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Standardbred Horse Breed: The Competitive Horse Guide

standardbred horse

The American Standardbred breed is a powerful equine of Thoroughbred descent. It is well-known as a harness racer but acts as a great pleasure horse as well. These horses are athletic without being ill-tempered and muscular without sacrificing speed.
The talented Standardbred is not only fast they can trot the mile in about two minutes they are also personable and sweet. We’ve gathered all of the information you need to know about these impressive horses! So, let’s saddle up and meet the Standardbred.



Standardbred Horse Characteristics

American Standardbreds are descendants of Thoroughbreds. They have retained some of the traits that define the iconic race-horse, including athleticism, speed, and a sleek body. However, the Standardbred’s body is longer and more muscular than the Thoroughbred.

This breed’s head is refined and set high, giving the animal a dignified profile. All Standardbreds share these characteristics, even though there are two types of these horses: trotters and pacers.

Trotters more often perform in dressage events because of their flashy, diagonal gait. Pacers tend to be faster and are commonly seen on the race track.


A “gait” is a particular way of walking, and certain breeds are predisposed to certain gaits. A trotter has a diagonal gait, which means their front left and rear right legs hit the ground at the same time when they walk. Similarly, their front right and rear left hooves step simultaneously.

Pacers move with their left pair of legs striking the ground in unison, followed by their right. In other words, their left front and left hind legs move together, as do their right front and right hind hooves. Trotters and pacers are not limited to these movements, but each type is naturally inclined to excel at different events.



brown horse pulling a carriage



Standardbred Horse Size

American Standardbreds stand 14-17 hands (56-68 inches) high. They weigh approximately 800-1,2000 pounds. These horses tend to be heavier than their Thoroughbred cousins, which is why the two breeds developed their own styles of racing. Standardbreds feature more speed changes and strategy on the track than other breeds.


Standardbred Horse Personality

The Standardbred is people-oriented and easy to train. While this breed responds well to exercises and commands, it is difficult to break habits formed in training. In other words, it is a challenge to retrain a Standardbred in pleasure riding if it has already learned harness racing.


Standardbred History

The foundation sire of the Standardbred breed was a horse named Hambletonian 10. This stallion was the great-grandson of a Thoroughbred named Messenger, a gray stallion that also played an essential role in founding the American Saddlebred and Tennessee Walking Horse.

The  Narragansett Pacer and Canadian Pacer also shaped the Standardbred. However, the most crucial founders of this breed were Messenger and Hambletonian 10. The Throughoughbred lineage provided by Messenger is still present in Standardbreds today.

Hambletonian 10 was not bred to be a sire. Instead, his potential was recognized by a man who believed this new breed could be one of the top-performing racehorses in the world.

Forty of the horses Hambletonian sired could trot a mile in under two minutes and thirty seconds. This became the standard the breed had to meet for registration and where the name “Standardbred” originated.

Today, there are plenty of Standardbreds that can trot the mile at this standard speed. In fact, several of the top Standardbreds in the world can trot the mile in under one minute and fifty seconds!

Standardbreds were quickly recognized for their harness racing skills. The Hambletonian Stakes, a major harness racing competition, is named after this breed’s foundation sire.

Harness racing is a sport in which the animal must walk with a particular gait (a trot or a pace). The harness usually pulls the rider in a small cart, though this is not required. This event takes a great deal of control and years to master. If you’re not interested in competitions, the Standardbred is also well-suited to pleasure riding.


How to Care for a Standardbred

The best way to care for any breed is to provide them with adequate nutrition, exercise, and mental stimulation. Routine vet visits also ensure that your horse stays on top of its vaccinations. 


Standardbred Horse Training

If you are a new equestrian looking to purchase a Standardbred, ask the seller if the horse previously raced. It is difficult to recondition a horse that is accustomed to competition training.

If you are a beginner equestrian, do not attempt to retrain a former race-horse because it is dangerous for both rider and horse. Instead, consider buying a gelding. “Gelding” refers to a male horse that has been castrated, and they are typically much easier to train.



To train a steed for pleasure riding, longeing is the most important skill for your horse to have. Longeing involves walking the animal in circles while they are attached to a 30-40 foot rope.


To longe, first, raise your right hand and pull left on the line until your Standardbred associates the hand signal with the proper movement. Repeat with your left hand while tugging right on the line.


Each direction is associated with the opposite hand because you will give these commands while facing the animal. If we want the Standardbred to walk to our right by raising our right hand, from the horse’s perspective, they would be turning left.


Gait and Discipline

Additionally, you can work on preserving their natural gait. To do so, try riding them until their walk breaks into a higher speed.

Once they have reached a trot, make sure that their hoof pattern is correct for their type. If it isn’t, take them back down to a slow walk. Repeat the process until they break into the appropriate gait every time, and hold that speed for a mile.

Trotters and pacers are great at what they do. However, that doesn’t mean Standardbreds can only function as pleasure riders or race-horses. The Standardbred Equine Program (SEP) encourages the use of these horses in areas other than racing. Besides serving as a harness horse, Standardbreds can be used in dressage, driving, endurance, and roadster events.



equine posing with black background



Nutrition and Feeding for Standardbred Horse

Nutrition for the Standardbred depends on the horse’s daily activity level. Typically, the American Standardbred needs 2.25-2.5% of its body weight in food every day. Their feed should be comprised of 60-65% concentrates and 35-40% roughage.

