Brace yourself. This is about to get confusing.

I work at an animal shelter a few days a week and the other day one of my co-workers was telling me about a rescue horse she knows. I asked all the usual questions, and the conversation was making perfect sense until she said, “He is 15 point 3 hands high.”

And while I understood what she was saying, I realized that horse people don’t say “point.” We just say, “He’s fifteen-three.”

I told my friend, who’s a math teacher, about this and she said something totally crazy to me that had never crossed my mind.

“Saying a horse is 15 point 3 hands high is the same as saying he is 15.333 hands, which is the same as 15 and 1/3 hands, which is not a height. In actuality, if we really want to use a decimal point, then the horse would be 15.75 hands high, which again, isn’t a height, but it’s the same as saying he is 15 and ¾ hands, which is 15-3 hands.”

“Wow!” (That wasn’t the word I used but I want to keep my writing gig.)

“Also,” she continued, “saying your horse is 15 and a ½ hands is the same as writing 15.5, which, once again, isn’t a horse height but it is, in essence, saying he is 15-2. It’s the same as when people say they are 5 and a ½ feet tall. That means they are 5’6” but nine times out of 10 they are meaning 5’5”.”

“OMG.” (Again, not actually what I said.)

I had to sit with this for a few days to grasp what had been discussed. Eventually, I decided that the punctuation we use to denote measurements is all over the place in the horse world.

If we were to write a horse’s height down, would we put a point in there, so it read 15.3? But we know the trouble that can cause. So, would we write 15’3? But that suggests your horse is 15 feet tall.

I pulled out my Pony Club Manual after bringing this up with several horse friends, whose answers varied widely between the use of the . and the . My PC manual from 1976 uses the hyphen, ergo 15-3. This then begs the question, do we always write hands after 15-3, or do we write hh? Is it then 15-3 hands or 15-3 hh? And herein lies the problem, we all do our own thing.

It’s all very confusing. If horses aren’t your first language, who would think in this day and age we would use a body part as a form of measurement? A hand equals four inches, which is the size of your average “man hand” and each little number added on is simply an inch, without the universal sign for inch, which is or, as those in the measuring business call it, a double prime.

That would then read 15-3”, which is a lot to look at. Even if we write it 15-3 hands, as my PC manual does, it still leaves that 3 dangling there to confuse the non-horse people of the world.

I think the moral of the story is that we are all a little slapdash with our numbers and measurements and we really ought to get on the same page. I vote for the dash because I’m old school. I’m aware, however, that some of the horse world has gone metric, probably, in part, to avoid precisely this type of confusion. I’m unsure how I feel about a metric horse world even though I’m from the Great White North and we “think metric”.

I wrote a post some time ago entitled, Why We Measure Horses in Hands if you are interested in the why.