Last updated
Meaulnes du Corta.jpg
The Standardbred is best known as a harness racing breed.
Other namesTrotter
Country of originUnited States
Distinguishing featuresWell-muscled, long body, slightly heavier than a Thoroughbred, solid legs and powerful shoulders and hindquarters; able to trot or pace at speed for racing.
Breed standards

The Standardbred is an American horse breed best known for its ability in harness racing, where members of the breed compete at either a trot or pace. Developed in North America, the Standardbred is recognized worldwide, and the breed can trace its bloodlines to 18th-century England. They are solid, well-built horses with good dispositions. In addition to harness racing, the Standardbred is used for a variety of equestrian activities, including horse shows and pleasure riding, particularly in the Midwestern and Eastern United States and in Southern Ontario.



Hambletonian 10 Hambletonian10.jpg
Hambletonian 10

In the 17th century, the first trotting races were held in the Americas, usually in fields on horses under saddle. However, by the mid-18th century, trotting races were held on official courses, with the horses in harness. Breeds that have contributed foundation stock to the Standardbred breed included the Narragansett Pacer, Canadian Pacer, Thoroughbred, Norfolk Trotter, Hackney, and Morgan.

The foundation bloodlines of the Standardbred trace to a Thoroughbred foaled in England in 1780 named Messenger. [1] He was a gray stallion imported to the United States in 1788. He sired a number of flat racing horses, but was best known for his great-grandson, Hambletonian 10, also known as Rysdyk's Hambletonian, foaled in 1849 and considered the foundation sire of the breed and from whom all Standardbreds descend. [2] Hambletonian 10 was out of a dam with Norfolk Trotter breeding, and the mare and foal were purchased by William Rysdyk, a farm hand from New York state, who successfully raced the colt as a three-year-old against other horses. The horse went on to sire 1,331 offspring, 40 of whom trotted a mile in under 2 minutes 30 seconds. [3]

Another influential sire was the Thoroughbred Diomed, born in 1777. Diomed's Thoroughbred grandson American Star, foaled in 1822, was influential in the development of the breed through the mares of his progeny by American Star 14 being bred to Hambletonian 10. [4] [5] [6] [7] When the sport started to gain popularity, more selective breeding was done to produce the faster harness trotter.

Dan Patch, significant Standardbred pacing sire, circa 1900 Danpatch1.jpg
Dan Patch, significant Standardbred pacing sire, circa 1900

The Standardbred breed registry was formed in United States in 1879 by the National Association of Trotting Horse Breeders. [3] The name arose due to the "standard" required of breeding stock, to be able to trot or pace a mile within a certain time limit. [1] Every Standardbred had to be able to trot a mile in less than two minutes and 30 seconds. [8] Today, many Standardbreds are faster than this original standard, [9] with several pacing the mile within 1 min, 50 sec, and trotters only a few seconds slower than pacers. Slightly different bloodlines are found in trotters than in pacers, though both can trace their heritage back to Hambletonian 10.


The Standardbred is heavier in build than the Thoroughbred, but still shows quality and refinement Standardbred Hunter.jpg
The Standardbred is heavier in build than the Thoroughbred, but still shows quality and refinement

Standardbreds tend to be more muscled and longer bodied than the Thoroughbred. They also are of more placid dispositions, as suits horses whose races involve more strategy and more changes of speed than do Thoroughbred races. Standardbreds are considered people-oriented, easy-to-train horses.

They are generally a bit heavier in build than Thoroughbreds, but have refined, solid legs and powerful shoulders and hindquarters. Standardbreds have a wide range of heights, from 14 to 17  hands (56 to 68 inches, 142 to 173 cm), although most are between 15 and 16  hands (60 and 64 inches, 152 and 163 cm). [10] They are most often bay, brown or black, [1] although other colors such as chestnut are seen. Gray and roan are also found. [10]

The Standardbred typically weighs between 800 and 1,000 pounds (360 and 450 kg). [1] Their heads are refined and straight with broad foreheads, large nostrils, and shallow mouths. The typical Standardbred body is long, with the withers being well defined, with strong shoulders and the muscles being long and heavy, which helps with the long strides. The neck of the Standardbred is muscular and should be slightly arched, with a length of medium to long. Their legs are muscular and solid, with generally very tough and durable hooves.

