Could new research change the way horses are measured?

A study by Liverpool Vet School casts doubt on the accuracy of current official measurement practices, but suggests ways to make results more reliable.

The study also puts to bed a few old wives’ tales — like the suggestion that animals in show condition measure taller.

The research recommends 20 minutes’ relaxation time on the pad before measurement, that horses are measured from the left and that lasers may be more accurate than sticks.

However, the researchers concluded: “True height to the exact millimetre may remain an unobtainable concept.”

The project was funded by the Joint Measurement Board (JMB), which oversees measuring certificates for showing and pony racing and jumping in the UK.

JMB boss Howard Robinson said: “The research validates the current system, but there are aspects that may need to be tightened up, including the time horses spend on the measuring pad and the sticks themselves.”

Sixty horses and ponies, from 115-155cm and in moderate to obese condition, were measured with a standard stick, a laser device and a modified measuring stick — with a second arm to ensure it stayed straight.

The measuring stick and modified stick consistently measured about 1cm lower than the laser device.

Measuring a horse from the left side produced the most consistent result — because horses and handlers are more accustomed to this.

By measuring the depth of soft tissue at the withers, researchers also found that a horse’s condition makes no difference to his height.

One of the vets involved in the research, Dr Caroline Argo, told H&H: “It’s not often we see such proactivity, the JMB deserves a pat on the back.”

The 11 societies that comprise the JMB were deciding what to do with the findings at a meeting on Monday (11 October) as H&H went to press.

Showing producer Louise Bell said: “Until we have annual measurement for all, or measurement at each competition, we are not going to stop overheight horses in showing classes.”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (14 October, ’10)