Horses are one of the oldest domesticated species and spent centuries as our primary means of transportation.
Large horses were bred to carry or pull heavy equipment and supplies, and are still used this way all over the world.
The 8 Largest Horse Breeds in the World
The Shire Horse is a draft horse from the UK. They are 18 hands and 2,600 pounds
Percherons are descended from French war horses. They are18 hands and 2,600 pounds.
Clydesdales are Scottish draft horses. They are 18 hands and 2,000 pounds
The Suffolk Punch is an agricultural breed that originated in England. They are 17 hands and 2,200 pounds
Belgian Draft horses are 17 hands and weigh 1,900 pounds
The American Cream is a rare American draft horse that is 16 hands and 1,800 pounds
The Dutch Draft was bred in the Netherlands from Belgian Draft ancestry, and they are 16 hands and 1,600 pounds
Russian Heavy Draft
Russian Heavy Draft horses are 15 hands and 1,500 pounds
>>Looking for other animal choices? Check out our Alpaca vs Llama guide here!<<
Measuring Horse Breeds: Height vs. Weight
Naturally, when you are thinking of the “largest” horse breeds, you may consider size or weight.
Horse height. Horses are measured in “hands,” which are equal to 4 inches.
So a horse that is “18 hands” is 72 inches tall, or 6 feet and the average height of a horse is about 15 hands.
However, horses aren’t measured from the ground to the top of their heads. Instead, they are measured from the ground to the top of their withers (the ridge between their shoulder blades).
The withers are the tallest point on most quadrupeds that doesn’t depend on how the animal moves their head or neck, so it’s the most consistent place to measure height.
The tallest horse breeds are:
- The Shire, which ranges from 16.2-19 hands
- Clydesdales, which range from 16-18 hands
- Belgian Draft horses, which range from 16-18 hands
Weighing a horse is no simple matter. Horse breeds that are considered “light” average around 1,000 pounds or more, and draft horses weigh more than double that amount.
To weigh a horse, the horse usually has to be taken to a veterinary hospital, which often has scales of that capacity, or to a livestock auction house, which also usually have such scales.
Another solution is to put the horse in a horse trailer, take them to a truck weighing facility, and then weigh the trailer with and without the horse, subtracting the difference.
All these methods are difficult and require people to take the horse to a scale. Instead, most people instead use horse weight tape.
A weight tape is a measuring tape that allows you to measure the girth of the horse, and estimate its weight.
Or you can use a regular measuring tape and use online tools to calculate an estimated weight.
Of course, these methods aren’t especially accurate, since they don’t account for the individual horse’s body proportions and their ratio of muscle to fat, but they are usually accurate enough to estimate medicine doses and other important factors.
The heaviest horse breeds are:
- Percherons average around 1900 pounds and weigh up to 2600 pounds
- Suffolk Punch horses average 1980-2200 pounds
- The Shire Horse usually weighs between 1870-2430 pounds
Strongest Horse Breed
It stands to reason that the biggest, tallest horse breeds would also be the strongest.
After all, the super-size horse breeds were created for their strength, to pull or carry heavy loads on farms and in the countryside.
It’s also worth pointing out that these giant horses were also bred for calmness and friendliness since their work on a farm requires so much patience and high contact with people.
The strongest horse breed in the world is the Belgian Draft horse, which consistently wins global pulling contests.
Largest Horse in the World
The largest/tallest living horse in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is a Belgian Draft gelding named Big Jake.
Big Jake lives in the US and was measured at 20 hands high without shoes in 2010.
Here’s a short video of Big Jake:
The largest horse ever recorded was Sampson, a Shire gelding who was born in England in 1846. His top estimated weight was 3,360 pounds, and he stood 21.25 hands (86.5 inches) high.
As a side note, Guinness no longer tracks world records for the biggest/heaviest animals, out of a concern that owners might overfeed animals.
What is the best horse breed?
The best horse breed depends on what you want the horse to do, your climate, and the conditions you will be keeping the horse in.
The following is a general guide:
Best horse breed for a pet
The best horse breed for a pet is the American Quarter Horse.
American Quarter Horses are the most popular breed in America because they are even-tempered, reliable, and versatile.
They make great pets and beginner horses and are popular with both English and Western riders.
Best horse breed for eventing
The best horse breed for eventing is a warmblood, with Belgian, Dutch, and Swiss Warmbloods topping the list.
Warmblood and Thoroughbred mixes typically have the looks, agility, and temperament for eventing.
However, competitors need to choose the breed and individual horse best suited to their personality, and the truth is that competitive eventing is also subject to some aspects of sheer fashion, with different breeds being preferred at different times.
Best horse breed for riding
The best horse breed for riding is the American Quarter Horse again. They have a great temperament and are excellent trail horses and riding horses.
Best working horse breed
The best working horse breed is the Belgian Draft Horse.
These horses are strong and heavy for their height, with powerful legs that help them lift, pull, and carry just about anything.
They are also calm and good-natured, so they make great workhorses, riding horses, and show horses.
Best racing horse breed
The best racing horse breed is the Thoroughbred.
Thoroughbreds were bred for speed over middle distances (quarter horses are faster over short sprints, and Arabians can be faster over long distances), and have the spirit and competitive nature that makes them excellent racehorses.
They are also popular in equestrian sports like polo and hunting and are a great breed for jumping and dressage.
What is the oldest breed of horse?
The oldest breed of horse is the Arabian.
Early Arabian horses are depicted in cave paintings and inscriptions dating back 3,500 years.
They evolved in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, and are thought to have first been domesticated by the Bedouins, who tracked their horses’ ancestry through meticulous oral tradition.
The earliest written reference to a specifically “Arabian” horse dates to 1330AD.
Arabian ancestry has been involved in the breeding of nearly every modern breed of light horse, including Thoroughbreds, Quarter horses, Warmbloods, Morgans, and more.
How many types of horses are there?
There are over 350 distinct breeds of horses and ponies. Horse breeds fall into four types:
Light horses usually stand 14-15 hands and weigh 900-1500 pounds.
They are used for riding, racing, sport, and light work like pulling carts and buggies. Almost all light horses are descended from Arabians.
Heavy horses usually weigh 2,000 pounds or more (hence the name) and are 16-19 hands high.
In Europe, many of the largest horses were bred as war horses, and then later for heavy farm work.
Today, heavy horses are still used for farming, logging, and pulling, but they are also popular for show.
Generally speaking, a pony is a small horse that stands less than 14 hands high, although there are many breeds of ponies with different characteristics.
Ponies are extremely strong for their size and were bred for more extreme environments that would be too difficult for full-sized horses to get adequate food and water.
Ponies are often thought of as pets and show animals, but, because of their strength, many pony breeds are competitive in eventing against even full-size horses.
Feral horses are breeds that were once domesticated, but have escaped and are living without human intervention.
This is different from “wild” horses — “wild” means that a breed or species was never domesticated, but there are no truly wild horses anywhere in the world.
All living horses are descendants of domesticated ancestors.
In America, the Mustang is a feral breed of horse and is legally protected. Australia has the largest population of feral horses in the world, with nearly half-a million-individuals.
What is the calmest horse breed?
Draft horses and quarter horses are the calmest horse breed types.
The horse breeds are best known for being calm and having an even temperament are:
- The American quarter horse
- The Morgan
- The Appaloosa
- The Irish Vanner
- The Norwegian Fjord