How long do horses live: Shire

The Shire breed originated in England and averages a weight of 2,000 pounds.

©Anaite/Shutterstock.com

The Shire breed originates in England and is a draft and farm animal. Shires stand at an average of 17 hands tall, or 5 feet 8 inches. While some Shires, like Sampson, are the exception and weigh more than the average, most weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Shires also have an abundance of hair on their legs, and their color is usually a shade of black, brown, or gray. Other massive horse breeds are described below.

The Suffolk Punch

suffolk punch horse

The Suffolk Punch originated in England and is the country’s oldest heavy horse breed.

©JM-DIGITALPHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock.com

The Suffolk Punch stands between 16.1 and 17.2 hands high and weighs, on average, 2000 to 2200 pounds. The Suffolk Punch originated in England and is the country’s oldest horse breed. Suffolk Punch horses are strong and tireless, making them the perfect farming horse. They also adapt well to a variety of environments and are known to be extremely agreeable breeds. Unfortunately, the Suffolk Punch is a critically endangered breed of horse, meaning that very few of these horses still exist today.

Clydesdale

Biggest Horses: Clydesdales

Clydesdales are often seen in parades.

©OlesyaNickolaeva/Shutterstock.com

Clydesdales weigh between 1,800 and 2,000 pounds and measure approximately 16 to 18 hands high. Clydesdales originated in Scotland and were used as draft and farm animals like the Shire horse. In fact, Clydesdales appear so similar to the Shire horse that it can be difficult to tell them apart. Like the Shire, Clydesdales have thick hair on their legs and have color variations within the shades of brown, black, and gray. Clydesdales are recognized as smart, adaptable, and peaceful creatures. You might recognize this breed from Budweiser beer ads, as they are the company’s mascot.

Belgian Horse

Biggest Horses: Belgians

The Belgians are one of the strongest drafts in the world.

©OlesyaNickolaeva/Shutterstock.com

Belgian horses weigh between 2,100 and 2,300 pounds on average and are 16.2 to 17 hands tall. They originate in Belgium and are characterized as a mighty, indefatigable breed. Belgian horses are best utilized as draft horses because they can move extremely heavy amounts of weight with ease. Belgian horses are mellow, smart, and reliable horses much like the Clydesdale.

Percheron Horse

Tallest Horses - Percheron

Percherons are smart, easily trainable horses.

©Nadezda Murmakova/Shutterstock.com

The Percheron horse is a working horse, but they are also used in parades and horse shows. They can be riding horses, too. Percheron horses average a weight that ranges from 1,800 to 2,200 pounds and have a height between 16.2 and 17.3 hands. Percherons get along well with their owners and other horse breeds. They are smart animals, meaning they are trained easily. They usually appear gray or black, and they are known as beautiful, adaptable, and gentle animals.

Characteristics and Abilities of Draft Horses

Percheron horse

Today, draft horses often engage in shows and competitions, or are utilized for riding or working.

©Nadezda Murmakova/Shutterstock.com

Draft horses are the heaviest and tallest type of horse, and these qualities aid them in working and carrying heavy loads. However, some draft horses can be used for riding and transportation, too. Many draft horses today engage in shows, competitions, or the pulling of carriages and wagons. For instance, the Amish use draft horses to pull their carriages and other loads. In New York City, carriage rides often found near Central Park are pulled by draft horses, too. Historically, draft horses have made important contributions. By working on farms, carrying supplies in warfare, and transporting numerous people across landscapes, draft horses have worked to supply resources and develop countries in a manner crucial to human success. Although they may look intimidating due to their massive size, draft horses are kind animals. They are also loyal to their owners and easily trained.

Other Famously Huge Horses

While no horse rivals the size of Sampson, some other famously giant horses have been recorded throughout history. Below list of some of the largest horses of all time.

  • Morocco was the name of a Percheron-Arabian horse, who measured 21.2 hands in height and weighed 2,835 pounds. Morocco was a popular horse, appearing at St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. In addition, he was known as a gentle and fun-loving horse, attracting many women and children.
  • Big Jake was a Belgian horse from Poynette, Wisconsin. He had a height of 20 hands, and he held the Guinness World Record for the tallest living horse until his death in June of 2021.
  • King LeGear is a Clydesdale that measured 20.5 hands in height and weighed 2,950 pounds when he was seven years old. King LeGear was named after his owner, Dr. L.D. LeGear, who lived in St. Louis, Missouri.
  • Dr. LeGear, not to be confused with King LeGear, was owned by Dr. L.D. LeGear, too. Dr. LeGear was a Percheron horse, who shared his name with his owner. This horse weighed 2,995 pounds and measured 21 hands in height.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © public domain – License / Original


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About the Author

Eliana Riley is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on geography, travel, and landmarks. Eliana is a second-year student at Miami University majoring in English Education and Spanish. A resident of Tennessee and Ohio, Eliana enjoys traveling to national and state parks, hiking, kayaking, and camping.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How is height measured for horses?

A horse’s height is measured by hands, a unit equivalent to four inches. A height of a horse can be determined by measuring from the ground next to the hooves of the horse up to its withers.

Which horse breeds are the largest?

The largest horse breeds are Shire, Clydesdale, Belgian, and Percheron horses.

Can you ride large draft horses?

Some large draft horses are suitable for riding and working. Be careful, though, because mounting a tall horse can be a difficult task!

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

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