The Standardbred Breed

Standardbred Breed Description

Height 14 to 16 hands high.
Weight 900 to 1150 pounds (400 to 520 kg).
Colour All solid colours, but predominantly bay, brown, black and chestnut.
Head In comparison to the Thoroughbred, the head is coarse and plain.
Body The shoulders are very strong. The withers are well defined, but may be lower than the croup. The body is longer and lower than the Thoroughbred’s. The croup is always high. The hindquarters are exceptionally powerful.
Limbs The Standardbred possesses excellent, iron-hard legs which can withstand the rigors of racing. The hocks and hind legs are conformationally correct. The hoofs are good and strong.
Action Standardbreds either trot or pace. These gaits are inherited, and are encouraged by training. In the case of the trotter, the front and hind feet move in direct line with each other when viewed from behind, or in front. In pacers, the hind feet are placed outside the front feet. The trotter moves with long, low strides, and has a round, slashing action in front. The pacer’s legs move laterally, so that the near fore and hind move together, and then the off fore and hind move together. This gait produces a kind of rhythmic, swaying motion.

Standardbred Breed History

The American Standardbred has been established as the fastest in the world of harness racing. Standardbreds are used extensively for racing, and for upgrading other breeds of trotters, such as the Orlov and the French Trotter.

The development of the Standardbred is linked closely to one particular grey Thoroughbred named Messenger. Messenger was foaled in England in 1780, and his sire was the successful racehorse, Mambrino. Messenger also achieved success in racing in England, and then in 1788 he was exported to North America where he spent 20 years at stud in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Messenger, who was bred for flat racing, and who never raced at the trot, became the foundation sire of the line of trotters that became known as Standardbreds. In looking for a clue as to how a horse bred for galloping could sire a line of trotters, one can see by his pedigree that Messenger can be traced back to the stallion Blaze, whose offspring Old Shales founded the dynasty of Norfolk Trotters.

Trotting races of the time were run under saddle, and became increasingly popular in America by the beginning of the 19th century. By the 1840’s, Messenger’s descendants, such as Whalebone, Screwdriver, Top Gallant, Betsy Baker and Dutchman, were making their mark. Another descendant, Lady Suffolk, became the first horse to cover a mile (1600 m) in harness within 2 minutes 30 seconds. She had already covered a mile under saddle in 2 minutes 26 seconds. In 1845, when Lady Suffolk was 12 years old, she set a record mile in harness in 2 minutes 29.5 seconds.

The clincher for Messenger’s breeding fame was his descendant, Hambletonian, who was foaled in 1849, and was very inbred to Messenger. Hambletonian never raced, although he was reputed to have trotted a mile in 2 minutes 48.5 seconds in a trial as a 3-year-old. He was a incredibly powerful horse, with an unusual conformation. He was endowed with very strong bone and heavily muscled forearms. His quarters were so massive that he measured 15.1 1/4 hands high at the withers, and 15.3 1/4 hands high behind. He sired 1,335 offspring.

Hambletonian’s first great progeny was Dexter, who set the record for a mile to 2 minutes 17.25 seconds. Four of Hambletonian’s sons became the founders of the bloodlines to which almost all of today’s Standardbred trotters and pacers trace. These four were George Wilkes, Dictator, Happy Medium and Electioneer.

In 1871 an American Trotting Register was started, and in 1879 the National Association of Trotting Horse Breeders laid down the standards for inclusion in the register. The one mile speed standard was set at 2 minutes 30 seconds for trotters, and 2 minutes 25 seconds for pacers. The name “Standardbred” initially referred to those stallions listed in the register.

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