Sampson, aka Mammoth: The Biggest Horse Ever

By: Marie Look  | 
Photograph of the legs and hooves of 3 shire horses
Sampson left some enormous horseshoes to fill. James Brokensha Photography / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Sampson, also known as Mammoth, was a Shire horse from the mid-1800s, measuring 21.25 hands (7 feet, 2.5 inches) tall and weighing 3,360 pounds, making him the largest horse ever recorded.
  • The horse was bred by Thomas Cleaver in Bedfordshire, England.
  • Other notable large horses include Big Jake, a Belgian horse that stood 20 hands and 2.75 inches tall, and several large breeds like the Shire, Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron and Suffolk Punch.

Sampson was a magnificent Shire horse from the mid-1800s whose incredible size and strength made him a legend in his own time. A true colossus, he dwarfed even the largest of draft horses.

While many have since tried to challenge the title of this Shire horse, he remains the biggest horse ever recorded by historians and world record enthusiasts.



Mammoth: A Legend Among Horses

There isn't much information available about Sampson's life, but Guinness World Records documented the horse's most important details, including his measurements.

According to the reference book, Sampson was 21.25 hands tall, or 7 feet, 2.5 inches (2.19 meters), and he weighed 3,360 pounds (1,524 kg). This earned him the superlative of "Tallest Horse."


As a reference point, an average horse is 14 to 17 hands tall, with the measurement covering the distance from the ground to the animal's withers, or the area right behind its neck.

Bred by Thomas Cleaver, Sampson was born in 1846 in Toddington Mills, Bedfordshire, England. A Shire gelding, he belonged to a horse breed already known for its incredible height and weight.

Later, Sampson was renamed Mammoth, a clear nod to the fact that the Shire horse stood head and withers above other horses.


Big Jake: The Gentle Giant

In 2010, long after the time of Sampson, another equine emerged as a contender for the largest horse in the world.

Big Jake was a Belgian gelding who stood 20 hands and 2.75 inches, or 6 feet, 10.8 inches (2.1 meters). He lived in Poynette, Wisconsin, at the Smokey Hollow Farm, a fact that became public knowledge after Guinness World Records declared him the "tallest horse living" in its 2011 edition.


Like Sampson, Big Jake was a member of a horse breed renowned for its heft. Originally bred in Belgium for farm work and pulling heavy loads, Belgian horses have long been admired for their massive size and strength.

At the time of his birth, Big Jake already weighed 240 pounds (109 kg). By the time he became the world's largest horse, he was tipping the scales at 2,500 pounds (1,200 kg).

Big Jake was born in March 2001 and passed away in June 2021, living an impressive 20 years. According to his owner, Jerry Gilbert, Big Jake maintained his extraordinary physique by eating two buckets of grain and one hay bale each day.


The World's Largest Horse Breeds

Among horse breeds, some stand out for their remarkable size and power. Called draft horses or draught horses in some regions, the world's largest horse breeds have played a crucial role in agriculture and transportation throughout history.

Shire Horses

Originating from England, the Shire horse is known for its large size and gentle disposition. Shires are among the tallest horse breeds in the world, standing at an average height of 17 to 19 hands, with some animals like Sampson exceeding 20 hands.


Historically people have used the Shire breed for pulling heavy carts and plowing fields.

Belgian Heavy Drafts

Belgian draft horses, also known as Belgian heavy drafts, are another breed people celebrate for their massive size and pulling capabilities. Originating from Belgium, these big horses typically stand between 16 and 17 hands high, although some animals, such as Big Jake, may reach even greater heights.

Belgian horses are known for being sturdy and having a calm temperament, making them ideal for agricultural work and hauling heavy loads.

Clydesdale, Percheron and Suffolk Punch Horses

Other large horses include the Clydesdale, originally from Scotland; the Percheron horse from the Perche region of France; and the Suffolk Punch horses, England's oldest draft horse breed.

Throughout the ages, the imposing stature of these horses, combined with their intelligence and gentle demeanors, has made them popular for pulling carts and carriages, appearing in parades and shows, and doing agricultural work, such as various tasks in farming and logging.

This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.


Frequently Asked Questions

What factors contributed to Sampson's enormous size?
Sampson's size can be attributed to his genetics as a Shire horse, a breed known for its large stature, and possibly selective breeding practices by his owner, Thomas Cleaver.
How did Sampson's size impact his health and lifespan?
Despite his massive size, there are no specific records indicating significant health issues directly related to his size, although larger animals often face more health challenges.