Individual Standardbreds tend to either trot or pace. Trotters' preferred racing gait is the trot, where the horses' legs move in diagonal pairs; when the right foreleg moves forward, so does the left hind leg, and vice versa. The pace is a two-beat lateral gait; pacers' forelegs move in unison with the hind legs on the same side. However, the breed also is able to perform other horse gaits, including the canter, though this gait is penalized in harness racing. [1]

The ability to pace is linked to a single-point mutation in gene DMRT3, which is expressed in the I6 subdivision of spinal cord neurons; this area is responsible for coordinating the locomotor network controlling limb movements. The point mutation causes early termination of the gene by coding for a stop codon, thus altering the function of this transcription factor. [11]


Harness racing

Standardbreds are known for their skill in harness racing, being the fastest trotting horses in the world. Because of their speed, Standardbreds are often used to upgrade other breeds of harness racers around the world, such as the Orlov Trotter and French Trotter.

In Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, races are held for both trotters and pacers. In continental Europe, all harness races are conducted between trotters. Major races for North American trotters include the Peter Haughton Memorial for two-year-olds, and the World Trotting Derby, Yonkers Trot, Hambletonian, and Kentucky Futurity for three-year-olds. The Hambletonian is sometimes referred to as the "Kentucky Derby of Harness Racing". The Trotting Triple Crown is made up of the Yonkers Trot, Hambletonian Stakes, and Kentucky Futurity.

Standardbred pulling an Amish buggy Lancaster County Amish 03.jpg
Standardbred pulling an Amish buggy

Some of the major pacing races in North America include the Woodrow Wilson and Metro Stake for two-year-olds, and the Little Brown Jug, Meadowlands Pace, North America Cup and the Adios Pace for three-year-olds. The Little Brown Jug, the Messenger Stakes, and the Cane Pace comprise the Pacing Triple Crown. Major races in Australia and New Zealand include the New Zealand Trotting Cup, the Miracle Mile Pace and the Inter Dominion series.

In 1968, New Zealand-bred Cardigan Bay became the first Standardbred horse ever to win US$1 million, and the ninth horse to do so worldwide (the first eight were Thoroughbreds). He was popular in the United States, and appeared with Stanley Dancer on The Ed Sullivan Show as the "million dollar horse". [12]

Other uses

Standardbred performing dressage Standardbred.png
Standardbred performing dressage

Standardbreds are also used in horse shows and for pleasure riding. They are also popular as light buggy horses for the Amish people, who eschew motorized vehicles. Many retired Standardbreds find a second career off the track with the help of organizations such as the Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization.

The breed is quite good at jumping, making them suitable for the sport horse disciplines of hunt seat, show jumping, show hunter, and eventing. The breed is also seen in dressage, and their excellent temperaments make them good trail riding and ranch horses.

In addition, because of the genetics of the breed, they can also be encouraged and trained to perform smooth ambling gaits, notably the rack and the stepping pace. The number of gaited Standardbreds is steadily growing in the United States, with some stud farms dedicated to breeding individuals with this characteristic. Standardbreds are also gaining popularity in Australia as endurance horses, from the 20 km social rides and 40 km training rides, up to the 80 km endurance rides. They are known for their strong and dense bones, suitable conformation and ability to maintain high trotting speeds for extended periods of time comfortably. The kind and manageable temperament of the breed also contributes to its popularity. These features are especially attractive to riders who do not wish to be competitive against the purpose-bred Arabian horses, which are often more difficult and competitive to ride.

Related Research Articles

Horse racing Equestrian sport

Horse racing is an equestrian performance sport, typically involving two or more horses ridden by jockeys over a set distance, for competition. It is one of the most ancient of all sports, as its basic premise – to identify which of two or more horses is the fastest over a set course or distance – has been unchanged since at least classical antiquity.

Harness racing

Harness racing is a form of horse racing in which the horses race at a specific gait. They usually pull a two-wheeled cart called a sulky, or spider, occupied by a driver. In Europe, and less frequently in Australia and New Zealand, races with jockeys riding directly on saddled trotters are also conducted.

Horse gait Ways of movement of equines

Horses can use various gaits during locomotion across solid ground, either naturally or as a result of specialized training by humans.

