View Full Version : Another history question: Pacing horses vs. trotting horses

Apr. 17, 2010, 01:55 AM
Why do we have race horses that are pacers versus race horses that are trotters? When/why did they develop the difference? I go to the track most nights to watch racing and realized in all my horsey years, I have never learned about this.


Apr. 17, 2010, 02:11 AM
The thought is that the pacing line derived from the Narrangansett Pacers. They pace from birth.

Apr. 17, 2010, 06:09 AM
But was there a reason to maintain pacing versus trotting? Or was it just because it was different we should keep it?

Apr. 17, 2010, 08:57 AM
well....pacing is faster so they bred for the speed.

Apr. 17, 2010, 10:13 AM
I was told by a guy many , many years ago that the pacers are better balanced on the turns which I would assume makes them faster.

I believe pacing like other gaited horses is a hereditary trait and you can breed for it or not. I know of Tbs, Arabs and others that paced naturally. Not desireable for dressage and non gaited classes.

Great question, I'd love to hear a more knowlegable person than me chime in.

Apr. 17, 2010, 10:56 AM
Pacers are faster, and as far as why do we have sulky races, well, kids nowadays race their cars on back roads, way back in the day a "brush" was fairly common. The trot or pace are possibly smoother for the occupants of a buggy than a gallop.

There's a good read in a couple of chapters of Jessamyn West's The Friendly Persuasion about the Morgan-blooded pacer Lady and the Quaker protagonists' adventures on the road.

Apr. 17, 2010, 12:32 PM
Pacers are hobbled so they cant break into another gait (canter or trot). Pacers are faster. Many many standardbreds that are raced at the pace would just as lief trot.

It is thought by some that pacers and amblers were the original saddle horses and trotters only came to the fore as roads were improved and wheeled travel became the norm.

Apr. 17, 2010, 01:31 PM
At one time, the elite horse was the trotter, and pacing was reserved for the ill-gaited trotters who couldn't trot properly. Some enterprising gentleman in Indiana invented hopples (not hobbbles - hobbles are to tie front legs together) to encourage the pace in these ill-gaited horses; in some areas even today, hopples are called Indiana pants. Of course, there WERE natural pacers, but they were pretty much looked down upon until the beginning of the 20th century and the great songs of the 19th century were written about trotters: Camptown Races about Flora Temple, Jingle Bells about ice racing in general for example.

The general fame of the pacer really began with Dan Patch, going on to Somebeachsomewhere via Billy Direct, Tar Heel, Albatross, Niatross, On The Road Again, oh and Bret Hanover. The fame of trotters has lagged, with very few 'superstars' with huge fan bases - the first was Greyhound and the filly Rosalind (they did race as team to pole) to Titan Hanover, Rodney, Super Bowl, and nothing until Deweycheatumnhowe. Instances of double gaited horses exist - even I had one I raced on the pace but did qualify on the trot but those are rare.

Way back - well not THAT far back but....trotters, even those of impecable breeding could be a bear to gait. There were toe weights to add to front feet, sheepskin bell boots that were often waterlogged added to give even more weight to the front end, but many just threw the hopples on and switched them to the pace - much easier to balance the feet, and other than sideweights on the hind feet, no messing around with adding toe weights, boots, etc.

Pacers are faster - roughly 4 seconds faster and this has been shown with double gaited horses: one that could trot in 2 minutes could generally pace under 2 minutes (1:56) unless it was a complete klutz, and trotters have been known to break and come back pacing, win the race and be disqualified for being off gait. There are plenty of free-legged pacers to disprove the theory proposed by another poster that the gait is forced, and I have sat behind enough hoppled pacers on the run to know they CAN gallop in hopples, and do it very well. Most of today's pacers hit the ground pacing and only wear the lightest of hopples as a balancing aid in turns. A few even resent hopples and hop and skip about and do their best imitation of a centipede while they try to avoid contact with hopples. I had one like that one day, he needed to be worked and I was sick to death of washing hopples so tried him free-legged, and he was a changed horse; he went on to qualify free-legged 6 seconds faster than he ever went hoppled. Any time you see + behind a pacer's name, it indicates free-legged.

Conversely, I see a rather disturbing trend to using trotting hobbles. I feel it shows a lack on the trainer's part to know how to balance the horse and a tendency to rush the training. Developing a trotter takes much longer than a pacer, sometimes months longer and the young trainers either haven't a clue how to balance and develop or are rushing; the old timers only use trotting hopples for horses that don't do the turns well, or tend to break off the gate. In a program, = behind the name indicates hopples.

Pacers vs trotters in saddle horses is a regional thing or at least seems to be. When I rode, I preferred a pacer as did many in this area, but farther north, it was unheard of. Historically, however, people that spent hours in the saddle did prefer smooth gaited horses over something that trotted.

As to how harness racing started, prior to the US Civil War, gambling on racing and then racing itself was banned - racing meaning ridden races. People started matching their buggy horses at a trot or pace against others and wagering on the outcome. By the time betting was allowed on ridden races, harness racing had a foot hold and equipement made specifically for racing was available - lighter harness, high wheeled sulky, special cutters for winter racing and the fan base was already there in the form of the disgruntled public that wanted to bet, and this betting was legal.

