Developed in North America, the Standardbred is recognized and raced worldwide. The breed traces its bloodlines to 18th century England to a grey Thoroughbred foaled in 1780 named Messenger. This stallion was imported into the US in 1788, siring a number of flat racing horses. But it was his great-grandson, Hambletonian 10, born in 1849, that is considered to be the foundation sire of the breed.

In 1879, the National Association of Trotting Horse Breeders established standards to decide which horses would be allowed into the Trotting Register. One of the rules stated that a stallion was required to trot a mile in 2:30 or faster (or 2:35 pulling a wagon) which led to the term Standardbred. Hambletonian’s progeny were the first to meet the regulations of this new breed.

Being the fastest trotting/pacing horse in the world, the Standardbred is primarily used for racing in many countries. Chelsea Chase photo


Standardbreds tend to have a heavier, more muscular body than the Thoroughbred. They have refined heads with a straight profile, broad foreheads, large nostrils, well-defined withers, strong shoulders and muscular, solid legs capable of producing long strides. They range in height from 14-17 hands and are most often bay, brown or black, although chestnut, gray and roan are also seen.

Standardbreds race in one of two gaits: the trot (where the legs move in diagonal pairs) or the pace (a two-beat lateral gait). They possess exceptional stamina and a competitive nature when racing, but are otherwise well-tempered and more placid than Thoroughbreds.


Being the fastest trotting/pacing horse in the world, the Standardbred is primarily used for racing in many countries including in North America, Europe, and Australasia, both pulling a cart called a sulky and under saddle. Some famous racing Standardbreds include Dan Patch, Albatross, Cardigan Bay (first $1 million winner), Armbro Flight, Niatross, Cam Fella and Somebeachsomewhere.

Standardbreds are also ridden for pleasure, used for ranch work, driven as light buggy horses by the Amish, or shown in hunter/jumper, eventing and even dressage. A French Trotter/ Standardbred cross named Halla, ridden by German Hans Günter Winkler, won three Olympic gold medals in show jumping.

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