I have just had a question on our Facebook page from a visitor as to why we post the height of our horses in centimetres instead of in hands.

It’s a great question.  I certainly grew up with hands being the standard measurement for horses.  And I thought I knew it backwards.  A hand is 10cm right?  So a 16 hand high horse is 160cm at the wither right?  Wrong!

There are a number of reasons I post in centimetres.

The first reason is that we live in a metric country. Everyone under the age of 40 should know the metric system backwards and even those older have got a pretty good grasp of it in my experience .

The second reason is that the metric system is a lot more accurate.  (Have you ever seen someone trying to measure something that is 3 feet 2 inches and 11/16ths of an inch?)

There is 10.5cm difference between a 16HH horse and a 17HH horse, so logically (or metrically) many people think that this means that a horse of 16HH is 160cm at the withers. This is not so. a 16HH horse is 162.56cm tall at the withers and a 17HH horse is 172.72cm at the withers.  It doesn’t sound like a big difference but the naked eye picks up that small height difference very readily.  A centimetre is a lot bigger than you might think.

Two of my mares for example are 163cm and 164cm tall. Which equates to 16 1/4 and 16 1/2 cm tall. Most people would just round it down and say 16, yet to look at them you can visibly see that one is a good 1cm taller than the other – actually its the three year old and I need to measure her again because I think she has grown, but hopefully you see my point.

BUT the main reason that I quote in cm is because the enlightened Dutch have been using the current international metric system since 1869. The Friesian horses papers have their height listed on them in centimetres.

Frankly I’m just too lazy to do the conversion 🙂

The art of working out how tall a Friesian is (notice I said art, not science) doesn’t end there.  The judges at the keurings, the Friesian inspections, measure the horses at a specific vertebra, because the majority of Friesians do not have prominent withers like other horses.  It is still supposed to be measured at the withers.  Friesians tend to have high-set necks that appear to come straight out of the back.  Its a large part of their appeal, the strong long angular neck. This means however that the withers and the neck blend together. In horses of this build it is easy to measure too low on the withers.  The correct method is to feel further into the neck, for the actual peak of the bone.

This does explain however why a 16H Friesian may not appear to be quite as tall as a 16H Thoroughbred.

Another important fact to consider when measuring your Friesian is that Friesian’s don’t finish growing until they are 5-6 years old.

So to help out those of you who aren’t necessarily as up to date with metric as you could/should be, I have created the following conversion chart- which isn’t exactly completely correct.  For example I have rounded 172.72cm up to 173cm to get 17H.  You have to draw the line somewhere when converting imperial to metric.

Metric Imperial
150cm 14.3H
151cm 14.3H 1/4
152cm 14.3H 3/4
153cm 15.0H 1/4
154cm 15.0H 3/4
155cm 15.1H
156cm 15.1H 1/4
157cm 15.1H 3/4
158cm 15.2H 1/4
159cm 15.2H 1/2
160cm 15.3H
161cm 15.3H 1/2
162cm 15.3H 3/4
163cm 16.0H 1/4
164cm 16.0H 1/2
165cm 16.1H
166cm 16.1H 1/4
167cm 16.1H 3/4
168cm 16.2H 1/4
169cm 16.2H 1/2
170cm 16.3H
171cm 16.3H 1/4
172cm 16.3H 3/4
173cm 17.0H
174cm 17.0H 1/2
175cm 17.1H
176cm 17.1H 1/4
177cm 17.1H 3/4
178cm 17.2H
179cm 17.2H 1/2
180cm 17.3H

The KFPS has strict height guidelines for horses being entered into the studbook.

154cm is the minimum height for a Studbook Mare or Gelding to be entered into the Studbook
156cm is the minimum height for a Ster Mare
158cm is the minimum height for a Crown Mare or Star Gelding
160cm is the minimum height for a Model Mare or a 3 year old Studbook Stallion
163cm is the minimum height for a 4 year old Studbook Stallion


Image generously provided courtesy of Black Horse Photography.

One thought on “Hands versus Metric Height conversion for horses

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