The Hambletonian

...and on the eighth day, God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

A supreme harness racer, the Standardbred horse can be traced to England, stemming from a gray English Thoroughbred stallion named “Messenger,” it also had Norfolk Trotter blood, with later introductions of Narragansett Pacer and Morgan. (1) It is speculated that Messenger was imported to the United States in 1788.

Messenger was extremely successful at racing and in the breeding shed.

Both the Norflok Trotter and the Narragansett Pacer are now extinct.

The foundation sire of the Standardbred breed was one of Messenger’s progeny, named “Hambletonian 10,” born in 1849.

Hambletonian sired more that forty horses who were able to pace or trot a mile in better that two minutes, thirty seconds.

Approximately 661 of Hambletonian’s offspring gave record performances in their day.

Some trotting bloodlines show more than forty crosses back to Hambletonian stock, therefore, perhaps the whole breed should have been called “The Hambletonian Horse.” (2)

The famous trotting race, held in Goshen, New York, is named The Hambletonian.

The Standardbred is the fastest harness racer in the world, and was specifically developed for speed. It retains some of its Thoroughbred looks, with defined heads on medium-length necks.

Their backs are long, with powerful hind quarters, and tend to be croup-high. (3)

Their faces can be bony and long, and some may sport a Roman nose.

The Standardbred is a bit more rugged than the Thoroughbred, and is closer to the ground. The long body and forearms are made for the long, flat stride needed for racing.

They can either trot at a pace, where the legs on each side are trotting together, or trot normally with the legs moving in diagonal pairs. Pacers seem to be preferred in the United States, while trotters are generally preferred in Europe.

The fastest time for a Pacer at 1 mile is 1 minute, 52 seconds, which is equivalent to 32 mph. The fastest time recorded for a trotter at the mile is 1 minute, 55.25 seconds.

They are considered a warm-blood and come in at 14-16HH, and are all solid colors.(4)

The first horse to trot a mile in under 3 minutes was a gelding named “Yankee,” who set a record of 2:59 in 1806, at the Harlem racetrack.

Prior to the Civil War, the Standardbred was raced under saddle, at the trot. Later on, they pulled the heavy sulkies with high wheels, sometimes depicted in Currier and Ives prints.

At the turn of the 19th Century, a bicycle-wheeled sulky was invented and in 1889 a horse named “Dutchman” became the first Standardbred to win the mile race under light harness. (5)

All Standardbreds of today must trot the mile in 2:33 to qualify to race.

The horse who broke the two minute barrier was the famous “Dan Patch.” He may have been the greatest harness champion of all time. His trotting record held for thirty-three years, from 1905 to 1938 and he may have clocked more miles under two minutes than any other horse since. (6)

The trotting record for a Standardbred is 1:54 and 4/5ths seconds, held by a horse called “Nevele Pride.” This record has been tied by a horse named “Dayan.”

The record for the fastest pacing mile is held by a horse named “Bret Hanover.” (7)

The Standardbreds were originally bred to be driving horses and their disposition is tractable and steady. Sometimes they are crossed with Thoroughbreds, and the result is a good Hunter-type horse.

Because of their highly developed trot, purebred Standardbreds are not comfortable to ride. Have you ever tried posting on a Pacer? Not fun.

A sorry ending for the Standardbred because of this rough gait is that they are not marketable after their racing career is over.

Many of these fine animals are shipped to the slaughterhouse after their usefulness at the harness track is done; they are dumped, forgotten, and killed, like useless commodities.

More people should become aware of the life of racehorses, in my opinion; the pure disregard for a horse’s life, or the quality of life that this type of animal has, for the ones who don’t win, is deplorable.

Once I had a stablehand who was an exercise boy for a Standardbred racing stable.

He was appalled that I had chains on the ankles of my Saddleseat horses.

The diameter of those chains on the horses’ ankles was the equivalent to a large bracelet on a human. They are not heavy, and they do not result in injury, cuts, or open sores on the horse, ever, and I don’t have an ethical problem with chains on a horse’s ankles.

Then I did some research on “Hobbles” for Standardbred racehorses.

The way that piece of equipment is designed to work on the animal...well, why don’t you go and research racing Hobbles for yourself?

The race horses always try to do their best while performing out on the track; they do everything they are asked to do.

Rescue groups have struggled to save retired racers from the butcher block by re-training them to other disciplines, including English and Western Pleasure riding, trail riding and gaming.

Many are seen pulling wagons and carts for the Amish.

Perhaps more could be done by all industries using horses for pleasure or profit.

Race horses make wonderful additions to any barn, for trail riding, companionship, as a riding lesson horse, or even just a pasture ornament. They are pretty to look at and get along amicably with their stablemates.

That is all for now.

Closing once again with the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

1-7: “The Encyclopedia of Horses & Ponies,” by Tamsin Pickeral