Imagine you are watching a close harness race and the excitement is high. The horses have been battling through the laps and now they are in the homestretch. These are the best trotters in the world, and one will go home with the trophy declaring it the champion of champions. Two horses are neck and neck, with the finish line only lengths away. Suddenly, the horse on the outside bursts forward with amazing impulsion, its feet a blur underneath it and though
You can hardly see the feet, it has not broken stride. The horse goes on to win the race by a length or so. You are awed by what you have just seen and question the reality of this race. The horse that performed this feat was the French Trotter, Ideal du Gazeau, who won the International Trot at Roosevelt Raceway in 1982. He is a prime specimen showcasing the excellence of the French Trotter breed.
The French Trotter, also known as the Norman Trotter or Demi Sang, was developed in the Normandy region of France in the 1800’s. Breeders seeking swift trotters, specifically for use in racing, crossed native Norman stock with breeds such as the Thoroughbred, Norfolk-Roadster, and the American Standard bred.
The original trotters had much heavier bone structure and were coarser in appearance than the breed of today. The Thoroughbred bloodline helped to refine their body type and make them the more sleek animal of today.
One of the first influential stallions was named Young Rattler who was born in 1811. His Sire was a Thoroughbred, and the mare was of Norman blood. As time passed, five dominant trotting lines emerged. The founding stallions of these lines were Lavater, Phaeton, Fuchsia, Conquerant, and Normand.
In 1937 the French Trotter Studbook was closed to non-French breeders to preserve the integrity of the bloodlines. The breeding of French Trotters today is regulated by rigorous performance standards that need to be met by both stallion and mare.
The French Trotters have a unique way of moving despite the influence of the American Standard bred in its bloodlines. The Standard bred paces laterally, meaning they move both front and hind leg on the same side of their body at the same time. This is called lateral pacing and contributes to this breed’s uniqueness and swiftness. The French Trotter, on the other hand, still retains its diagonal trot, meaning that one front leg and the opposing hind leg move together. This is the standard trot for most horse breeds.
The first trotting races took place in France in the 1830’s. They have gained in popularity ever since. Today, there are 5000 to 6000 trotting horse races annually in France. The Norman Trotters are still used in harness racing and in mounted trot races called “monte” in French. These races are much like Thoroughbred races prevalent around the world today, complete with jockeys. The main difference is that the horses can’t break their trotting stride or they will be disqualified.
These horses are also used in the little known equine racing called “skijoring.” The driver is pulled on skis by the horse over snow.
The French Trotter does not have a set breed standard due to the focus on producing a performance horse. There are some qualities that most Trotters have however. These include characteristics like height and color.
They can usually be found in the range of 15.1 to 17.1 hands; a larger horse than most. They can weigh anywhere from 1100 to 1400 pounds and are usually brown, chestnut or bay in color. Since their movement is what they are bred for, outside appearance matters little. Most importantly, they should have a strong, powerful, level and balanced stride. They usually are coarser in appearance, having a larger head, a decent neck with good strong shoulders and very powerful hindquarters. They have a deep chest as is required of all racing horses. It goes without elaboration that they have very hard hooves.
They are a tough, intelligent warm blood breed. Unlike Thoroughbreds, they are a submissive horse and can be easy to train. Their endurance is largely unrivaled.