Standardbreds are not just for racing anymore
When people think of buying a horse, they often overlook a very valuable source: the harness track. Standardbreds, the famous trotters or pacers make excellent riding horses because of their versatility and good temperment. Standardbreds are incredible athletes, and make wonderful pleasure horses but also enjoy competeting in dressage, hunt seat, and cross country.
The qualities that most people look for in a horse include honesty, strength, safety, and willingness to work. Standardbreds are highly intelligent, but they are so eager to please that they do not often play tricks on their rider. Their intelligence makes them very easy to train, and they are especially adept at competetive trail rides, because it is difficult to scare them.
Standardbreds are excellent horses for children because of their size and temperment; Standardbreds normally range from 14hh-16.2hh, and though they are strong enough to carry a large rider, they are kind enough to not drag their rider around. Because they love people so much, it is rare to find a Standardbred that will try to injure or take advantage of his rider, especially if the rider is very young or inexperienced. Standardbreds tend to have a strong sense of self-preservation, so they make ideal trail horses.
Standardbreds are very versatile horses. If a Standardbred is off the track, he can be taught to jump and canter as well as any other horse. Trotters are very good at dressage because they already have developed the ability to extend and collect their trot, and they already know how to move lateraly on command because in order to move around oval racetrack, he must move sideways to prevent a crash. Standardbreds, especially pacers (who have difficulty doing dressage) often enjoy working cross country. When in an arena, he can often be reminded of racing because of the fence, but when he is cross country, a Standardbred will be more than willing to jump and canter. Standardbreds are not as high strung as the hot-blooded Thoroughbred, so they tend to be very bombproof and calm when on the trail.
As a general rule, Standardbreds are much easier to handle than Thoroughbreds when they are first taken off the track. Thoroughbreds are taught to only gallop forward, and they are not used to carrying any significant weight. They tend to be very high strung and difficult for a novice rider to handle. Standardbreds must be taught to pull a sulky - a racing cart - and by the time they are retired as racehorses, they have been taught to respond to signals to their mouth, and they have already had a girth around their belly. On the ground, their manners are better than those of a Thoroughbred because they must be backed into a sulky everyday, and a horse that panics and spooks easily can injure himself on the cart. Standardbreds are already broken perfectly to harness, are able to be shipped easily, and are accustomed to being worked around daily by many different people.
Most Standardbreds off the track have never been ridden, but there is rarely any difficulty convincing them to accept a rider. These horses are normally retired by the time they are 5 - when they are not yet mature - and they get very frustrated when they are not allowed to continue to work. For years, Standardbreds have been look down upon as saddle horses because they were deemed "unfit" do do anything but race. The racing community is often unsupportive of efforts to place retired horses in second homes, so most are sent to slaughter. Several organizations have been founded to rescue Standardbreds and place them in caring homes. These organizations provide support and instruction for new owners, and often aid in retraining. There are organizations that sponsor retraining clinics for all disciplines, and who sponsor shows specifically for Standardbreds or for gaited horses in general. These shows allow pacers to compete without being penalized, and have equitation classes for advanced riders that do not require work at canter.
For more information:
- http://www.ustrotting.com - the United States Trotting Association, provides information about the breed and retraining
- http://www.netpets.com/horses/reference/ridetrain/standardbreds.html - Find the Perfect Riding Horse: At the Harness Track (by Karen Briggs)
- http://www.trot-on.com/spho/ - Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization