Understanding Horse Height

My experience in the horse world says that at least half the riders out there do not understand horse height in relation to a human’s height and weight. And most of those people believe that a bigger horse is better. It’s not. My mentor Gordon McKinlay used to tell me all the time: It takes a great big horse to beat a good little one. What he meant by that is that generally speaking, shorter horses are more athletic, as far as speed and turning is concerned, and they’re easier to get on and off of. And let’s face it, if you fall, on a shorter horse, you’re closer to the ground!

Before you curse me and stop reading, I’m not saying that all little horses are more athletic than taller horses, and I understand that for some disciplines, such as jumping, taller horses are generally in fact better than shorter horses. In this case, I’m speaking of the recreational rider that is dead set on buying a 16-hand horse because her neighbors and horse friends tell her that if she bought a horse any shorter, she’d look silly.

It just doesn’t make any sense to me. In fact, a short horse with a wide barrel, good conformation and solid bone structure is better suited to carrying a larger person than a tall horse with a narrower build. People tend to get hung up on the size of a rider and whether or not a horse will be too small for them. As a general rule, I think people have forgotten how big and strong horses are. Horses built entire countries and powered industries, but because we don’t use them in our everyday life like our ancestors did, we tend to treat them like 1,000-pound fragile porcelain dolls.

Can you be too big for a horse? Sure you can. If you weigh 500 pounds, a 12-hand, slender-framed pony wouldn’t be a good fit for you. If your feet drag the ground when you’re in the saddle, it’s a sign you’re too big for your horse.

If you’re hoping I’m going to give you an exact formula for figuring out what size horse you need, you’re going to be disappointed, because I’m not. You can find all sorts of mathematical equations on the internet that will supposedly help you find the perfect-for-you sized horse. In reality, determining if a horse can carry you comes down to using common sense. If you’re shopping for a horse and you’re not sure if a horse is too short or too big for you, ask an experienced horseman to tag along when you test ride the horse. They’ll be able to rest your concerns at ease or help you find a more suitable horse.