Top 6 Biggest Horse Breeds and What They Are Used For


All horses are large, but some are larger than most. The largest horse breeds have typically been used as working horses, recognized for their strength and stamina. They are capable of pulling large amounts of weight, from farming equipment to carriages, traps, and other passenger vehicles.

They can be used for riding too, especially for taller or heavier riders. The largest horse breeds can weigh well over 2,000 pounds and can reach heights of around 18 hands or even more. Some of the biggest horse breeds in the world include the Shire Horse, Clydesdale, Percheron, Belgian Draft, Suffolk Punch, and Dutch Draft.

Let’s take a look at some of these horses in more depth to find out just how big they are and what they’re used for.

Shire

The Shire horse is a rare breed, recognized for its size and height. The breed is originally from Britain and was bred as a working horse. They have fulfilled a range of roles, from working as farm horses and pulling horses to riding horses.

One of the interesting things about their history is that they were once used to pull carts of beer between breweries and public houses.

Full-sized Shire horses weigh between 1,800 and 2,400 pounds and have a height of around 16 to 18 hands (equal to 64-72 inches tall).

The biggest Shire horse ever holds the record for the largest ever horse recorded. Sampson, a Shire horse gelding born in 1846, was from Bedfordshire, England. By the time he was four years old, he was seven feet tall (21 hands). In fact, his size was so impressive that he was renamed Mammoth. At his highest weight, it’s estimated he weighed 3,360 pounds.

Clydesdale

Clydesdales are another large horse breed, well known for their large size. They are around the same size as a Shire horse, although can be a little smaller, weighing around 1,600 to 2,400 pounds and growing to be an average of 16 to 18 hands high (64-72″).

Clydesdales have been used for many different purposes too, including for farming, military purposes, driving, hauling, riding, and pulling carriages. However, there is one thing that they are most famous for, even among people who don’t know much about horses.

Clydesdales are used by Budweiser to promote their brand at various events and in commercials across the United States and in other countries too.

One of the largest horses in the world was the biggest Clydesdale – King LeGear, a Clydesdale that stood at 20.5 hands tall and weighed 2,950 pounds. Clydesdales may be big and energetic, but they’re also kind and gentle, which is perhaps one of the reasons they’re so well-known and loved.

Percheron

Image from Pixabay – CC0 License

Percherons have historically been used as war horses, but they are now mostly used as draft horses. They are originally from the Huisne river valley in the west of France and are smart, keen workers.

They have been used for pulling stagecoaches, agriculture, and for transporting heavy goods. They’re a muscular breed with a distinctive arched neck and are generally gray or black. They can reach a weight of up to 2,600 pounds with a height of between 15 and 19 hands, which can vary depending on the country that they are bred in.

Goliath, a Percheron from Texas, was once recorded as the world’s tallest living horse in the Guinness Book of World Records. He was 19.1 hands tall when he held the record in 2005 and was exhibited at rodeos, parades, fairs, and other equine events, traveling thousands of miles each year.

Belgian Draft

The Belgian Draft horse, also called the Flanders horse, originates in Belgium, as their name suggests. At first used for agriculture and carriage pulling, you can often see them today in shows or being ridden. It’s one of the strongest of the large horse breeds, although they are a little smaller than some.

On average, they weigh between 1,800 and 2,200 pounds and are typically between 15 and 17 or 18 hands. Their short and muscular neck distinguishes their looks from Clydesdales and Shire horses.

The biggest Belgian Draft, Big Jake, a Belgian Draft horse born in Nebraska, is also currently the world’s tallest living horse. He broke the Guinness World Record in 2010 when he was measured at 20.3 hands and kept the record when measured again in 2018. He weighs 2,600 pounds, more than 10 times his weight when he was born.

Suffolk Punch

The Suffolk Punch is considered an endangered horse breed in many places in England. As an older breed, also called the Suffolk Sorrel, it’s strong and energetic and has historically been used for farming.

More recently, it has also found a use in forestry and draught work, as well as advertising, which is no surprise when you consider their beautiful but “punchy” appearance, which gives the breed its name.

Although their numbers have been low, they have been rising in recent years, thanks to a renewed interest. Their height is around 16 to 18 hands, but they can weigh a little less than some other large horse breeds at an average of 1,950 to 2,200.

This breed is listed as critical by the UK Rare Breeds Survival Trust and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy but they are being bred in larger numbers again and are even exported to other countries as working horses.

Dutch Draft

Hailing from the Netherlands, the Dutch Draft horse is also a rare breed. In fact, it’s one of the rarest in the world. It’s also one of the largest, having been bred from crossing the Belgian Draft horse with Ardennes after World War One.

They’re excellent at pulling heavy loads and they can work longer than some other large breeds. They’re smart and calm, which makes them ideal for working purposes. They grow to be around 1,550 to 1,800 pounds and are generally around 15 to 17 hands tall. They have feathery legs like the Belgian Draft horse, with a stocky neck.

Tallest Living Horse in the World

The tallest living horse in the world, according to Guinness World Records, a Belgian Draft horse from the United States. In 2010, he measured 20 hands and 2.75 inches (82.75 inches) without shoes. That’s more than 60 inches taller than the smallest male horse in the world, who measures just 22 inches tall. Big Jake weighs 2,600 pounds and lives at Smokey Hollow Farm, near Poynette, Wisconsin.

What Are Some Common Traits of the Largest Horse Breeds?

Do large horses typically have a gentle demeanor? When looking at large horse breeds, it’s easy to see that while they are big, they are often gentle giants.

It’s not just their size that often makes them good for working and riding, but also that they are smart and well-behaved.

Larger breeds that have been and are used as working horses do tend to have a gentler demeanor or calmer personality because that’s what they have been bred for. They’re often pretty docile and loving, so you can count on them to be friendly.

Physically, large horse breeds tend to be stocky and well-muscled, as well as having thick coats for cold weather.

How Horse Height Is Measured

The height of horses is measured in hands. One hand is equal to 4 inches, and a horse is measured from the ground to the highest point of their withers – the space between their shoulder blades. So when a horse is so many hands, its head is most likely taller than that.

What are the best horse breeds for tall riders?

If you’re a particularly tall person who wants to ride a horse, you might worry about finding one that’s suitable for you to ride.

You may want a horse that is tall, but it should also be suitable for riding. If height is your concern, you might be better off not with one of these heavy workhorses, but with a horse such as a Thoroughbred, which is tall but slim. Other options include Hanoverians and Warmbloods

What breed of horse is best for heavy riders?

The best breed of horse to ride if you’re a heavier rider will depend on your weight. Many people will not need to ride a draft breed to support their weight.

Breeds such as Warmbloods and Friesians might be appropriate. However, draft horse breeds such as Shire horses, Clydesdales and Percherons can hold more weight and so are suitable for riders who weigh more than 200 pounds.

It’s important to remember that size does vary within breeds too.

So while some horses of a certain breed might be particularly large, others will be smaller for their breed and so might not necessarily be the best choice for either taller or heavier riders.

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