Horse Breeds Native to America
The American Standardbred
The American Standardbred has been developed specifically for racing. However, unlike the thoroughbred, Standardbreds race at a pace or trot although only a few are successful at both. Trotters and pacers walk and canter in a similar manner but the 'trot' is different. A trotter moves the diagonal set of legs for each stride, springing from near fore and off hind leg to off fore and near hind leg. A pacer moves the legs in pairs but laterally so both near side legs move forward together followed by the offside legs.
Back in the 17th century when colonists went about their business and leisure in a horse and sulky, people would match their horses against others as they tried to overtake. Horses and vehicles improved and impromptu racing would take place on back country roads. By the early 19th century, more and more attention was being paid to breeding for speed.
Trotting and pacing races are popular in many countries. When it comes to trotting and pacing, the Standardbred is the fastest horse in the world. Generally the horses are raced in an ultralight sulky although races are sometimes held for ridden horses.
The Standardbred has a wonderfully calm temperament and those horses too slow for the track can make kind and useful saddle horses. At one time, almost all Standardbreds were tried out on the racetrack and possibly retrained if they didn't make the grade. However, there are now more and more Standardbreds that never see a track but are destined for other careers right from the start. They make good endurance mounts because of their stamina and those which show no inclination to pace can be used with great success for other pursuits.
Although they can trot almost as fast as a thoroughbred can gallop they are generally more laid back and less inclined to become over-excited and 'hot up'.
The American Standardbred traces back to Messenger, an English thoroughbred who was imported to Philadelphia in 1788. Messenger's forebears included horses of Hackney and Norfolk Roadster breeding. In 1849, Messenger sired Hambletonian, one of the great names in the history of the Standardbred. Hambletonian became the foundation sire of the Standardbred and can be found in the bloodlines of around 99% of today's Standardbreds.
In the very early days of harness racing, only horses which could trot or pace a mile in under two minutes 30 seconds were allowed to race. From this 'standard' the Standardbred got its name.
The Standardbred is often quite racy looking and sometimes has a rather plain head with longish ears and a flat or convex profile. The muscles are flat and strong and the chest deep giving plenty of heart and lung room. The nostrils are large and mobile. The neck is long and muscular and set on to very powerful shoulders. The joints are big and strong with well-defined tendons and well-formed sound, tough feet.
Most are around 15hh. Unlike many breeds, the Standardbred is often higher at the croup than at the withers. Powerful hindquarters which slope slightly towards the tail are often an indication of a good jumper.
The Standardbred can be found today in dressage arenas, show-jumping arenas, on eventing courses and endurance tracks. They are popular as trail riding mounts because of their calmness and reliability. So calm and reliable are they that they are one of the preferred breeds that may be used for Riding for the Disabled. The Standardbred is very hardy but doesn't cost a fortune to feed or look after.