Horses come in all shapes, colors and sizes. From the Falabella miniature horse, to the tall British Shire. And just like horses that hold records for being the fastest, there’s also a record set for the tallest and the shortest horse.
Big Jake became famous in 2012 after he was crowned the tallest in the world by the Guinness World Records. While he’s not a Shire, he comes from a breed that’s admired as one of the strongest and heaviest among draft horses: the Belgian.
“He was purchased as a foal — he was probably three — from a relative of mine and he just grew too big for them,” Jerry Gilbert explains to CNN Sport. Gilbert and his family own Smokey Hollow Farm in Wisconsin — they’re fifth-generation horse breeders and competitors.
Gilbert says when the family set eyes on him, they knew Jake — now 17 years old — was one of the biggest horses they’d ever seen.
“He was a large foal when he was born, he weighed around 240 pounds but he had good genetics — that’s what we look for in breeding draft horses — we’re looking for good conformation and weight.”
It was when he reached the age of around seven or eight that the family realized he could be the tallest in the world.
“We’ve been with horses our whole lives so we kind of had a good idea what he was, but we wanted to finish showing him before we drew a lot of attention to him.
“I contacted Guinness in 2010 when Jake was around nine. We decided to retire him at that point and he would do occasional competitions if we needed him.”
It was then, that the Guinness World Records measured Jake at an extraordinary 20 hands, 2.75 inches (210.2 centimeters or 82.75 inches) and was officially named the tallest living horse. The average height of a Belgian horse is usually between 16 and 17 hands.
“I’ve always been interested in the Guinness book of records ever since I was a kid,” Gilbert says. “I just never dreamed I’d actually own a horse that would be in there.”
‘He’s just like a family member’
It’s not just Big Jake’s genetics that the family fell in love with, though.
“He’s just like a family member — he’s not just an animal, he’s part of our family.
“He’s got a lot of strength, but he’s very docile and he just loves the attention all day long. He wants you to rub him, bathe him, spend a lot of time with him.
“You couldn’t ask for a better disposition in a horse than him.”
Gilbert says people are in awe of Jake when they see him in person.
“It’s really hard to tell from a picture actually how big he is so people who come here they’re just really in awe — even other horse people that are in the business.
“He’s really taken the state of Wisconsin, people know Jake and they really like him a lot. He’s got a great disposition and he’s really friendly with the crowds that come through here.”
Given his size, it’s only natural Big Jake eats double the amount of a normal sized horse.
“We try to ration everything so we’ll give him three grain buckets a day — morning, noon and night. Well give him 24 quarts of oats, vitamins, minerals, different things like that and then he’ll eat about approximately a bail a day.”
Maintaining Jake’s weight is important, Gilbert says. “A lot of people try and make their horses put as much weight on as possible which is a terrible thing to do for their joints.
“That might have something to do with the photos. If he weighed another 1,000 pounds he’d look bigger but we just don’t want to do that to him. That would be cruel.”
The world’s smallest horse, with a big personality
And then there’s Thumbelina, the world’s smallest horse — a miniature sorrel brown mare.
In 2002 she made history with the Guinness World Records after measuring 44.5cms (17.5 in) tall. She was born with dwarfism at Goose Creek Farm in St Louis, Missouri.
“When she was born she literally was 6 inches tall,” Thumbelina’s handler, Michael Goessling, tells CNN Sport.
“I thought there was a possum in the stall — it was just so tiny and then all of a sudden she stood up and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
“To put it into perspective, a miniature foal when born is typical 19 or 20 inches tall and Thumbelina has never achieved that height,” he adds.
Owners Kay and Paul Goessling were concerned about Thumbelina’s health as she was born with dwarfism, however Goessling says she proved everyone wrong and has been healthy ever since.
She’s also completely unaware of her size.
“From day one she never really came to have the full appreciation of how tiny she actually is. She’s been absolutely fearless,” Goessling says.
He remembers when the Guinness World Records team came out to do a photoshoot with Thumbelina and had brought the tallest horse at the time along with them.
“We brought Thumbelina out on a lead and they had ‘Radar’ — the tallest horse — there and Thumbelina all of a sudden reared up, bit him right on the nose and Radar started running away!
“She stands her ground and she doesn’t take anything from other horses but at the same time she’s always been so sweet and calm and tender with kids.”
Early on the Goessling’s decided to turn Thumbelina into a therapy animal. “She visited cancer patients, burn patients, they were kids that were really struggling — sometimes emotionally — and they’d have that moment with Thumbelina. I had more parents come up to me with tears in their eyes saying it was literally the happiest moment of their child’s life.
“(Thumbelina) seems to have this ability to know the situation because these kids they’ll hug her and pull on her and rub her ears and she just sits there and takes it and she’ll nuzzle them.”
Now 17, Thumbelina lives a quiet life on the farm, sleeping in the dog house — using a set of doggy doors to get in and out of the barn.
“She comes and goes as she likes and she just lives in her own little Thumbelina world that has been created for her over the years.”