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12 Interesting Facts About Harness Racing

In harness racing, horses compete at a trot or at a pace while pulling a small, two-wheeled, one person cart (aka: sulky). In this article, we answer the most frequently asked questions about this interesting form of horse racing. Read on to learn more.

1. What Is Trotting?

This is a diagonal gait wherein the front leg of one side and the hind leg of the opposite side move forward at the same time. Most horses trot naturally, and the trot is the gait most commonly used in harness racing. In Europe it is often the only gait allowed for this sport.

2. What Is Pacing?

In this lateral gait, the horse alternates using the legs on one side of the body together, so when the left front leg moves forward, so does the left hind leg. Same with the right side. To accomplish this, pacers are often fitted with hobbles connecting the front and hind legs of each side together. There are some horse breeds that move like this naturally and cover the ground very quickly at the pace.

3. Which Gait Is Used Most Often?

In Europe, most harness races are conducted at the trot. In the US, New Zealand and Australia, the pace is more common.

4. Which Is Faster, The Trot Or The Pace?

The trot is a more natural gait for most horses, but the pace is about three seconds per mile faster.



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5. What Is A Sulky?

This very small, very stripped down, very lightweight cart is designed especially for harness racing. As with mounted horse racing, jockeys are small, athletic and nimble. The jockey rides the sulky by balancing his legs on the shafts to establish perfect equilibrium. Correct jockey position is essential to eliciting the best performance from the horse.

6. How Do Harness Races Start?

Unlike mounted races in which horses are usually held in a narrow stall or shaft until the starting bell rings, harness races have mobile starts. Competitors move along behind a vehicle with “wings” that create a barrier. They gradually pick up speed, and when they are clipping along at about thirty MPH, the vehicle zips off and the race is on.

7. What Is The Origin Of Harness Racing?

Harness racing began in the United States during the 1800s as a competition between horses used for mail delivery. Because the contests were very popular, horse breeders decided to develop specific breeds for racing. After that, the sport became very popular and has been expanding ever since.

8. Who Was The First Harness Racing Horse?

In 1850, the first horse specifically bred for this type of racing competed. He was a standardbred named Hambletonian. Most harness racing horses today are descended from his bloodline.

9. How Does Harness Racing Compare With Mounted Racing In Popularity?

It is a popular sport worldwide. In fact, in all settings but the United Kingdom, it is more popular than mounted racing. In the UK, there is a variation of harness racing in which jockeys ride standardbreds at the trot or the pace.

10. What Kind Of Track Is Typically Used For Harness Racing?

The climate of the race location greatly determines the type of track used. In Wales, grass tracks are typical. In other areas of the UK, all-weather tracks have been put in to make it possible to conduct harness racing year-round.

11. Why Do People Like Harness Racing?

When it first caught on, it was popular because it was an affordable sort of racing. Farmers and others who had standard work horses could participate and have fun. Today, it has become more of a professional sport, but it is still more affordable to train for and participate in than most forms of mounted racing.

12. How Much Do Harness Racing Horses Cost?

Today, with specialized breeding and training, a top-priced one-year-old may cost as much as $30,000. Even so, it is still possible to train an average horse to compete successfully.

USTA Presents The History Of Harness Racing

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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