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Choosing a Standardbred

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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The standardbred is a popular trotting and pacing horse. Also well known as a harness racer, the standardbred was first registered in the late 1800s.

History and Origin

Harness racing is a sporting event in which a horse pulls a two-wheeled cart with a rider. The history of harness racing is thought to have begun over 3,000 years ago. Despite this long history, harness racing is most often thought of as an American sport, when records of harness racing began in 1806. It was in the early 1800s that a horse named Yankee was the first horse on record to trot the mile in under 3 minutes.

Eventually, in 1871, the studbook for trotting and pacing horses was founded. In order to be registered as a trotting or pacing horse, a horse had to be able to trot a mile in the standard time of 2.3 minutes or pace a mile in the standard time of 2.25 minutes. Those horses that met these requirements were the first horses referred to as standardbreds. As with nearly everything else, the passage of time has lead to faster horses and the standard times to be registered in the studbook continue to become shorter and shorter.

As with the development of most horses, many different breeds were used to develop this fast trotter and pacer. There are some theories that say the standardbred is a descendant of Spanish horses but most believe the Narragansett pacer played a very important role in the development of the standardbred. This now extinct pacer was a descendant of horses brought to Massachusetts in the early 1600s from England and the Netherlands. Over time and through diligent breeding programs, an excellent pacing and trotting horse was developed in New England.

In 1788, a thoroughbred named Messenger arrived in the United States and quickly became the founding father of the trotting horse family. One of his descendants, Hambletonian, is one of the most well known of all standardbreds. Born in 1849, this horse didn't race much. Instead, he sired horses with great speed and a natural trotting ability. Nearly all the harness racehorses today can trace their lines back to Hambletonian.

Appearance

The standardbred is a strong, powerfully built horse with long sloping shoulders and a high croup. The body is long and legs are short, giving the impression of a less refined thoroughbred. Standing 15 to 16 hands, the standardbred can be bay, brown, black and chestnut.

Aptitudes

The standardbred is best known as a harness racer. He is also a great riding horse. The breed races at a pace or a trot. The pace is a lateral gait. The left front and left rear legs move forward at the same time. Then, the right front and right rear move forward. This gives the impression of a rolling motion. The trot is a diagonal pace. The left front and right rear move forward at the same time. Then the right front and left rear move forward.

The pace is a natural gait for these horses and the trot is learned through training. The gaits of trotting and pacing are so inherent that the horse tends to prefer them to galloping, even when freely cavorting in the pasture.

The standardbred is to harness racing what the thoroughbred is to racing. It is a popular sport with over 12,000 people racing harness horses today. This horse is such an excellent harness horse that during the last century, every country that has a flourishing harness racing business has imported standardbreds to upgrade their own trotters and pacers.

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