How big is a hand?

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Equines are measured in units. Which unit of measure is used depends on the association doing the registration. Some registries use inches to determine size, since it is easier than trying to convert to hands. Other registries record measurements in hands. A hand is four inches. 

The story behind this unit of measurement is that a farmer went to measure his favorite horse. Not having a device to measure with, he used the only thing he knew would be consistent: the palm of his hand. Since then, the hand has been the unit of measure for equines.

Abbreviations for hands

The letters HH or hh after the numbers stand for Hands High. The single letter H or H may be used, standing just for “hands”.

Parts of a hand are given after the whole unit, following a decimal. 10.2 hands (can also be read as just Ten-two) means ten hands and two more inches. (4 inches x 10 hands equals 40 inches, plus two additional inches, so 10.2 is 42 inches tall). 10.3 would be 10 hands and 3 inches, forty-three (43) inches. There is no such thing as 10 hands 4 inches, as 4 inches would be an additional hand. However, even fractions of an inch can be listed, such as 10.3 ¾ hh. (Ten hands, 3 ¾” inches, or Ten-three and three-quarters: just ¼” shy of a full 11 hands.)

Some examples of hand measurements

3.3 hands – 15 inches at the withers, the smallest horse ever documented. Too Small! But, this animal reportedly only lived to be two years old (just short of what anyone would call mature).

4.2 hands – 18 inches.  A few Miniature foals are only 18 inches high at birth.

6 hands – 24 inches. There have been a few Miniature Horses reported at this height (short?) in recent years.

6.1 hands – 25 inches – unverified report of the smallest known mature Miniature Donkey

6.2 hands– 26 inches – the height of the smallest known breeding Miniature donkeys (in the USA) and also the height of the smallest known mule in the world (General Grant).

7 hands – 28 inches. A few Miniature donkeys this small, difficult for females in pregnancy and birthing. Animals this small prized in some circles, but conformation tends to suffer.  Either malproportioned in some cases, or very tiny with weak bone.

7.2 – 30 inches. Was once being debated as the cut-off point for breeding size in Miniature donkeys (no plans by ADMS to do this)

8 hands – 32 inches. Miniature size for horse, donkey or mule. Good average for Miniature Donkey height.

9 hands – 36 inches – breakover point from Miniature to Small standard for donkeys with no pedigree (Maximum height 36″) . Still miniature height for mules.

9.2 hands – 38 inches. Maximum allowable height for Miniature donkeys with BOTH parents registered as Miniature. Still classified as Oversized in MDR.

10 hands – 40 inches. Breakover for small standard to Standard donkeys. (Still Miniature height for mules)

11 hands – 44 inches. Standard donkeys in this height range. Common height for most of the Plains zebras (Grants, Damaraland, Chapmans)

12 hands – 48 inches. The breakover from Standard to Large Standard in donkeys

12.2 hands – 50 inches. The breakover from Miniature to Saddle Mules.

13 hands  – 52 inches – large Standard donkeys. Considered Pony height in horse breeds. Top end height for zebras, only Grevy’s species usually get this tall.

13.2 hands – 54 inches – breakover from Large Standard to Mammoth height in Jennets

14 hands –  56 inches – breakover point from Large Standard to Mammoth for Jacks and Geldings

14.2 – 58 inches – in horses considered the line between Pony (under 14.2) and horse height. Typical size of many Mustangs, although a recent infusion of outside blood in some herds produces larger animals now.

15 hands – 60 inches – typical for many saddle horse breeds, mules, and reaching the top end for Mammoth height. About average height for Arabians and some Gaited breeds.

16 hands – 64 inches. Getting pretty large for a donkey, but a few jacks reported close to this height. Typical range for saddle mules, draft horses, and many saddle horse breeds.

17 hands – 68 inches. Extremely large for a donkey, they tend to “fall apart” in conformation at this height. Commonly seen in some Draft horse breeds, Warmbloods, and a few saddle mules.

18 hands – 72 inches. A few specimens this tall, but unusual in all but a few breeds, mainly Warmblood or Drafters.

19 hands – 76 inches! (6 foot, 4″ at the withers). Taller than most men!

19.1 hands – 77 inches high, 6 foot 5 inches at the withers. The height of the tallest Mule in the World, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Apollo, (b 1977, in TN) is listed with teammate Anak at 18.3. (75 inches)

20 hands – 80 inches.

21 hands –  84 inches

21.2 ½ hands – 86 ½ inches at the withers. Tallest horse ever documented, a Shire gelding named Sampson (aka Mammoth with good reason!) measured in 1850 and listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The information provided in this article is courtesy of the American Donkey and Mule Society and is (c) by the ADMS.  Permission is granted to copy for educational purposes (ie school papers, 4-H work, general education websites, fairs, expos) provided that the work is sited as provided coutesy of the American Donkey and Mule Society.  (c) 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004