Standard and modified measuring sticks were used to record height at the withers and a ‘non-contact’ laser was used to measure withers and loin heights. Sixty horses and ponies, ranging in height (115 to 155 cm) and body condition score (BCS) (moderate to obese) were measured by each method at 10-minute intervals for 40 minutes. Measurement series were repeated over three successive days. Unique regression models were constructed for method-specific data. Coefficients of variation were similar for stick and laser methods (0.002 to 0.004 per cent). Models were not influenced by day of measurement or BCS. Withers height decreased significantly (0.48 cm, 95 per cent confidence intervals -0.61 to -0.36 cm, P<0.001) over the first 20 minutes. In living animals, laser-derived measurements of withers height at T20 exceeded stick measurements by approximately 1 cm (P<0.001). Loin height remained similar across time. Some alteration in relaxed withers height is an inevitable consequence of changes in muscle tone at the scapulothoracic synsarcosis.