Apr. 17, 2010, 06:09 PM
Interesting! I knew about hopples for pacers, but did not know about hopples for trotters...can you explain what they are/how they work?

Apr. 17, 2010, 08:49 PM
As far as riding them, I have ridden two pacing horses. In both the gait was quite uncomfortable- lots of side to side movement as the weight shifts. It was my understanding that ridden pacers usually do a broken pace in which the lateral pairs dont hit together, making it a more ambling gait. And ambling horses are comfy!

Apr. 17, 2010, 09:11 PM
Here's an old story of the first 2-minute mile harness trotting, with a mare who was mixed-gaited (trotting and pacing): http://www.archive.org/stream/twominutehorsehi00sand/twominutehorsehi00sand_djvu.txt

From what I understand, the original harness races were a bit informal, and trotters and pacers could compete in the same race. As they became more formal, they were separated.

x, hopples for trotters (http://www.bigdweb.com/detail.aspx?id=18526) work the same way as for pacers, only keeping diagonal pairs together rather than lateral pairs.

MsM, I rode an OTStb, who raced as a pacer. He was trained to trot under saddle, but would sometimes pace instead of canter for a few strides, or his canter would get a little lateral. He had a bit of a side-to-side sway when he paced, rather than being smooth like a regular gaited horse, but it wasn't as rough to sit as a trot.

Apr. 17, 2010, 09:28 PM
Trotting hopples - http://www.protectohorse.com/trop.htm. They work on a pulley system although I am old enough to remember crossed hopples being used with varying degrees of success and sometimes with disastrous results when first tried.

As to riding pacers, you want a leg pacer rather than a body pacer - the body roll is much less but, with a little work you can break that pace to a lovely easy gait to ride

Apr. 17, 2010, 09:38 PM
Wow! Thank you for all the information! Just what I was looking for. :) Thanks for the info on the racing forms. I will look like quite the professional at the track the next time I go! :)

Apr. 18, 2010, 12:41 PM
Sk_pacer: GREAT post!

I'm in Goshen, NY, home of the Harness Racing Museum and Historic Track. Historic Track is the nation's oldest harness racing track. It was created because everyone was racing their horses down Main Street in Goshen and it was dangerous. SO in the early 1830s or so, the track was created so people could hold informal races. Later a larger kite shaped track was created called Good Time Park. The Hambletonian (for trotters) was held there for many years. Goshen was a hoppin' town back in its Standardbred day. Now, being right outside NYC, it is more suburbia with tons of horse farms because land is still cheaper than Westchester County, NY.

And SK_pacer is right, I used to work in STB breeding and they would pop out pacing. It is a very natural and beautiful gait.

Apr. 19, 2010, 05:35 PM
For those who appreciate and may want to acquire (another ;) ) OTStB, how do you determine if a horse is a leg pacer or a body pacer? Are there some easily observable clues that might be seen from the ground?

I know you can feel the body roll in a body pacer, but horses off the track can't always be ridden before taken home.

Apr. 19, 2010, 06:22 PM
If you watch the horse pace on a longe line with a surcingle or saddle, I'd think that a lot of body roll would be visually noticeable, but I'm not an expert.

Apr. 20, 2010, 02:15 AM
All you would have to do is watch it pace freely in a field. Just get out there and have someone chase it a bit. You will see the body roll. I remember as a child watching a friend of the family who had a nice, fast little filly named Irish Damsel win a race at a little track in Delaware, and it was so weird to watch them come "rolling" down the track, swaying back and forth. The track was not Harrington, does anyone remember which one this is, I am pretty sure it has been closed for a long time?

Thank you Sk for that history lesson. For anyone interested in the history there is a very good book to read called the Kentucky Harness Horse. Apparently, that was the birthplace of the first big harness horse farms. I had the good fortune to grow up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, it seemed like everyone had at least one harness horse in the backyard. There was a very decent farm in Ruthsburg, Maryland which stood a stallion called Bright Knight. He was a lovely dark bay or black and a trotter. I love watching the trotting races, and you are right Sk, about trotters and the hopples. That is so sad that they rush them like that and cannot figure out their gait. If Dan Patch had been handled like that he would never have raced successfully as he had a very dicey hind leg that needed a special shoe. The thing I loved about the pacers and trotters were that they lasted so long racing, it was not at all odd to see horses racing up into their teens.

Apr. 20, 2010, 08:13 AM
One of my horses is a weirdly gaited horse who sometimes offers a pace that's very easy to sit--doesnt really sway so much as to jar one loose, but the "roll" is noticeable. It gets smoother as it gets faster. This horse trots quite a bit in the pasture but almost never under saddle (wish she would, because its a smooth trot, as well.) She is supposed to be a racking horse but she has about 9 gaits I can identify and several that defy description. I want to videotape her at some point and try to identify footfalls and timing and figure out just what the hell is going on.

My apologies for calling hopples hobbles. This is a very interesting thread. I do love the STB's--they were part of the landscape in OH with many backyard racers, and folks constantly training at the local fairgrounds. Nothing lovelier than the speed program at the county fair. Where I live now I'd have to travel around a hundred miles just to get to a harness track, alas.