I prefer a horse to be a happy medium, not too big and not too small. 15.2-16h is perfect for me at just under 5'4".
My first horse was 15.3h. He was the perfect size and proportions for me. Too bad nothing else matched between us.
While shopping for my next horse, I am trying to stay away from anything under 14.3. I wouldn't completely disregard something smaller or bigger than ideal, but it'd have to be perfect in all other regards, including price.
All things being equal (and talking about the Honkin' Long Stride required by the modern hunter judges), I'd take the smaller, lighter horse.
Great farrier of mine pointed out that the same change he could make to the foot of a small horse would have a greater effect than it would on a larger/heavier one. His point was that horses are biomechanical time bombs waiting to go lame and take your money. Preventative shoeing is the best insurance policy you have against that, and the smaller horse makes it work better.
Best horse I ever rode barely made it to horse size. At 5'7+, and most of that is leg, since he had a nice barrel, I could get away with riding him and not looking like a giant on a mini. My horse is 16.2, but the height didn't matter when I bought him - it was the fit between the two of us that mattered.
We were just talking about this at the barn today! I have a wonderful 16hh mare for sale, complete packer and push button, she's been sitting for months, or I've had trainers tell me she's too small for their 12 year old kids... I personally love smaller horses and ponies, but I'm 5'1". I have a 16.3hh resale project that is a beautiful mover but just uncomfortable for me compared to the smaller mare (or even my 14.3hh paint
I'd have to say at first I wasn't I just wanted something that I would match with. I ended up with a 15 hand TB that's built like a QH. However when it came time to look for another horse I did want something 16H and up. I ended up with a 17h goofball of an OTTB and looking forward quite honestly refuse to get anything under 16.2-3 now. Sadly I have turned into a heightists
When I first became an adult ammy re-rider two years ago, I specifically looked for horses UNDER 16 hands, because I didn't want so far to fall when the inevitable happened! My 15.3 guy turned out to be a bad fit for me, but I thought his size was perfect.
Now I have a 16.2 Perch/TB behemoth that I probably look small on, but it was his personality and smoothness that made me NEED to buy him. He's just perfect for me.
Well, I would say that yes, most people are heightists. I know of several women who just *had* to have giant warmbloods like everyone else, but are tiny themselves, and it is just not a good match.
I prefer a horse over 17.1 because at that height the horse and I look like a good match (I am tall) and I just feel more comfortable (my leg doesn't hang way past the horse's barrel, etc.) My mare is 16.2, and I looked a little funny on her until she started to gain weight and "bulk up." Now she takes up more of my leg, which makes it a little better. For whatever reason, I couldn't pass her up when I was horse shopping. Even though she didn't fit into one of my major criteria, she just felt perfect.
Now, I am all for small horses, but I look rediculous on anything under 15.2. It is not comfortable for me or the horse if I ride something that is 15.3ish. My tiny friends do not like riding either of the two tall, behemoth warmbloods at the barn. Size should matter to a degree. I don't believe in a magic height number, but I do believe that the horse and rider should be in proportion to each other.
Personally I can ride (comfortably) 13.2-17.3 hh horses. I love the stocky "shorter" ones the best because they are easier to collect and turn and all that stuff with; I am just 5'3" (on my toes ) All of my current horses riding age are 16.1hh+ and it just worked out that way. I am actually selling a yearling out of a 16.1hh mare (16.2hh sire) who is 14.2hh currently at 1 1/2 yrs old. I had one person come out to see him (Who was maybe 2" taller then me) saying they loved him and that he was by far the nicest horse they looked at to date, but wanted him to finish 16.2hh so they passed on him...(He string tests to 16.2hh, but I advertise him to finish 16-16.1hh just to be "safe" I realize I am missing out on people because of that, but don't want to take a chance on him not making it...he is going to be a very stocky boy too...)