Standardbred harness racing horses are so called because in the early years of the Trotting Registry, the standardbred stud book established in the United States in 1879 by the National Association of Trotting Horse Breeders, only horses who could race a mile in a standard time or better, or whose get (offspring) could race a mile in standard time or better, were entered in the book.
The first harness racehorses in North America were raced on the roads while going home to do the work on the farm or homestead. Contributing to the Standardbred breed were the Narragansett Pacer and the Canadian Pacer. Crosses between English Thoroughbreds and other breeds, including the Norfolk Trotter, the Hackney, the Morgan and the Canadian Pacer produced a horse that was the predecessor to the Standardbred. Hambletonian 10, a great-grandson of the English Thoroughbred Messenger, is considered to be the founding sire of the Standardbred.
In the 17th century, the first trotting races were held in the Americas, usually in fields on ridden horses. However, by the mid-18th century, trotting races were held on official courses, with the horses in harness. Breeders selected bloodlines that would produce the fastest horses, with one of the most notable sires being the gray English Thoroughbred Messenger, who was exported to the United States in 1788. He produced both runners and trotters, and the trotters possessed great speed and heart. His descendant, the legendary Hambletonian 10, was born in 1849. He was sold, his owners thinking he was worthless, but later became one of the most prolific sires of Standardbreds, today with nearly every trotter or pacer tracing its lineage back to him.
The name "Standardbred" was first used in 1879, due to the fact that, in order to be registered, every Standardbred had to be able to trot a mile within the standard 2 minutes and 30 second time. Today, many Standardbreds race much faster than this original standard, with several pacing the mile within 1 minute, 50 seconds. Trotters (see below) are generally a few seconds slower than pacers. Slightly different bloodlines are found in trotters versus pacers, though both comprise the breed and can trace their heritage back to Hambletonian.
The stud book was formed in 1939, with the formation of the United States Trotting Horse Association.
Standardbreds tend to be more muscled and longer bodied than the American [thoroughbred]. They also are of more placid dispositions, as suits horses whose races involve more strategy and more re-acceleration than do thoroughbred races. Standardbreds are very people-oriented, easy-to-train horses.
They are generally a bit sturdier than their Thoroughbred cousins, but have refined, solid legs and powerful shoulders and hindquarters. Standardbreds have a wide range of height: from 14.1-17hh(55'-66'), and generally come in bay or brown, although other colors are seen.
Uses of the Standardbred
Standardbreds are known for their skill in harness racing, being the fastest trotting horse in the world. In continental Europe all harness races are conducted between trotters. A trotter's forelegs move in unison with the opposite hind legs — when the right foreleg moves forward so does the left hind leg, and vice versa. In Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, races are also held for pacers. Pacers' forelegs move in unison with the hind legs on the same side.
Some of the major pacing races in North America include the Woodrow Wilson and Metro Stake for 2-year-olds, and the Little Brown Jug, Meadowlands Pace, North America Cup and the Adios for 3-year-olds. The Little Brown Jug, the Messenger Stake, and the Cane Pace comprise the Pacing Triple Crown.
Major races for North American trotters include the Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-olds, and the World Trotting Derby, Yonkers Trot, Hambletonian, and Kentucky Futurity for 3-year-olds. The Hambletonian is sometimes referred to as the "Kentucky Derby of Harness Racing." The Trotting Triple Crown is made up of the Yonkers Trot, Hambletonian, and Kentucky Futurity.
Because of their skill, Standardbreds are often used to upgrade other breeds of harness racers around the world. However, many are finding careers off the track. The Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization, founded in the US in the 1980s, helps promote the breed for other disciplines.
The breed has all the usual gaits, and pacers can be retrained to trot. The breed is quite good at jumping, making them suitable for the hunters, jumpers, or eventing. The breed is also seen in dressage, and their excellent temperaments make them good trail or ranch horses. In addition, because of the genetics of the breed, they can also be encouraged and trained to perform smooth intermediate gaits, such as the rack, stepping pace, amble, and other "easy gaits."
Re-training a standardbred off the track can be time consuming. You may desire for your horse to do the more comfortable rack or slow-gait. To do this: loosen up on the reins and "kiss". You may have to "kiss", and "cluck" a lot. Since these horses are not used to leg pressure, the horse may need a slight tap with a whip for encouragement. Many people who ask their horses to rack or slow-gait do not ask for the canter because the rack or slow-gait is a very comfortable gait. If you want for your horse to trot you start the same way as you would the pace by encouraging the horse to move forward. However, do not loosen the reins completely. Once the horse is comfortable with the idea of leg pressure and is able to collect itself you can move on to the canter. It is best to ask for the canter when the horse is collected at the trot rather than trotting thirty miles an hour. Also, jumping the horse over an obstacle or going up a hill helps them to go into a canter easier. Although the canter is a natural gait for the standardbred, it is not easy for them. Many standardbreds have a four-beat canter instead of a true three-beat canter. It takes a lot of encouragement and muscle building for a horse to canter correctly. In fact, many horses will never have a true canter under saddle even if they seem to canter, or gallop, through the field correctly with no problem. Although it may take many years to retrain a standardbred, the result can be many years of fun, a sense of achievment and a new friend.
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