Measuring Race Horses in Hands Explained – Including the Height of Triple Crown Winner War Admiral

War Admiral is one of the best known thoroughbreds in the history of American horse racing because of the dominance the animal demonstrated during its heyday in the 1930s. among the numerous accomplishments War Admiral achieved winning the coveted Triple Crown in 1937 is chief amongst his successes. to this day winning the Triple Crown is a feat that has only happened eleven times in the history of the sport.

The beloved horse known as War Admiral was born in 1934 and came from very good stock. The colt was the product of successful breeding between an accomplished race horse named Man o’War (a former Preakness Stakes winner) and a mare by the name of Brushup. Although War Admiral had a very large father (Man o’War was 16.2 hands) War Admiral was considered short by race horse standards at 15.2 hands tall, one full hand shorter than his father. By contrast the average horse competing in elite competitions like the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes is 16 hands tall.

The terminology of measuring height in terms of hands is still used in the sport of horse racing although it is seldom understood by outsiders. The actual conversion is that one hand is equal to four inches. therefore a horse that is 16 hands tall is five feet and four inches tall. this is the height when the animal is on all four legs and not when it is standing upright on its hind legs. The proper notation for a horse that is five feet and one inch tall (61 inches) is to write 15.1 hands. The correct way to write 15 and one half hands tall is actually 15.2 hands (not 15 and a half or 15 hands and two inches).

An accurate measurement for the height of a horse involves measuring a straight line up (vertically) from where a hoof touches flat ground to the highest point on the back of the animal. The highest point on the back of a horse is known as the withers, a term that means the space between the shoulder blades on a four legged animal. to clarify, when measuring the height of a horse the head and neck are not considered at all for the standard comparison basically involves comparing the heights of horses based solely on how high off the ground their shoulders are with no regard whatsoever for the size of the neck and head.

The 2003 movie Seabiscuit incorrectly describes War Admiral (the dominant horse of Seasbiscuit’s era) as being 18 hands tall. this embellishment for theatrical purposes overstates the height of the horse by 2.2 hands, the equivalent of 10 inches. Anyone familiar with horses understands that exaggerating the height of a race horse by two and a half hands (properly written 2.2 hands) or 10 inches makes a significant difference as the adjustment goes from describing an undersized race horse to describing an oversized one. for comparison purposes consider the difference between describing a basketball player as being 6’10 tall when his actual height is 6’0 tall. By NBA standards you are effectively describing a player who is in the bottom ten percent in height as one who is in the top ten percent of height.

Measuring Race Horses in Hands Explained – Including the Height of Triple Crown Winner War Admiral


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