- The biggest horse was Big Jake a Red Belgian who was 2500 pounds. Jake died in 2021.
- Horses are measured in hands. One hand equals 4 inches. The horse is measured from ground to shoulder.
- The tallest breed of horse is the Shire, coming in at 20 hands tall on average.
What are the tallest horses in the world? This question has been important for thousands of years. Big horses have had key roles in the history of humans, from pulling chariots and providing brute strength for large building construction to powering machinery and acting as icons for big consumer brands. Let’s explore some of the world’s biggest horses and how the tallest breeds have contributed to our society.
First, it is important to know that horse height is not typically described in inches or feet. Instead, horses are traditionally measured in hands. For this measurement, an average-sized man’s hand of four inches wide is used to calculate the horse height from the ground to the animal’s shoulder. To achieve this measurement in hands, one can also measure a horse in inches and divide the number of inches by four.
The Tallest Horse in the World Until 2021 – “Big Jake”
Until his death at the age of 20 years in June 2021, Big Jake of Poynette, Wisconsin was the world’s tallest horse as proclaimed by the Guinness Book of World Records. In hands, he measured 20 and 2-3/4″ tall, equivalent to 6 feet 10 inches. Big Jake, a red Belgian, weighed over 2500 pounds. Now, Guinness World Records is on the hunt for the new “world’s tallest living horse” titleholder.
Jutland horses are named after the region they originated from in Denmark. These gentle but energetic giants are one of the biggest horses in the world at a typical height of 15 to 16.1 hands and weight of up to 1,760 pounds. Although these tall horses can be bay, black, roan or gray in color, the most common coloration is chestnut. Jutland horses are often used in film and television productions, making them one of the most visible of the tallest breeds.
#9 American Cream Draft
Like all other draft horses, the 16.3 hands American Cream Draft was bred to pull heavyweight like loaded carts and machinery. This made the U.S.-originating American Cream Draft vital to the New World’s economy before the Industrial Revolution. But they are still visible in rural regions as farmworkers, riding horses, and companions. This draft horse is not only one of the biggest horses, but also one of the prettiest breeds. They feature amber eyes, cream coats, white manes, and white tails.
The Boulonnais horse measures 15.1 to 17 hands tall, making it the 9th tallest breed. Originating from France, the Boulonnais dates back to at least 49 BC. It is believed that Julius Caesar used these elegant horses, also called the “White Marble” horses, in his cavalry. According to historical documents, Caesar’s army left some of this breed in England after the Roman invasion.
Boulonnais can range from their typical gray color to black and chestnut. They have thick necks, short heads, wide foreheads, and small ears. Although they are one of the world’s biggest horses, Boulonnais’ are sociable, energetic, and easy to lead. They make great companion horses.
#7 Dutch Draft
The Dutch Draft horse measures up to 17 hands tall. It is one of the rarest but largest horses in the world, originating in ancient times from cross-breeding of Belgian Drafts and Ardennes. These workhorses have always performed well on the farm, pulling very heavy loads and fulfilling other equine needs. They have great endurance, strength, intelligence, and calm nature. But among their workhorse peers, Dutch Drafts are slow walkers.
Known for their beautifully feathered hooves, Dutch Drafts feature short legs, wide necks, well-defined musculature, and a straight head. Their common colors are chestnut, gray, and bay.
#6 Australian Draught
The Australian Draught horse is a cross-breed for the Suffolk Punch, Percheron, Shire, and Clydesdale. At up to 17.2 hands tall and almost 2,000 pounds, Australian Draughts are massive. This size and their strength make them ideal for pulling heavy loads, for which draft horses are bred. But today, they are seen more often in show rings, on riding trails, and performing farm work.
The Australian Draught has many possible coat colors. The most common are white, black, brown, or roan. They have a strong appearance with well-defined muscles, clear eyes, wide chests, wide back quarters, and light legs.
#5 Suffolk Punch
The Suffolk Punch originated in Suffolk, England sometime after the turn of the 16th century. Because of their impressive size at up to 18 hands tall, muscular legs, and dense bones, these horses were a natural fit for the hardworking farms of their era. But as industrialization took hold in agriculture, the Suffolk Punch teetered on extinction. Despite being England’s oldest native breed, this horse is now critically endangered.
The Suffolk Punch always features a chestnut coat, some with white facial and leg markings. They are rotund, earning them the “punch” name. Despite being one of the biggest horses, they eat less than other draft breeds. This makes them more economical for their owners, particularly as part of a working farm.
#4 Belgian Draft
At up to 18 hands tall, the Belgian Draft is similar in size to the #5 tallest breed, the Suffolk Punch. Hailing from Belgium and originally called the Flanders Horse, these show horses of the modern era were once a key part of European and American farm life. They are agricultural workers and cart pullers, still today.
Belgian Drafts are chestnut, roan, sorrel, or bay colored with notably short necks. Although their short necks make them appear less elegant than other large breeds like the biggest Clydesdales, they make up for that appearance by being reliably work-minded. Belgian Drafts are usually 18 hands tall or less. But some have grown to a rare giant stature of up to 19 hands tall and 3,000 pounds.
Measuring up to an impressive 19 hands tall is the typical black or gray French Percheron horse. This was once the tallest breed in the world. But their common size and appearance changed as more owners bred them with light horses like the Arabian. Today’s Percherons are more visible in horse shows, parades, and riding stables than as farmworkers. Still, they have a strong drive for work and do well in even snowy regions. The biggest among the breed is usually found in France or the United States.
The Clydesdale is overall one of the largest horse breeds, considering both their height and weight. But these Scottish giants are more compact in height than the Shire. With males being up to 19 hands tall on average, “compact” does not mean small by any means. In fact, “Poe” of Ontario, Canada is possibly the world’s biggest Clydesdale at 20.2 hands, just under 7 feet tall! That is taller than a moose and about the same size as a grizzly bear standing on its hind legs!
Most Clydesdales’ coats are bay-colored. But they can also be black, grey, or chestnut. Some feature white markings under their belly and most have white lower legs and feet. They are easily trained, gentle and calm giants, yet energetic and ready-to-work. Clydesdales are the most widely recognized among tallest breeds.
Shires are the tallest horses in the world. It is not uncommon for one of these beauties to measure 20 hands. 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! That is more than 4 inches taller than the world’s biggest Clydesdale, Poe.
Shires are muscular and easy-going. Despite their gentle nature, they were widely used for battlefield fighting. In the 1920s, two Shires pulled 40 tons of weight, making it clear why they were also highly popular for farming and pulling ale carts from breweries to homes. Many farmers rely on them, still today. Their coats are typically bay, grey, brown, black, or chestnut with feathered legs. Although the breed was almost extinct in the 1900s, conservationists are working to bring them back to prominence.
A Summary of Tallest Horses:
- Jutland- 15 to 16.1 hands
- Boulonnais – 15.1 to 17 hands
- Australian Draught – 17.2 hands
- American Cream Draft – 16.3 hands
- Suffolk Punch – 18 hands
- Dutch Draft – 17 hands
- Belgian Draft – 18 hands
- Percheron – 19 hands
- Clydesdale – 19 hands
- Shire – 20 hands
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