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For thousands of years, horses have been selectively bred into a variety of over 350 breeds to aid us with all kinds of jobs. Perhaps the most notable reason why horse the biggest horse breeds have been bred is to help around the farm in pulling plows, carts, and heavy machinery.
However, it was only around the 19th century that some draft horse breeds began to reach very big sizes.
Let’s find out what are the biggest and tallest horse breeds in the world.
Tallest Living Horse in the World
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Big Jake is the tallest living horse in the world. Standing at 20 hands (80 in or 2.03 m), Big Jake currently lives at Smokey Hollow Farm in Wisconsin.
Though his impressive size might make him look scary, Big Jake is a sweet, gentle horse, with a big heart and a penchant for chewing on people’s hair.
Keeping a horse that size isn’t easy, and Big Jake came to his current owner at three years old as an already quite large colt.
As an adult, he eats twice the amount of a normal-sized horse, and his owners take good care so he doesn’t become too heavy, as that would put even more stress on his joints, which is always a risk with such big horses.
Read more about Big Jake here. Also, below is a video of Big Jake and his owner:
Biggest Horses in History
The biggest horse ever was a Shire called Sampson (later known as Mammoth). Born in 1846 at Bedfordshire, Sampson was 21.25 hh (2.20 m or 86.5 in) tall and weighed 3,360 lb (1,524 kg). This huge weight also makes him the heaviest horse ever.
Gelded at one year old, he still holds the record of the tallest horse ever, though some have come close to his impressive size since then.
Another huge horse from history is a Percheron gelding called Dr. LeGear (from the same farm as King LeGear) who in 1913 stood at 21 hands and weighing 2,995 lbs.
The 2005 Guinness record holder Goliath was 19.1 hh and weighed 2,500 lbs, the tallest living horse at the time. This record has since been broken by Big Jake, the tallest living horse.
Top 7 Biggest Horse Breeds
7. Australian Draught Horse
The Australian Draught Horse is practically a combination of all the other big horse breeds on this list. Created from breeding Clydesdales, Percherons, Shires, and Suffolk Punches, the Australian Draught Horse Stud Book only became a reality in 1976.
Bred for the Australian environment, these huge horses combine all the strengths of its ancestor breeds and some more.
Popular in plowing and harness competitions all across their native country, the Australian Draught Horse quickly became the dominant draft breed. Although many are not registered, they still adhere to the breed standards.
This huge horse breed comes in all solid colors and stand on average between 16.2 and 17.2 hh and weigh between 600 and 900 kg (1,300 to 1,900 lbs), though the registry does accept bigger horses.
There are many draft horse breeds in the world, and while not all of them rank as big as the ones listed here, many are just as strong — even in smaller sizes.
Regardless of their size, however, it’s their strength and gentle disposition that makes them great work and show horses for people everywhere.
6. Dutch Draft
The Dutch Draft is a quite recent large horse breed, appearing after World War I from cross-breedings between Ardennes and Belgian Draft horses. Heavyset like its parent breeds, it was popular around Zeeland and Groningen for farm work and other heavy pulling jobs.
However, World War II caused a sharp decline in numbers, making this a relatively rare horse breed.
Considered one of the strongest horse breeds, Dutch Drafts are often seen at farm shows pulling huge logs or competing in horse-drawn plowing events.
Despite its strength, the Dutch Draft is shorter than its counterparts, ranging from 15 hh for mares and 17 hh for stallions and geldings. While that makes it shorter than some other draft breeds, the Dutch Draft is by no means a small horse.
5. Suffolk Punch
The Suffolk Punch is one of the oldest and tallest horse breeds in Great Britain. Today, Suffolk Punch horses are popular for forestry, farm work, and advertising, largely due to their striking figure. They are always chestnut in color and stand between 16.1 and 17.2 hh (65 to 70 in, 1.65 to 1.78 m), weighing around 1,980 to 2,200 lbs (900 to 1,000 kg).
With mentions dating back as far as 1586, the Suffolk Punch has changed little since then. It has close ties to pony breeds such as the Fell, the Dales, and the Haflinger, but in spite of this, it’s certainly no pony.
Unfortunately, its old origins are also part of why the big horse breed is so rare. There are very few Suffolk Punches remaining in Britain, in part due to the genetic bottlenecks and losses during the World Wars.
