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The Biggest and Smallest Horses in the World

The Biggest and Smallest Equines

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Horses come in many different sizes—perhaps a greater range of sizes than any other land animal in the world. Some equines are small enough to scoop up in your arms and some will tower over you, leaving you feeling like the pipsqueak. Here's a look at the biggest and smallest of the horse world.

The Largest Type of Horse

Clydesdale Mare
K. Blocksdorf 2006

The biggest horses in the world are draft breeds. These horses were bred to pull or carry large loads. Included in the draft breeds are the Shire, Percheron and Clydesdale. Before the use of trucks and tractors, draft horses pulled ploughs, wagons, street cars, barges and other farm implements and conveyances. They are still used in some parts of the world, notably in North America, within Mennonite and Amish communities. Draft horses are the gentle giants of the horse world and “cold bloods” who have docile, stoic temperaments. Today, they are popular with those who enjoy driving, competing in heavy horse pulls, as well as making dependable, quiet riding horses.

Smallest Type of Equine

Pony face
Image: K. Blocksdorf

The smallest horses in the world are ponies. There are several breeds specifically developed for their diminutive size. Ponies are hardy, and they tend to be longer lived than their larger brethren. For their size, they are very strong and historically, even ponies like the small Shetland  were used as pack and draught animals.  Ponies are enjoyed by adults for driving and they  are often the first mounts of children. They are very smart, but are prone to obesity and problems like laminitis.

Tallest Breed

shirehorse.jpg
Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images

Shires are known to be a very tall breed with the average height being 17.1HH according to the American Shire Horse Association, but other breeds like Belgians and Clydesdales have been record breakers.

Smallest Breed

Miniature Horse Photo
Image: K. Blocksdorf

The tiniest breeds include the Falabella and the Miniature Horse. Falabellas average 25 to 34 inches at the withers. However, there is no breed standard for height. Miniature Horses are divided into height divisions with the tallest being no more than 38 inches at the withers. Many Miniature Horses are distinctly pony-like, while others are more refined, like little horses. Minis and Falabellas are often too tiny to be ridden, but they are often driven and enthusiasts compete in things like obstacle courses and jumping in hand.

Tallest Individual

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Sampson, a Shire gelding born in 1846, that stood 21.2 1/2 hands tall,  as the tallest horse over. Over the years, many draft horses have held the record for the tallest horse in the world. The current Guinness World-Record holder as of 2007 is Jenson’s Diplomat Tina, a mare, who at the age of three was measured at 20 HH. Her sire was 19.3 HH and her dam was over 18 HH tall.

Smallest Individual

The smallest equine individual is a Miniature Horse. Thumbelina is the current holder of the smallest equine in the world record. She was foaled in 2006 and is 17.5 inches (44.5 cm) at the withers. Thumbelina shows the features of dwarfism in animals. Although Thumbelina is a healthy individual, dwarfism in ponies can include debilitating dysmorphic features such as poorly conformed, abnormally short legs, large joints, deformed heads and jaws, short necks, large barrels and defects of the internal organs. Therefore, breeding dwarf ponies is frowned upon.

Smallest Foal

The smallest foal at birth is a Mini named Einstein, who at foaling weighed six pounds and measured fourteen inches at the withers. He vies with Thumbelina for the smallest living horse, because he does not show any signs of dwarfism.  Einstein's sire and dam are champion Miniature Horses. He has been featured in publications like People and USA Todays and made appearances in many television shows like Oprah Winfrey, Good Morning America and The View.

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