Why Is the Hand Used As a Unit of Measurement to Measure the Height of a Horse?

For five thousand years, the height of a horse has been measured in hands.

Body parts were our first points of reference for measurement.

For example, a foot was exactly that, the length of a Roman foot.

A hand was measured with the thumb curled into the palm, a distance now standardized as four inches.

A horse’s height is measured in a straight line from the ground to the withers, the top of the shoulders between the neck and the back.

A horse of 15.2 hands measures 15 times 4 inches, plus 2 inches, or 62 inches.

It’s important to keep in mind that you can have 15.3 hands, but after the next full inch the height is taken as 16 hands, not 15.4.

The hand is a tradition of British measurement.

In the rest of Europe a horse’s height is measured in meters and centimeters.

In some places, like Europe and South Africa, they measure in both hands and centimeters.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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