The Standardbred

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Standardbreds can do more than just harness racing...they make a fantastic a first horse and you won't find a better, more reliable friend!

What's the difference between a trotter and pacer?

There are two types of Standardbred–the trotter and the pacer. As you know, when a horse 'trots', it uses the diagonal set of legs (such as near side foreleg and offside hindleg) for each stride. Imagine a horse stretching out and trotting at the speed of a galloping horse...that's what a racing Standardbred 'trotter' is doing.

The 'pace' is where the horse uses both legs on the same side of the body, at the same time, to propel itself along. Try it yourself–walk along using the same arm and leg on the one side of your body. It's an odd feeling isn't it? Now try doing it when you're running and that's what a racing Standardbred 'pacer' is doing.

What are the white marks along a Standardbred's neck?

This called a 'freeze brand' and it tells you via symbols which Australian state the horse was born in, the year it was born and its registration number with the harness racing register. New Zealand Standardbreds also carry a freeze brand but overseas, they are mostly given a tattoo inside their lip. 

The information here can help you to understand what the brand symbols mean.

What societies besides Harness Racing are there for Standardbreds?

There are organisations Australia-wide that support the Standardbred. Besides the harness racing bodies in each state, there are the Standardbred Pleasure and Performance Horse Associations (SPPHA) in most states of Australia. SPPHA Victoria or SPPHAV for short, run their own shows each year and have campaigned for a large number of Standardbred show rings at various locations around the state. They also have State Championships in showing, dressage and showjumping as well as a competition dressage series each year.

Is it true that Standardbreds can only trot or pace?

No, a Standardbred is a horse first and can canter and gallop just like any other horse. It's sometimes true that a Standardbred that has come straight off the track (retired from racing) and is a pacer may find it a little difficult to trot or do a three beat canter at first, because it's using a different set of muscles and been tranied to pace at speed. However with time and training they learn to use new sets of muscles and supple up a little more.

Another interesting fact is that all horses can pace and sometimes you'll see young foals of any breed pace a little, just to test out and use different muscles.

Can Standardbreds canter in circles?'ll even see Standardbreds competing in dressage competitions. Again, horses that have not been taught, or are recently off the track will take a bit more education but they will learn to canter in a circle, just like other horses.

Hambletonian. Hambletonian.

What colours do they come in?

Standardbreds mostly favour bay colours, plus some chestnuts, blacks and greys. Then there are the striking 'coloured' Standardbreds that are now eligible to compete in Pinto show classes. 

What are the origins of the breed?

The Standardbred evolved in 1849 when a man named William Rysdyk purchased a crippled mare who had a 'cat hunched' foal at foot for US$125. The foal was a colt named Hambletonian (pictured) and although he was described as ugly, his ancestor was a horse named Messenger who traced back to the three main Thoroughbred foundation sires–the Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian.

In an era before cars, America relied on horses for transport, both ridden and in harness and it was a bonus if that horse could also be used to compete in the sport of weekend race meetings. So the idea of increasingly fast carriage horses evolved and through selective breeding, the Standardbred emerged.

As well as Thoroughbred bloodlines, Hackney, Morgan, Cleveland Bay, Arabian, Barb and Canadian Pacer were used to produce a fast, strong horse with staying power.

Hambletonian went on to become the foundation sire of the Standardbred and he can be traced back in the bloodlines of almost 99% of today's registered Standardbreds. He passed on an ability to trot and pace at high speeds and sired around 1,300 foals.

Before Hambletonian came on the scene and to help the selective breeding process, only horses who could run a standard mile in less than two minutes 30 seconds were allowed to race...hence the 'Standardbred' name.

Only horses who could run a standard mile in less than two minutes 30 seconds were allowed to race...hence the 'Standardbred' name.

(Top Horse photo). (Top Horse photo).

What can Standardbreds do after racing?

Believe it or not you'll see Standardbreds competing in dressage, endurance, showjumping, eventing, trail riding, Pony Club and Adult fact in almost every discipline except thoroughbred racing! Many trail riding establishments use Standardbreds because they are generally calm and reliable horses. The Standardbred is also one of the preferred horses used by Riding for the Disabled.

They are very hardy, mostly due to the fact that a Standardbred will be exercised for up to 14 kilometers a day in one session, when in race training.

Many people own a Standardbred because it may have been their first horse, it may have been less expensive to purchase or they needed a horse they could learn on. There are quite a few adult riders and Pony Club members who own a Standardbred and they have probably all found how powerful the bond between them and their horse becomes.

Breed Standard

The Standardbred is a willing, athletic horse similar to the Thoroughbred ut with stronger, shorter legs.

The Standardbred has a narrower chest, long, sloping shoulders, long underline and a strong back. Bred for speed, the Standardbred developed higher haunches.

The average height is between 14,2hh and 16hh, Hambletonian was measured at 15.2 3/4hh at the wither and 15.3 ¾ at the croup.

Although Standardbreds can be any colour, they are predominately solid colours.

Where can I get a Standardbred?

You might want to talk to your state Standardbred Horse Association as some like Victoria and New South Wales have 'horse placement programs'. You can also see Standardbreds advertised in magazines and newspapers or get information from your nearest Harness Racing Club.

Visit the Standardbred Pleasure & Performance Horse Association of NSW website for more information.

Images courtesy Joedy Whitaker–Standardbred Pleasure & Performance Horse Association of NSW

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