Morgan horse

The Morgan horse is one of the earliest horse breeds developed in the United States. Tracing back to the foundation sire Figure, later named Justin Morgan after his best-known owner, Morgans served many roles in 19th-century American history, being used as coach horses and for harness racing, as general riding animals, and as cavalry horses during the American Civil War on both sides of the conflict. Morgans have influenced other major American breeds, including the American Quarter Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse and the Standardbred. During the 19th and 20th centuries, they were exported to other countries, including England, where a Morgan stallion influenced the breeding of the Hackney horse. In 1907, the US Department of Agriculture established the US Morgan Horse Farm near Middlebury, Vermont for the purpose of perpetuating and improving the Morgan breed; the farm was later transferred to the University of Vermont.The first breed registry was established in 1909, and since then many organizations in the US, Europe and Oceania have developed. There were estimated to be over 175,000 Morgan horses worldwide in 2005.

American Saddlebred American horse breed

The American Saddlebred is a horse breed from the United States. This breed is referred to as the "Horse America Made". Descended from riding-type horses bred at the time of the American Revolution, the American Saddlebred includes the Narragansett Pacer, Canadian Pacer, Morgan and Thoroughbred among its ancestors. Developed into its modern type in Kentucky, it was once known as the "Kentucky Saddler", and used extensively as an officer's mount in the American Civil War. In 1891, a breed registry was formed in the United States. Throughout the 20th century, the breed's popularity continued to grow in the United States, and exports began to South Africa and Great Britain. Since the formation of the US registry, almost 250,000 American Saddlebreds have been registered, and can now be found around the world, with separate breed registries established in Great Britain, Australia, continental Europe, and southern Africa.

Hackney horse

The Hackney is a recognized breed of horse that was developed in Great Britain. In recent decades, the breeding of the Hackney has been directed toward producing horses that are ideal for carriage driving. They are an elegant high stepping breed of carriage horse that is popular for showing in harness events. Hackneys possess good stamina, and are capable of trotting at high speed for extended periods of time.

Narragansett Pacer

The Narragansett Pacer was the first horse breed developed in the United States, but is now extinct. It was developed in the United States during the 18th century and associated closely with the state of Rhode Island, and it had become extinct by the late 19th century. The Pacer was developed from a mix of English and Spanish breeds, although the exact cross is unknown, and they were known to and owned by many famous personages of the day, including George Washington. Sales to the Caribbean and cross-breeding diminished the breed to the point of extinction, and the last known Pacer died around 1880.


The Dole Gudbrandsdal, Dølahest or Dole is a draft- and harness-type horse from Norway. The Dole Trotter is alternately considered a subtype of the Dole Gudbrandsdal and a separate breed; it is also considered a part of the Coldblood trotter type. The Dole Gudbrandsdal is a small draft horse, known for its pulling power and agility, while the Dole Trotter is a smaller, faster horse used for harness racing; the two types are commonly interbred. Both types are strictly critiqued before entry into the studbook, which has over time resulted in an improvement in the breed type. The Dole is originally from the Gudbrandsdal Valley, and is probably descended in part from the Friesian horse. Over time the breed has had Thoroughbred, Arabian and other blood added in, especially during the creation of the Dole Trotter in the 19th century. The first studbook was created in 1941, and the current breed association was formed in 1947. Although originally used mainly as a pack horse, today the heavier Dole type is used mainly for agricultural purposes. The Dole Gudbrandsdal been crossed with other breeds to develop horses for harness racing and riding.

Rosalind (harness horse) American Standardbred racehorse

Rosalind was a champion trotting mare who won the 1936 Hambletonian Stakes, set two world records and was elected to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1973. Foaled on May 5, 1933, she was sired by Scotland (1:59¼); her dam was Alma Lee (2:04¾), whose sire was Lee Worthy (2:02½). Scotland was sired by Peter Scott, who was sired by Peter The Great, who was sired by Pilot Medium, who was sired by Happy Medium, who was sired by Hambletonian 10. Alma Lee was also a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Hambletonian 10.

Messenger (horse) Late 18th century Thoroughbred stallion

Messenger was an English Thoroughbred stallion bred by Richard Grosvenor, and imported into the newly-formed United States of America just after the American Revolution.