If you have a race-horse, they will likely need grain supplements that provide extra vitamins and minerals. You can also give them beneficial options like MSM and equine CBD oil.  It’s best to consult a veterinarian to determine the exact supplements your racing horse needs. Standardbreds should also always have access to clear, clean water. 


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Coat Color And Grooming

Standardbreds have a sleek coat that can be found in bay, brown, black, chestnut, gray, or roan. No matter the color, this breed generally has no other markings or patches. This solid, uniform coat gives the Standardbred its polished and refined look.

Since the Standardbred does not have a thick mane, tail, or featherings, grooming is relatively simple for this breed. After training or other hard work, hose down the horse to reduce the number of flies attracted to its sweat. Next, use a body brush to remove any loose or dead hair.

A mane comb removes any tangles or mattings in the mane and tail. If you’re having trouble, consider using a grooming spray. This spray detangles and brings out the hair’s natural shine. Lastly, use a finishing brush on the body and a soft face brush around the animal’s eyes, nose, and mouth. 


Standardbred Horse Health Problems

The American Standardbred is not prone to any particular preexisting health conditions. However, race-horses have a higher chance of certain issues. Since the Standardbred is often used in races, we’ve gathered some common problems that come with the wear and tear of athletics. We’ve also included information on colic, a disease all horse breeds can contract. 



Arthritis, also referred to as osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease, is common in many animals. This condition is caused by inflammation of joint tissues, and it takes years to develop. Repeated motions like racing can deteriorate the joint cartilage, causing painful movements.

Symptoms of arthritis include lameness, stiffness, joint swelling, and warm joints. To prevent arthritis, ensure your horse is given warm-up and cool-down exercises before and after training. Watch the animal’s weight, and avoid riding them over hard or pitted surfaces for long periods of time. There is no cure for arthritis, but anti-inflammatory medication can relieve the horse’s pain. 



Laminitis is often confused with arthritis because the two conditions share many clinical signs. Arthritis is the weakening of joint tissue. Laminitis refers to inflammation of the horse’s laminae, a soft tissue found in the horse’s feet. If your horse has difficulty standing or walking, the issue could be either arthritis or laminitis.

First, examine the horse’s hooves, and feel for a pulse. If the pulse is rapid, the issue likely lies in their feet and not in their joints. The heat coming off of the equine’s hooves is another sign of laminitis. To prevent laminitis, keep the horse at a healthy weight. Ensure they are properly shod and do not ride them over hard terrain for extended periods.

Rest and removing pressure from the affected hoof may restore the horse’s soft tissue. Additionally, a veterinarian might prescribe special horseshoes and a low-calorie diet. 

Gastric Ulcers

Gastric ulcers are small erosions in the horse’s stomach lining. This condition is caused by stress, and race-horses are often placed in high-pressure situations. If your American Standardbred feels the pressure of their training or races, they may develop gastric ulcers.

Providing fun, engaging training for your horse is not only essential for the happiness of your horse, but it also reduces the chance of your steed developing these painful ulcers. Symptoms include decreased appetite, a dull coat, and colic.

These ulcers are due to stress, so prevention involves providing clean and safe conditions for your horse. If your Standardbred shows signs of psychological distress or anxiety, discuss possible causes and solutions with an equine veterinarian. A daily dose of the medication Omeprazole is an excellent treatment for many cases of gastric ulcers. 



Horse colic is another word for abdominal pain in horses, and it is usually indicative of an underlying condition. It can describe mild stomach aches or life-threatening gastrointestinal issues. Consultation with a veterinarian as early as possible is crucial.

Colic symptoms include pawing at the ground, frequent attempts to urinate, increased pulse, fever, and general restlessness. The horse might also turn its body to look at its abdomen, and this is known as “flank watching.” Colic is a wide-ranging condition. Prevention involves healthy nutrition, constant access to water, and regular exercise. If your horse shows signs of colic, take them to an equine professional immediately.



three brown horses pulling a wagon

How to get a Standardbred Horse 

If you’d like to purchase a Standardbred, the best places to start your search are EquineNow and the United States Trotting Association (USTA).

EquineNow is an online marketplace that connects prospective equestrians with horses for sale. Their search filters allow you to search by breed, coat color, height, whether the horse is a stallion, and many more options. Standardbreds generally cost $2,000, though the horse’s skill-set and discipline can cause its price to fluctuate.

The United States Trotting Association is the biggest name in American Standardbreds. The registry’s mission is to license owners, regulate racing rules, preserve lineage records, and promote the breed. For information on proper care, races, or to be connected with other owners, register your Standardbred with the USTA.


More About This Horse Breed

The Standardbred is a well-mannered, beautiful steed that is primarily utilized as a harness horse. However, these are incredibly versatile animals, which is what the Standardbred Equine Program aims to show the world. The Standardbred breed is one of the most incredible American horses you’ll ever have the pleasure of riding!

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