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365 Days in Horse Country – Born to Trot: The Standardbred

Blog by Michael Stuart Webb | October 5th, 2013

365 Days in Horse Country – Born to Trot: The Standardbred


Although Thoroughbred racing is the most watched equine sport, harness racing is not too-distant second in North America.  The horses that pull the sulkies down the track, trotting or pacing at speeds up to 35 miles per hour (56 km/h) are Standardbreds.

The Standardbred was developed in colonial America, when people preferred their race horses pull carts.  They also liked seeing horses that could race at the trot instead of the gallop.  The Standardbred was created to do both.

Thoroughbreds and Canadian Horses were used to develop the Standardbred breed.  Some experts think small horses called the Narragansett Pacer (see my blog dated May 31,2013 for more information on the Narragansett Pacer), which no longer exists, is also part of the Standardbred’s early history.

Standardbreds resemble their Thoroughbred cousins in conformation, although Standardbreds tend to have a longer body and are more muscular.  Their heads are usually bigger than a Thoroughbred’s, and they have powerful thighs.  They usually stand 15 to 16 hands, and they come in bay, chestnut, brown, gray, and black.

Retired Standardbreds face the same dilemma as retired Thoroughbreds: They often have nowhere to go.  Many rescue-and-rehabilitation centres make it their mission to retrain Standardbreds for riding so they can be adopted out to good homes.  Retired Standardbreds find new careers in Western classes, jumping, dressage, team penning, endurance, gymkhana, saddleseat, and trail.