Harness racing is a variety of horse-racing in which the horses are harnessed to a cart and travel around a course at a trot or a pace. Harness racing is reserved, in most countries, for Standardbred horses. Standardbred horses derive their name from a standard time in which the horse was able to travel a mile. Harness racing is not about immediate bursts of the speed, but the ability of the horse to maintain a steady pace and race with endurance.


The origins of harness racing can be traced as far back as the Greeks and Romans, who used chariots pulled by horses as both function and sport. The Dutch have also been credited with their own form of driving. Modern harness racing, however, has its roots in the rural areas of the United States. The farmers of the rural towns would race their trotting horses down country ways as a way to pass the time.

As this sport began to pick up, harness races became the standard at county fairs. While many of these races were amateur races, some established fairs hold Grand Circuit events at the fair, which still attract large crowds and plenty of excitement.

Standardbred Horses

Standardbred horses began to earn their reputation as the harness racing horse in 1879. The standardbred horse was a horse that was able to trot or pace a mile in under two and a half minutes. Today, the standardbred horse is generally able to trot or pace a mile in one minute and fifty seconds or less.

The Standardbred horse descended from the Thoroughbred, the Norfolk Trotter, Hackney and Canadian Pacer. A Thoroughbred named Messenger was the sire to the Standardbred breed, which quickly began to outpace all of the competition. Standardbred horses generally measure 14. to 17 hands high. Standardbred horses are generally a bay colour, or in varying shades of brown or black. The horses can also be gray or roan, which is a mixture or coloured hair and white. A typical Standardbred weighs somewhere between 800 and 1,200 pounds. They are a slightly heavier and stockier build than the Thoroughbred. Standardbreds are very strong and have thick legs and strong shoulders.

Standardbreds have a very good temperament which makes them very trainable and a good horse for a family. Standardbreds that do not meet the standard times for harness racing often play a utilitarian role in family life as they are very gentle and affectionate. Those horses are called Standardbred pleasure horses. Standardbred horses are easy to train and even-tempered, which makes them perfectly suited for a distance race in which their pace must be perfectly maintained.

Structure of Harness Racing

In harness racing, rather than riding astride the horse as in Thoroughbred racing, the rider sits in a 2-wheeled carriage known as sulky. The cart is very lightweight and is attached to the horse via a harness. Harness racers use sulkies called jog carts for training purposes. The jog carts are a bit heavier and more bulky that the race bikes. The race bikes are those used in racing but are not as easy to sit on. They travel faster and provide less resistance for the horse pulling the cart.

Harness racing is run either at a trot or a pace. The pace is slightly quicker than the trot, but the speed is fairly close. When a horse is trotting, the right fore leg and the left hind leg will move forward at the same time, while the left fore leg will move with the right hind leg. The leg movement is diagonal. In pacing, the right fore leg will move forward with the right hind leg. This is called lateral movement. Harness races are either for pacers or trotters, but never both in the same race.

In North America, harness races take place over a course totaling 1 mile (1. km) long. Different tracks are set up in different ways which change the strategy of the race. It is important for drivers to be experienced and ready to change strategy if the situation changes. Another advantage to having Standardbred horses for harness racing is that they are normally quite un-phased by change because of their even tempers.

Harness Racing in Australia

In Australia, harness racing is a little different. While in North American racing, the leader must yield to approaching horses by staying in the same line, Australian racing does not have this rule. Drivers hoping to pass the leader must ride on the outside, which is a wider track, while hoping to catch the leader.

Harness racing has been around for 150 in Australia. The majority of harness races in Australia are pacing races. The races cover a track that ranges between 1. 09 meters and 2,650 meters. Horse racing is a popular spectator sport in Australia, including harness racing. Many fans of harness racing participate in betting, either at the race track or off the track.

Many of the most famous harness racing competitions take place in North America. There are Triple Crown competitions for both trotters and pacers which include the Hambletonian race for trotters and the Little Brown Jug race for pacers. Harness racing is also popular in Canada, which hosts the North American Cup, the Gold Cup and Saucer and the Canadian Pacing Derby.

In Australia, the Inter Dominion is the top competition for harness racing. Horses at the Inter Dominion come from both Australia and New Zealand and has been the pinnacle harness racing event since 1936. There are additional harness racers across Australia including the A G Hunter Cup, Australian Pacing Championship and the Victoria Cup.

Tack and Equipment

Harness racing requires plenty of equipment either for the safety or comfort of the horse during the race. While the harness holds the sulky to the horse, it connects the bridle, saddle, girth and crupper. The harness attaches under the belly and to the bridle. The driver steers the horse with the driving lines. The driving lines attach to the bit of the horse and reach back to the driver in the sulky in order to control the horse. The bits used in harness racing are driving bits. Horses also wear bell boots, shin boots, tendon boots and knee boots to protect the horse. The bell boots protect the front heels, the shin boots protect the hind legs, the tendon boots protect the front foreleg tendon and the knee boots protect the forelegs. Knee spreaders are used to keep the horse from hitting its knee with its forelegs.

As with any equestrian discipline, the safety of the horse and rider are paramount. Equestrian sports represent the relationship between rider and horse and the athletic feats that can be accomplished with mutual respect and hard training. The Standardbred horse is a horse that is ready to perform and hold the pace around the track. Harness racing is different from other horse racing, but is still exhilarating. Harness racing shows the skills of patience and careful execution in a race that is all strategy.