“Hand” is a common use of measurement that is now strictly used when referring to the height measurement of a horse. Horse height is measured from the ground up toward the withers. The hand measurement is a measurement consisting of 4 inches that contain one inch increments.
It is believed that the hand measurement originated from the ancient mediterranean cultures. In addition to hand, “foot” was developed at this time. These ancient measurements were based on things that people would be able to understand. While one persons hand and another persons foot would not be the same size, it was within a range of understanding. At some point in history, horse owners agreed that “hand” would represent four inches and always be used to refer to horse height.
In addition to the ancient Mediterranean cultures who used body parts at points of reference for measurements many other cultures used the same methods. Around five thousand years ago history suggests then men would clench their fists together and measure according to stacking their fists. This was rudimentury and inaccurate but it was an early form of hand measurement.
Around 3,000 BC the hand measurement was standarized by the Egyptians during equine trading. The Egymptians developed a advanced system of measurement known as the cubit. The cubit was designed based on the arms length from below the elbow to the extended fingertips. Currently, equine hand measurement is accepted as a tradition in British measurement and is also used in European and South African countries. These countries also recognize measurements in meters and centimeters.
Many times in history a hand was based off the measurement of a persons hand using their fingers only. Additionally, hands were sometimes referred to as the space from a persons thumb to their last finger. The height of a clenched fist was also commonly used as the hand measurement.
Modern day horse measurements are provide by a equine measuring stick that can be purchased from tack stores. This equine measuring stick has a cross bar that is placed at the horses withers. It looks like a very large slide rule. To obtain an accurate measurement the horse must be standing on level ground. The withers are considered the highest point because when a horse puts his nose or mouth to the ground, the withers will then stand out as the height of the horse. Withers are the bony spot that is located at the base of the horses mane. Withers are just in front of where a saddle will be placed. Measurements can take several tries and horses can be known to shift their weight. After a few measurements it is best to average the numbers for the final height in hands.
The stature of a horse is a important feature for horse show judges and equine appraisers. When one is registering their horse for breed registration the measurements are required to be reported in hands. When logging a horses height it is important to remember that any additional inches beyond a “hand” are recorded as just that, the number of inches. A horse that is fifteen hands and two inches tall would be recorded at 15.2 hands. A horse that is fifteen hands and four inches tall is actually sixteen hands which would be written as 16.0 since each hand consists of 4 inches. Knowing how to properly record the horses height is important for equine documents.
In addition to the commonly used equine measuring stick; horses can be measured with horse height/weight tape. This common measuring device is relatively easy to use if the person using it can follow a few basic instructions. The tape must be run straight up and down. The measurements must be read at a level angle. This measuring tape comes premarked with hands and inches indicated on it.
Learning how to measure in “hands” can be a fun experience for new horse owners or for children learning different measurements. The shire is one of the tallest horse breeds; it stands typically about nineteen hands tall. Miniature horses can reach heights of about five hands tall. There are hundreds of breeds of horses, some are so tall that one would require a ladder just to simply touch their ears, others are so small they could fit on a couch like some large breed dogs. Universal measurement for equines is necessary. While most horses are measured in hands, in Europe, ponies and other small breeds of horses can be measured in centimeters.