Ambling gait

An ambling gait or amble is any of several four-beat intermediate horse gaits, all of which are faster than a walk but usually slower than a canter and always slower than a gallop. Horses that amble are sometimes referred to as "gaited", particularly in the United States. Ambling gaits are smoother for a rider than either the two-beat trot or pace and most can be sustained for relatively long periods, making them particularly desirable for trail riding and other tasks where a rider must spend long periods in the saddle. Historically, horses able to amble were highly desired for riding long distances on poor roads. Once roads improved and carriage travel became popular, their use declined in Europe but continued in popularity in the Americas, particularly in areas where plantation agriculture was practiced and the inspection of fields and crops necessitated long daily rides.

Hambletonian 10 Standardbred foundation sire

Hambletonian 10, or Rysdyk's Hambletonian, was an American trotter and a founding sire of the Standardbred horse breed. The stallion was born in Sugar Loaf, New York on 5 May 1849. Hambletonian has been inducted into the Immortals category of the Harness Racing Hall of Fame.

Harness racing in Australia

Harness racing, also colloquially known as trotting or the trots, is a spectator sport in Australia, with significant amounts of money wagered annually with bookmakers and the Totalisator Agency Board (TAB). In Australia there are 90 harness racing tracks, which hold over 1,900 meetings annually. There are approximately 2,900 drivers and 4,000 trainers with about 5,000 Standardbred horses foaled and registered each year.

Orlov Trotter

The Orlov Trotter is a horse breed with a hereditary fast trot, noted for its outstanding speed and stamina. It is the most famous Russian horse. The breed was developed in Russia in the late 18th century by Count Alexei Orlov at his Khrenovskoy stud farm near the town of Bobrov. The Orlovs emerged as the result of crossing various European mares with Arabian stallions.

Norfolk Trotter

The Norfolk Trotter is an extinct horse breed once native to East Anglia and Norfolk, England. It was said to be "a large-sized trotting harness horse originating in and around Norfolk".

Thoroughbred Horse breed developed for racing

The Thoroughbred is a horse breed best known for its use in horse racing. Although the word thoroughbred is sometimes used to refer to any breed of purebred horse, it technically refers only to the Thoroughbred breed. Thoroughbreds are considered "hot-blooded" horses that are known for their agility, speed, and spirit.

Harness racing in New Zealand is primarily a professional sport which involves pacing and trotting competitions for Standardbred racehorses. The difference is the horse's gait or running style:

French Trotter French breed of trotting horse

The French Trotter is a French breed of trotting horse bred for racing both ridden and in harness. It was bred specifically for racing in the nineteenth century, principally in Normandy in north-western France.

Black Allan (horse) Foundation sire of the Tennessee Walking Horse

Black Allan or Allan F-1 was the foundation sire of the Tennessee Walking Horse. He was out of a Morgan mare named Maggie Marshall and by Allendorf, a stallion descended from Narragansett Pacer, Canadian Pacer, and Gaited Spanish Mustang imported from Texas. Black Allan was registered as No. 7623 by the American Trotting Registry. Although Black Allan was supposed to be a trotter, he preferred to pace and so never raced. Besides the pace, he performed a lateral ambling gait now known as the running walk. He was a black stallion standing 15 hands, 5 feet high. He was given the designation Allan F-1 when the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' Association, precursor to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association, was formed in 1935. He had multiple owners throughout his life, but his last owners, James Brantley and Albert Dement, were the only ones to recognize Black Allan's use as a breeding stallion. Black Allan sired 111 known foals in his lifetime, among them Roan Allen, registration number F-38, Hunters Allen F-10, and Merry Legs F-4. Black Allan died September 16, 1910, at the age of 29.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Standardbred". International Museum of the Horse. Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  2. "Messenger". Thoroughbred Heritage. Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  3. 1 2 "The Golden Age of the Trotting Horse". International Museum of the Horse. Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  4. American Bloodstock
  5. American Star
  6. Duroc
  7. The Stars
  8. The Stallion Place Archived 2010-06-13 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2010-2-8
  9. "A Day Trip For Sir Taurus". Standardbred Canada. 2014-06-19. Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  10. 1 2 Lynghaug, Official Horse Breed Standards Guide p. 322
  11. Andersson, Lisa; Larhammar (29 August 2012). "Mutations in DMRT3 affect locomotion in horses and spinal circuit function in mice". Nature. 488 (7413): 642–646. doi:10.1038/nature11399. PMC   3523687 . PMID   22932389.
  12. "Inter Dominion – A Brief History". Retrieved 2014-06-24.