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The popularity of the Standardbred, the American harness racing horse, ascended as the years of the Twentieth century declined. With not so many years of breeding history as other breeds, the popularity and abilities of the breed increased dramatically.
The breed expanded from a Thoroughbred horse who never raced as a trotter or even had sons who raced as trotters. The Thoroughbred horse Messenger was the great grandsire of a horse named Hambletonian. All modern day harness horses trace back to four sons of Hambletonian.
In America Messener was bred to mares of every type. While much of the breeding stock that contributed to the establishment of the Standardbred horse as a breed is shrouded in history that was not recorded, it is clear all of the contributors possessed certain characteristics that when blended with the gene pool of Messenger or Hambletonian did establish a new breed.
Clearly disposition, endurance and substance were traits that were passed on to future generations, but most important was the inherent ability to trot.
A horse named Yankey, of unknown breeding, is recorded as accomplishing the first trotting performance in American. In 1806, he went a mile in 2:59. Shortly after, history tells us that the progeny of Messenger began to take the lead for setting the standard of the Standardbred horse, and they were all 2nd or 3rd generation offspring, most of whom have more than once cross to him.
Early trotters, also worked early American farms and served as transportation while engaging in brief contest of speed over country roads and the sport of harness racing took root with the growth of the new country. The type, or breed characteristics began to become established and to be bred for.
The ascendance of Messenger blood was contested hard and long by Morgan horses and by the Clays, part Thoroughbred and descended from a Barb stallion. These three bloodlines eventually established the Standardbred horse as a breed.
Messenger progeny were low going and long gaited, with some height of action in front, coupled with substance and courage. The higher gaited Morgans were also shorter in height. The Clays really established the more rounded modern front action, while the extreme of extension came from the Mesengers.
All bloodline families were eclipsed by the get of Hambletonian 10 who was intensely inbred to Messenger. Basically all trotters and pacers today descend from four sons of Hambletonian: George Wilkes, Dictator, Happy Medium and Electioneer. George Wilkes was one time world champion with a record at the age of twelve of 2:22. The Standardbred horse was well on his way!
TROTTERS AND PACERS
The American trotter came to be called the Standardbred because they were required to trot or pace a mile in a prescribed standard of time. Pacers have been pacing almost as long as trotters have been trotting.
The first recorded performance was by Bowery Boy in 1829, 2 miles in 5:04.1/2. In 1879 the pacers really took off in popularity because their speed spoke for them and the first two minute horse was Star Pointer, a pacer, in 1897, going 1:59.1/4.
The Standardbred horse and harness racing prosper today in many countries, being popular throughout Europe,including Russia. The sport also flourishes in North Africa, South America, and Japan, and England, while it is a leading sport in New Zealand and Australia.
Hambletonian blood plays a major part throughout the world and males lines often dominate except for France which has two additional lines descended from Thoroughbreds and native French stock.
NORTH AMERICA’S TOP RACES:
For Trotters -- Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-olds, and the World Trotting Derby. The Yonkers Trot, Hambletonian, and Kentucky Futurity for 3-year-olds comprise the trotting Triple Crown.
For Pacers -- The Woodrow Wilson and the Metro Stakes for 2 year olds. The Meadowlands Pace, North American Cup and the Adios for 3 year olds. The Little Brown Jug, the Messenger Stake and the Cane Pace constitute The Pacing Triple Crown.
The sport has a place for amateur drives too. They don’t get paid, but they can race and often race their own horses. There are races for amateur drives around America and abroad.
The Standardbred mostly races while pulling a sulky, but at some tracks and fairs the once popular race under saddle is now offered again.
The Standardbred has always been kind of disposition on the whole, and very trainable. While their main fame is on the track they can, as early development of the breed shows, be trained and are useable in many other disciplines and in today’s world they excel in dressage, combined driving, jumping, even barrel racing. They also are a great treat in the show ring as Roadster horses. They have an unlimited heart and an equally unlimited versatility.
The United States Trotting Association has established a solid foundation of rules. licenses officials and participants, and registers horses for racing and breeding purposes. The USTA invites you to learn more about the Standardbred by visiting the website, or calling 1-877-800-8782.
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