Frequently Asked Questions – Harness Racing
What is Harness Racing?
Harness racing is a sport in which a specific breed of horse, the Standardbred, races around a track pulling a two-wheeled cart which is steered by a driver. The cart is called a racebike or a sulky. Races are conducted on either a trot or a pace instead of a gallop. The trot is a diagonal gait – the left front/right hind and the right front/left hind move in unison. The pace is a lateral gait. The legs on the same side of the horse’s body move in unison.
What is a Standardbred?
Standardbreds are an intelligent, athletic breed of horse developed in North America in the 18th century. The breed is best known for its ability in harness racing, but Standardbreds excel at a variety of equestrian disciplines including English or Western pleasure, dressage, show jumping, endurance riding, and carriage driving. Their size and temperament also make them popular as police mounts.
Breeds that contributed to the development of the Standardbred are the Norfolk Trotter, the Narragansett Pacer, and the Morgan; however, nearly all Standardbreds’ bloodlines trace back to Messenger. Messenger was a gray Thoroughbred foaled in England and imported to the United States in 1788. His grandson, Hambletonian, was foaled in 1849 and is considered the foundation sire of the Standardbred breed.
When the breed registry was formed in 1879, breeding stock had to be able to trot or pace a mile within the “standard” time limit in order to be registered; hence the name Standardbred. Back then the standard was two minutes and thirty seconds. Today’s Standardbreds are much faster with most mile races clocking in at under two minutes.
Who Drives the Horses?
Some trainers drive the horses they train, others utilize catch drivers to drive during the races. A catch driver typically doesn’t train his own horses; he drives horses for other trainers. All trainers and drivers must be licensed by the United States Trotting Association (USTA).