Standardbred horses were developed in the U.S. in the 1800s, primarily for use in harness racing. In harness races, the horse pulls a vehicle and is guided by a driver, rather than being ridden. Standardbreds were so named because a “standard” was established that required breeding horses to be able to trot a mile in less than two minutes and 30 seconds. An English Thoroughbred named Messenger is considered the foundation sire of the breed, and his offspring were crossed with other breeds and types, especially Morgans, to create horses who were particularly fast at the trot. Messenger’s great-grandson Hambletonian became a very popular sire and contributed significantly to the breed as we know it today.

Standardbred races are separated into trotters and pacers. The trot is a two-beat diagonal gait – the right foreleg and left hind leg move forward and strike the ground at the same time; then the left foreleg and right hind leg move forward. The pace is also a two-beat gait, with the right front and right hind moving in unison, then the left front and left hind. Pacers tend to be slightly faster than trotters, and Standardbreds in general are the fastest trotters and pacers in the world. Standardbreds can also perform all the other gaits of the horse, such as canter.

What Does a Standardbred Look Like?

In general, Standardbreds have an overall look of quality and refinement. Their well-muscled shoulders, chests and hindquarters give them the power to trot and pace at very high speeds, while their strength and stamina provide the ability to maintain those speeds over a distance. In many respects they resemble their Thoroughbred cousins but tend to have somewhat heavier bone structure and be a bit longer through the body. Standardbreds are most often bay in color, although they can also be chestnut, black, brown, gray and roan.

While Standardbreds are most well-known for their harness racing ability, they can be found in any number of horse sports, including carriage driving, jumping and dressage. Their stamina makes them popular for trail riding, and their kind temperament makes them good family horses. For more information, visit