American Standardbred Horses
Ht. 15 - 16 hh
Color: Any solid color but most commonly bay, brown or black
The most popular harness racer in the world is the American Standardbred. Although harness racing is a close runner up to Thoroughbred flat racing in the U.S., in many countries abroad it is the dominant equestrian sport. These equine athletes are often at least as valuable as their Thoroughbred brethren for their speed and docile temperament.
Founded in the 18th century, the American Standardbred is the result of crossing "ambling horses", the Canadian Narragansett Pacers, and Spanish Jennets brought over by the conquistadors. The Jennets introduced the lateral pacing gait that the Standardbred is known for. Also influential were the Barb descendants like the Morgan and the lesser-known Clays. Eventually, the Thoroughbred made his mark on the breed as well. Though he never raced Hambletonian is considered the foundation sires of the breed, delivering offspring that consistently had good stamina, were calm and bold.
A true American breed, the term American Standardbred was first used in 1879. It derives from the practice of establishing speed standards that a horse had to meet in order to be included in the Standardbred registry. The standard was originally a three-minute mile but was later raised to two minutes and thirty seconds. Today Standarbreds race at speeds up to 32mph, making a mile two-minute mile commonplace.
Standardbreds begin to race as 2 and 3 year-olds pulling a lightweight, two-wheeled racing sulky. In France they are also raced under saddle, a sport that is slowly gaining popularity in the U.S. Standardbreds race as either a pacer or a trotter. Trotters, as the name implies, race at the traditional trot. If a horse breaks gaits, that is transitions up into the canter, the driver will have to steer the horse and sulky to the outside of the pack and return to the trot before re-entering the race. Pacers bring out the breeds' natural lateral movement with hobbles that encourage the horse to move the front and back leg of one side at the same time. It's harder for a pacer to break out of the gait and therefore fewer horses are forced to pull out of a race for a common error. Pacers can also go at greater speeds and their "ambling" gait is more comfortable to ride. While trotters are popular abroad in the U.S. pacers outnumber trotters 4 - 1. Pacers only race pacers and trotters only race trotters as a general rule.
The American Standardbred has a distinctive look, with it's Roman nose and kind eye setting it apart from other racing breeds. Typically the croup is higher than the withers, giving the Standardbred the extra thrust needed to achieve its amazing speeds.
Because of its unflappable temperament, abundant heart and comfortable gaits, the Standardbred makes a terrific general all-around riding horse. They can be used for jumping, barrel racing, dressage and carriage driving. They also can be used for barrel racing and dressage. Just beware that they may need knee boots to protect the horse from striking his own leg because of their unusual action. In 1996, the USTA instituted the Standardbred Equine Program. This program is designed to work with adoption groups and connect people looking for Standardbreds for pleasure or showing with people finding new homes for retired horses. The program also offers much to the Standardbred pleasure horse enthusiast, including the annual High Point awards program for competitors, the Medallion program for non-competitors, C.H.A.M.P. for kids. SEP also offers retraining tips, help with identification of horses (via lip tattoo or neck freeze brand), as well as other services.