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The Giants of the Equine World: A Look at the Biggest Horses in History

Horses have long been man‘s trusted companion, providing transportation, muscle power, and companionship throughout the millennia. Selective breeding has allowed us to customize equines for specific jobs and roles – from the lithe Arabian racing its way across the desert sands to the gentle therapy pony comforting hospital patients.

But the largest of all horses hold a special place in both our history and our hearts. Just how big have some exceptional equines grown over the years? What did it take to care for such massive creatures? And do gigantism and good health always go hand in hand?

Let‘s take a moment to appreciate some of the most staggering steeds of yesterday and today. When it comes to horses, size really does matter!

Why Bigger Horses Were Historically Better

Before tractors and machinery took over much of the heavy lifting on farms and building sites, it was up to horses to provide raw power. So breeders selected specifically for strength and size. The bigger the horse, the more it could pull, carry, or do in a day‘s work. Quantity over quality was the goal rather than selecting for refinement or athletic talent.

The emergence of heavy draft horse breeds tracks closely with times and places that lacked advanced technology and relied on animal labor instead. For example, the famously massive Shire horse hails from central England from the late 1800s era when manual farming was still the norm.

Even certain Wars up through WWII created demand and reward programs for farmers supplying the biggest equines to move military cargo. So while genetics plays a role, the preferences of humankind have also molded the growth of oversized horses over history.

Feeding a Behemoth: Gaining Size vs Losing Health

Getting a horse over 1 ton in weight is no easy feat. It requires not just the DNA potential to grow enormous but also resources to fuel such rapid development. From birth, a draft foal eats more by volume than its lighter breed counterparts. And this consumption only snowballs as it matures into a monster-sized adult.

But such rapid growth places strain on the structural integrity of bones, connective tissues, hearts, and more. Good nutrition is certainly necessary but finding an appropriate balance is key according to equine health experts. For if a horse grows too much, too fast, they may suffer long term consequences.

Unfortunately, some record setting steeds of yesteryear likely experienced such issues firsthand from well-meaning but overzealous owners. Pictures of the legendary Shire "Mammoth" or Belgian "Brooklyn Supreme" show them severely overweight to the point of concern. However animal care standards were quite different in past eras.

Nowadays though, responsible giant horse owners realize that while size matters, health and comfort matters more. Allowing steady measured development prevents problems down the road.

The Peculiar Perks of Pampering Pondo the Clydesdale

To better understand exactly what it takes to care for such enormous horses, I interviewed Sarah Crestfield, owner of Plains & Peaks Draft Horse Ranch. Her breeding operation specializes in Clydesdale horses which are known for often growing over 18 hands high and weighing a ton or greater.

And Sarah‘s prize stud, Pondo, is no exception at 21.2 hands and still filling out at age 9. She happily gave me the inside scoop on keeping this gentle giant happy and healthy!

Q: How much does Pondo eat on a daily basis?

A: Pondo is currently consuming just over 70 lbs of hay plus concentrated feed split into 2 large meals every day. And he‘s still growing so I expect that amount to increase over the next few years!

Q: What are his other care requirements in terms of space and exercise?

A: He has a double sized box stall inside the barn to comfortably house him plus his own private paddock where he spends afternoons socializing with his mares. In terms of exercise, I make sure Pondo gets hand walked daily plus some light work hauling logs around the property to keep his muscles engaged.

Q: Does Pondo require any special health considerations due to his size?

A: Definitely – those long legs need careful monitoring for swelling or heat that could indicate strain. And I have my vet do twice yearly imaging to ensure his bones and joints are developing properly. Basically it‘s all about supporting his frame appropriately – I give joint supplements, massage therapy, chiropractic care and more as part of his routine.

Q: What‘s the best part about owning such a huge horse like Pondo?

A: That‘s easy – his personality! Pondo is an absolute teddy bear who loves giving hugs and kisses to everyone he meets. Some people find him intimidating at first when they see his sheer size. But he‘s really just a big goofball who thinks he‘s a lap pony. His silly antics never fail to make me smile!

Indeed when it comes to Pondo, his mammoth measurements matter less than his even bigger heart. With room to grow into the record books, responsible care now sets him up for a long happy life as the gentle giant he was destined to be.

Sizing Up the True Biggest of Them All

When talking record setting horses throughout history, one name towers above the rest – literally! The English Shire named Sampson, later aptly renamed Mammoth, measured a staggering 21 hands and 2.5 inches or 7 ft 2.5 inches at his withers.

Plus Mammoth tipped the scales at over 3,000 pounds – far eclipsing any other enormous equines before or since his time in the late 1800s. Truly this Shire stallion remains the biggest horse ever verified through clear photographic evidence and direct measurements.

Now Mammoth here shows us that yes indeed, genetics can occasionally produce staggering gigantism even beyond the norms for heavy horses. And surely he was the source of awe for all who had the chance to stand beside him!

Yet the visible obesity clearly apparent on Mammoth‘s frame also serves as a warning. For his poor body condition hints at the health struggles he likely battles due to his unprecedented size. Indeed a horse built like the leaning tower of Pisa shows the inherent risks when seeking great size above all else.

Because while bigger horses may have historically been considered "better" for their utility on farms or battlefields, from an ethical standpoint excess has tangible harms. Each horse deserves first and foremost good welfare rather than records or glory for human benefit alone.

So perhaps Mammoth‘s lasting legacy shouldn‘t be his dimensions themselves but rather the lesson on priorities his life represents. If the wellbeing of the horse must come before human demands, then we secure the future of equines and humans together on course for further understanding.

There’s something wonderful in that prospect indeed!