While it fared better in the Americas, the British registry will not allow breeding with their American counterparts. This is because the American registry allowed for crossbreeding with Belgian Drafts, something not allowed in the UK.
4. Belgian Draft
Originally interchangeable with the Brabant, the Belgian Draft became its own horse breed after World War II. The Belgian Draft is taller and lighter in the body than the Brabant, but it’s also a very heavy horse breed.
Weighing around 2,000 lbs (900 kgs) and standing between 16.1 and 17 hands (66 and 68 in, 1.68 and 1.73 m), the Belgian Draft has considerable strength. Two Belgian Draft horses as a team were once recorded pulling in excess of 7,700 kg (17,000 pounds).
Popular in heavy farm work and forestry, but they’re also used under saddle and for pleasure riding. Unlike other draft horses, this breed is not at risk of extinction — fortunately.
Though generally shorter than breeds like the Percheron and the Shire, the Belgian Draft breed still produces some of the biggest horses in the world.
The most well-known Belgian Draft horse was Brooklyn Supreme. Standing at 19.2 hands (198 cm) tall and weighing 3,200 lbs (1,451 kg). Brooklyn Supreme may have been shorter than others in this list, but certainly made up for that in sheer bulk and breadth.
The Percheron is a French draft breed from the region of Huisne river valley, once known as Perche, from where the breed gets its name.
This large horse breed has a quite broad range in size, from 15.1 hh (61 in or 1.55 m) to 19 hh (76 in or 1.93 m), depending on the country. Its origins are mostly unknown, but they may be as old as 496 AD.
Unlike most other draft breeds, the Percheron has a heavy influence from Arabian and oriental horses, going back as long as the 8th century, an influence that remained up until the 19th century. This influence shows in the horse’s sometimes lighter neck, although the breed is still as heavy and strong as other draft breeds around the world.
Commonly used as war horses in the middle ages, today Percherons are seen at horse shows, parades, and driving. Additionally, their large size and docile temperament make them great horses for heavy riders.
Hailing from Scotland, the Clydesdale is one of the most well-known draft breeds in the world today, in many ways thanks to the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. While generally smaller than horses such as the Shire, the breed has changed much in the 20th century, including in height.
The breed standard requires horses to be 16 to 18 hh (64 to 72 in, 1.63 to 1.83 m) and weigh 1,800 to 2,000 pounds (820 to 910 kg). However, they can be and often are larger. To qualify, a Budweiser Clydesdale has to be 18 hh (72 in or 1.83 m) and weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds (820 to 1,040 kg).
King LeGear, a Clydesdale, was one of the biggest horses yet, stood at a whopping 20.5 hands (2.08 m or 82 in) and weighed 2,950 pounds (1338 kg).
Energetic, flashy, and gentle, these horses are still used for agriculture, forestry, and other uses requiring their strength. Additionally, due to their beautiful appearance and white, feathered hooves, they’re also sought to be parade, carriage, and show horses.
In spite of its popularity, as many draft breeds, the Clydesdale is still unfortunately at risk of extinction in some countries.
As with many older breeds, in special drafts, there is no real record of when the Clydesdale horses began, although we can trace a general trend to the mid-18th century, due to the import of Flemish stallions into Scotland. A definite ancestor is a Lampits mare, bred in 1806, and Thomson’s black stallion, known as Glancer.
Shires are the biggest horse breed in the world. Ranging from 17 – 19 hands tall and weighing 1,800 to 2,400 pounds, these horses are impressively big. Such as other draft horse breeds, they were selectively bred to be large for industrial and farm work.
They traditionally towed barges down the canal systems, pulled carts and brewer’s drays, and dealt with heavy plows and other farm work.
In special, they were used to deliver ale from breweries; something still practiced today, as well as forestry work and leisure riding. They are even considered to be one of the best horse breeds for beginner riders!
Today, the Shire Horse is a breed at risk. With World War II and the ever-increasing mechanization of the farm, their numbers have decreased to near extinction levels.
However, organizations such as the American Shire Horse Association are trying very hard to revive Shire numbers. In recent years, the breed has slowly started to recover in numbers and is making a comeback.