In America, harness racing attracts a following of over 30 million people. In many European countries, and in Scandinavia and Russia, it is more popular than Thoroughbred racing. The supreme harness racer is, without doubt, the American Standardbred, many of which can go one mile in about 1.55 minutes. A few are even faster.
The term Standardbred was first used in 1879, and refers to the speed standard required for entry into the breed register. Separate harness races are held for conventional, diagonal trotters, and for pacers that employ the lateral gait. The pacer, faster and less likely to break gait, is vastly preferred in the USA. In Europe, trotters are more numerous.
The Standardbred was founded on Messenger, a Thoroughbred imported from England in 1788. He did not race in harness but, like all early Thoroughbreds, had trotting connections with the old Norfolk Roadster. The foundation sire of the breed is Messenger's inbred descendant, Hambletonian 10, foaled in 1849. He, too, never raced in harness but he had a peculiarity of conformation that contributed to his success as a sire of harness racers. He measured 15.3 1/4hh at the croup and 15.1 1/4hh at the withers, a structure that gives enormous propulsvie thrust to the quarters.
Robust is a good description of the muscular, courageous Standardbred and the head can be described in similar fashion for it is coarse and rather plain, though honest enough in its outlook. The breed is notable for the strength of the shoulders and their perfect relationship to the neck. Withers are fairly well defined but may be lower than the croup. The Standardbred is longer and lower than the Thoroughbred and without its quality and refinement. The croup in this powerfully built horse is always high. Quarters are exceptionally powerful so as to deliver the maximum possible, forward thrust at the trot or pace. The hocks and the hind leg have to be very correct in their structure if the horse is to stand up to the demands of racing. Iron-hard legs, very good hooves and the straightest of actions are essential for the Standardbred to race at high speed without risk of injury. Colors are predominantly bay, brown, black and chestnut. The average height is 15.2hh.
Reference: The Ultimate Horse Book; Elwyn Hartley Edwards; 1991
Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization
Background photo courtesy of Hanover
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