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Big Jake & Thumbelina: The Tallest & Smallest Horses In The World

POYNETTE, Wis. (CNN) - 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 are also records set for the tallest horse and the shortest horse.

Big Jake first became famous in 2012 after he was crowned as the tallest in the world by the Guinness World Records. He is not a British Shire, but Jake does come from a breed that is admired as one of the strongest and heaviest among draft horses -- the Belgian.

"He was purchased as a foal -- he was probably 3 -- from a relative of mine, and he just grew too big for them," explained Jerry Gilbert. He and his family own Smokey Hollow Farm in Poynette, Wisconsin. They are fifth-generation horse breeders and competitors.

Gilbert said that when the family set eyes on him, they knew that Jake -- now 17 years old -- was one of the biggest horses that they had ever seen. "He was a large foal when he was born," Gilbert recalled. "He weighed around 240 pounds, but he had good genetics -- that's what we look for in breeding draft horses."

It was when Jake reached the age of around 7 or 8 that the family realized that 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," Gilbert continued. "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 9," Gilbert said. "We decided to retire him at that point."

It was then that the Guinness World Records measured Big Jake at an extraordinary 20 hands, 2.75 inches (82.75 inches), and he was officially named as 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. I just never dreamed I'd actually own a horse that would be in there," Gilbert said, adding that the family didn't just fall in love with Jake's genetics. "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," Gilbert continued, showering Jake with praise. "You couldn't ask for a better disposition in a horse than him."

Gilbert said that people are often 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," Gilbert stated. "Even other horse people that are in the business."

Given his size, it is only natural that 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 very important. "People try and make their horses put as much weight on as possible, which is a terrible thing to do for their joints," Gilbert said. "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."

And then, there's Thumbelina, the world's smallest horse -- a miniature sorrel brown mare.

Back in 2002, Thumbelina made history with Guinness World Records after measuring just 17.5 inches tall. Thumbelina was born with dwarfism at Goose Creek Farm in St. Louis, Missouri. Her handler, Michael Goessling, told CNN, "When she was born, she literally was six inches tall."

"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," Goessling said. "To put it into perspective, a miniature foal when born is typical 19 or 20 inches tall, and Thumbelina has never achieved that height."

The Goesslings were concerned about Thumbelina's health, as she was born with dwarfism. However, Goessling said that she proved everyone wrong and has been healthy ever since. Thumbelina is also 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 said.

Goessling remembers when the Guinness World Records team came out to do a photoshoot with Thumbelina, and brought the tallest horse (at the time) along with them. "We brought Thumbelina out on a lead and they had Radar," Goessling told CNN. "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," Goessling warned. "But, at the same, time she's always been so sweet and calm and tender with kids."

Early on, the Goesslings 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," recalled Goessling. "Parents come up to me with tears in their eyes, saying it was literally the happiest moment of their child's life."

"She 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," Goessling said.

Now at age 17, Thumbelina lives a quiet life on the farm, sleeping in the dog house and using a set of doggie doors to get in and out of the barn. "She comes and goes as she likes," Goessling added. "She just lives in her own little Thumbelina world that has been created for her over the years."

(© Copyright 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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