The Standardbred is perhaps best known in the sport of harness racing. In harness racing, Standardbred racing is contested on two gaits, the trot and the pace. Trotters move with a diagonal gait; the left front and right rear legs move in unison, as do the right front and left rear. It requires much skill by the trainer to get a trotter to move perfectly at high speeds, even though the trotting gait is a natural one in the animal world.
Pacers, on the other hand, move the legs on one side of their body in tandem: left front and rear, and right front and rear. This action shows why pacers are often called “side-wheelers.” Pacers, which account for about 80 percent of the performers in harness racing and are the faster of the two gaits, are aided in maintaining their gait by plastic loops called hobbles, which keep their legs moving in synchronization. Pacing is a natural gait.
The Standardbred horse has an average height of 15 hands.
In many respects, the Standardbred resembles the Thoroughbred. However, it is often more muscled and longer in body, and does not stand as tall, averaging between 15 and 16 hands. The head is bigger and may sport a Roman nose.
Standardbreds tend to have a higher neck set that other light horse breeds, somewhat similar to the Morgan.
Standardbreds are intelligent, willing, and have an excellent work ethic. They are laid back and calm in nature, though they do enjoy competing.
Members of this breed often excel in the following disciplines:
- Harness racing
- Huntseat or dressage
The origins of the Standardbred trace back to Messenger, an English Thoroughbred foaled in 1780, and later exported to the United States. Messenger was the great-grandsire of Hambletonian 10, to whom every Standardbred can trace its heritage. Standardbreds are a relatively new breed, dating back just over 200 years, but it is a true American breed.
The name “Standardbred” originated because the early trotters (pacers would not come into the picture until much later) were required to reach a certain standard for the mile distance in order to be registered as part of the new breed. The mile is still the standard distance covered in nearly every harness race.
Standardbred racing has long been known as the sport of the people, and both the sport and the breed are as much a part of our American landscape as cowboys and apple pie. As it evolved it gave the United States some of its first “sports heroes,” including the great Dan Patch, the legendary Adios and the great gray ghost, Greyhound.