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Standardbred Values and Trends


Deborah Fransway

I once heard a person say that Standardbreds would be more valuable if they were ridden during their racing career.  Riding a Standardbred that is currently racing might prove to be beneficial to the horses conditioning, or physical and emotional well being if needed to help it’s performance on the track.  It is not likely to happen unless an owner can afford to get someone to do the riding, or the racehorse is owned by the backyard trainer/owner who can bring the horse home for R&R.  Some horse’s owners are not around during their training.  The trainer has enough to contend with in the busy paddocks, riding the horse is normally not part of the contract. But, some Standardbreds have actually raced under saddle. Would that change your mind knowing your horse raced with a rider instead of a driver and sulky? 

 I am an English hunt seat rider, my husband is the racehorse trainer/breeder.  We speak different languages when it comes to working with our horses.  We try to bring the worlds of harness racing and English Pleasure together to help prepare our Standardbreds for their next adventure in life. We are teaching our horses some of the simple basics that they “ might “ not have learned at the track.    Sounds like fun and it is!  You’ll soon want to pull your hair out when your trainer husband does not see the need to slow the horse down before getting into the jog cart.  Whoa means halt.  I do not mount my horse while he is still moving forward.  I expect the same from our Standardbreds.  With a bit of simple training, our Standardbreds understand the word “halt”.   

You might question why your new Standardbred appears  “off” when you lunge him in a small circle.  Some Standardbreds can’t bend on a 10 meter circle, so they will hop from time to time. The first thing that comes to mind is, ” my new horse is lame !”   Not likely.  He cannot travel in a small circle if he has never been asked to do this. It simply means he is not balanced. 

I bet your Standardbred has some questions for you also.  “Why am I making such sharp turns?” The track is an oval and most people think they are bending on this path.  That is an illusion.  They are held snug in their jog cart or sulky and glide around the track at lightning speeds!  They are incredible athletes, but are not bending while racing.  

You be the Standardbred for a moment.  Look at these photos and see if you (the Standardbred) can bend on a 10 meter circle while in your cart. 

It seems quite impossible while wearing your harness. 

I have also heard people say , “you cannot get a Standardbred to bend.”   My reply is simple, “ If a fly is on his rump, he will promptly remove it with his nose.”   Your Standardbred is a horse, and a horse can bend. 

A few simple bending exercises will help your horse become balanced and flexable. Be sure to find a trainer to help you get started. Most breeds go through training in order to bend and travel properly on a ten meter circle, it just does not happen automatically for any breed.  Muscles need time to conform to a new way of going.  With time and a bit of patience you will have your new Standardbred bending for that apple in no time!

                                                                        ~On the Bit~

The English style of “on the bit”, compared to the harness racing style of “leaning on the bit” can be rather confusing for your new friend.  It can also prove to be rather annoying to the new owner if they do not understand how a horse uses the bit for balance during racing.  Standardbreds are trained to move fast when racing.  They hollow and learn to run against the bit.   Many new Standardbreds have no problem getting on the bit, but for some you might need to help him understand that he can relax with the bit.  Try a French snaffle so he has a harder time grabbing the bit, he will relax and have something easy on the mouth and harder to grab.    Standardbreds are intelligent and are quick to learn.  If he pulls, or roots, don’t give him anything to lean on. Just loosen your reins and soon he will hold himself together without relying on the bit for balance.  He will not pull if he thinks he might fall on his nose.  If you pull back and try to fight, you are enabling him to continue to lean on the bit for balance. It is always best to get a trainer with experience to help get you started.


                                                              “ A Horse is a Horse, of Course?  “  

Many non-racing Standardbreds are saddle broke and are already involved in a variety of disciplines from Dressage to Hunters.  You might also confuse them with other breeds, they do not all look alike. They come in many colors and shapes. The warmblood riding in the dressage ring might really be a Standardbred!  Who would think!                                             

Let's change the subject and talk about trends. This story will lead back to our beloved Standardbreds.   
What horse is in style today? The Irish Sport Horse, the Warmbloods, if I left out your breed, please do not be offended.  I love all horses,  I just do not understand people.  Many people need to follow the new trend, be it clothing, cars, or horses. 

The Thoroughbred was the new trend in the early 80’s.  A TB on the track has a rider  (jockey/trainer), but the horse is a runner that knows one thing.  Run, and run fast!

 I leased a TB mare and owned a TB gelding so I experienced the pleasure of thoroughbred ownership.  I find the Standardbred to have a milder temperament but both breeds are green under saddle and both need training to become pleasure horses!  

The Standardbred would be more marketable if people took a bit of time to look at the breed.  People turn away from them now, but years ago Standardbreds were the trend!    Hard to believe, but it is true.  STB's were owned by Presidents, loved by all and celebrated in song, lithographs, books, and more! Your trotting horse weathervane is modeled after a famous Standardbred named Dexter, son of the great trotter Hambletonian. Dexter was frequently driven in  NYC  by President Ulysses S. Grant.  What made people turn away from this breed?   

Pleasure driving is now becoming incredibly popular.  The Standardbred is a phenomenal driving horse .   Other breeds are also involved in driving, but can be quite costly!  

Please remember this.  The Standardbred is a driving horse that has incredible stamina for endurance driving or long pleasure drives.  Standardbreds are also competing in driving dressage.  The Standardbred has the “engine” that produces the thrust for the working trot.  Seeing a Standardbred move forward is a beautiful site.    

Standardbreds have been tainted by a few who feel the need to air their comments at shows, or even on Internet horse forums. It saddens me to read the posts, and I will not reply.  Most of the time after careful reading , it is obvious that the human is to blame for their bad experience.  
       Clear your mind from what is trendy today because it will not be trendy tomorrow. 

It is OK to not want to own a Standardbred, but please learn more about the breed before tarnishing the image of a horse that is intelligent, willing to learn, and simply beautiful in their new lives after racing.  Many Standardbreds are seeking new homes.  Get to know them before you pass judgment on one of America’s finest breeds.