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What is a Standardbred?

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. The broodmare sire of Hambletonian 10 was a Norfolk Trotter, which also influenced the Hackney breed. Other breeds that contributed to the foundation stock of the Standardbred include the now extinct Narragansett Pacer, the Canadian Pacer, Hackney and Morgan horses. 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 time 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.

While Thoroughbred racing has long been known as the sport of kings, the dependable, athletic Standardbred brought racing to the common man, first between neighbors on community roads, and later at state-of-the-art racetracks.

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, and the great gray ghost, Greyhound.

Breed Characteristics

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 even sport a Roman nose.

Standardbreds weigh between 800 and 1,200 pounds. They are known for their docile personalities and willing temperaments. This breed appears in varying colors, although bay, brown and black are predominant.

Standardbreds have two gaits

Trotter
There are two types of Standardbreds:

Trotters have a diagonal gait: the right front and left rear will move forward at the same time with the left front and right rear moving back at the same time.

Pacers move the legs on the same side of the body at the same time: the right front and right rear move forward at the same time with left front and left rear moving back at the same time. This is known as a lateral gait and pacers have also been known to be called “side-wheelers”. Pacers usually wear hobbles to help them maintain their gait.

Pacer
Pacers and trotters do not race against each other, as the pacing gait is generally faster than the trot. Even though every horse can trace their lineage back to the trotter Hambletonian 10, today each gait has their own line of breeding. As a rule of thumb, pacing bred stallions sire pacers and likewise with trotters, although there are exceptions to every rule. Through the years, the pacing gait has become is just as natural as the trot; you may see foals pacing in the field before they are even weaned from their mothers.

Not Just for Racing

Eight Standardbreds travelled to the Alltech F.E.I. World Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY to demonstrate how Standardbreds excel at disciplines other than racing. The demonstration was coordinated by the USTA and the Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization of Florida (SPHO-FL). The “Standardbreds on Stage” brochure introduces the horses and their off-the-track accomplishments

World Equestrian Games Demonstration Participants  

Horse State Rider/Driver Discipline
Draken PA Kathleen Haak Pleasure Driving
Dreamy Starlet ME Elizabeth Tewksbury Jumping
Jambalyabar Man NJ Helene Gregory Jumping
Pro Gem CA Jennifer & Steven Sperry Combined Driving
Road Kar NJ Lena O’Brien Hunter Under Saddle
Sea The Gray FL SPHO-FL Dressage
Veruca Salt KY Laura Harbour Western Pleasure
Whiz Bang FL Tina Bombardo Dressage

World Equestrian Games Video


To learn more about Standardbreds and harness racing, click here to visit the fans section of the USTA website
Here to Help

If you acquire a Standardbred and want to learn more about its racing or breeding history, the USTA can help. Pathway, the USTA’s online database of racing and breeding information, has a free search to find basic information about your horse:

Pathway Free Search

If you need more help in identifying your Standardbred, you can call the USTA offices. Please have as much information available, including a freeze brand or lip tattoo, color, sex, white markings, etc. Contact the USTA’s Information & Research Department:

(877) 800-8782 x4
stats@ustrotting.com