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Equipment of the Standardbred Harness Racing Horse

Updated on August 31, 2016
Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbara Anne Helberg is a Fiction freelancer, Internet writer, WordPress blogger, former Journalist, and a Famous Writers School graduate.

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Standardbred harness racing horses, trotters and pacers, carry a lot of necessary equipment to the starting gate. They are handled with lengths of reins, bits, boots, shadow rolls, headgear, and hobbles that help maintain their gait, pacing or trotting.

These racing horses are taught to pace, or trot and compete in their respective divisions.

What Is the Pace?

A pacing Standardbred is sometimes called a "side-wheeler" because his pacing motion causes his body to rock from side to side. He steps forward in a two-beat gait, front and rear hooves of the same side lifting and landing together, quickly followed by the same motion with the opposite side legs.

When watching him pace from behind, where his driver is located in the light, two-wheeled cart, or sulky, he pulls, his rock and roll movement easily is recognized.

The pace, although slower to become accepted into harness racing mile competitions, is the faster of the two gaits.

What Is the Trot?

The trot was the first gait recorded in Standardbred racing. In the beginning of harness racing, Standardbred trotters were mounted by jockeys. The sport later reverted to cart pulling, then was refined to sulky races as time and invention met to produce a very light two wheeled sulky that a Standardbred pulled for a mile in competition.

Trotting Standardbreds use a two-beat gait that is achieved by striking their hooves to the ground in left rear and right front unison, followed by the right rear and left front hooves.

What Is Harness Racing Standard Equipment?

A driver seated behind a Standardbred racing horse must have long reins that attach to his charge's bridle and headgear in order to have control during racing.

Source

In the above illustration, the letters A through Z point to the following pieces of equipment:

A = Wheel Discs.........................N = Race Lineup Number
B = Sulky....................................O = Blind Bridle
C = Stirrup..................................P = Overcheck Bit
D = Hand Holds..........................Q = Tongue Tie
E = Driving Lines........................R = Driving Bit
F = Shaft.....................................S = Standing Martingale
G = Quick Hitch..........................T = Buxton
H = Crupper................................U = Toe Weight
I = Saddle Pad Number...............V = Bell Boots
J = Saddle Pad............................W = Elbow Boots
K = Harness.................................X = Scalper
L = Overcheck.............................Y = Hind Legs Shin Boots
M = Ear Plugs..............................Z = Gaiting Strap

Sulkies stand upright in front of a racetrack horse barn.
Sulkies stand upright in front of a racetrack horse barn. | Source

The most common weight of today's sulky is 38 to 40 pounds. In the beginnings of Standardbred racing, carts evolved from truss axle and truss bar types to the Caffrey high-wheel and the Payne long shaft and frame. Bike sulkies and pneumatic tire sulkies followed. The German Weber sulky was the prototype for current racing carts.

Equipment like a shadow roll, used to keep the horse from seeing distracting shadows across the track, and head poles, which balance the Standardbred who drifts, or bears in or out on turns, were conceived for the safety of the animal.

A skilled driver communicates his will to the horse through the reins that attach to the bit in the horse's sensitive mouth.

Mouth bits serve the driver and his horse as directional equipment. A snaffle bit is primarily a hinge, or joint covered by rubber, or leather. It joins two rings on either side of the horse's mouth which connect to the driving lines.

An overcheck bit is a control device that is connected by lines that run between the horse's ears and down his face where they attach to the driving bit. It helps the driver to keep the horse's head up during their charge around the track.

Hobbles, or gaiting straps attach diagonally to the trotter's legs, or on each side of the pacer, to help the horse maintain his appropriate gait. A broken gait during a race may cause the competitor to be penalized, or lose too much ground to make up before the finish wire.

Boots at the elbows and joints save the harness racer from inevitable bumps and bruises.

A crupper strap attaches to the horse's harness and makes a loop under his tail to keep this natural piece of equipment in place.

A buxton helps hold the horse's saddle pad (with racing lineup number) in place across his back.

Between Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds

While Thoroughbreds are free-wheeling racers whose jockeys hover near their heads as they rein commands in the heat of battle, Standardbreds depend on the transmission of signals through long reins in the hands of an artful driver who controls his pace, or trot from behind him in the sulky he pulls.

The Standardbred's equipment is his training ground. How he responds to it can make him a willing race track champion, or cause him to become only a so-so harness racing performer.

Wonder Buns was the poor Little Filly Who Couldn't on August 17, 2011 at the Henry County Fair in Napoleon, Ohio.
Wonder Buns was the poor Little Filly Who Couldn't on August 17, 2011 at the Henry County Fair in Napoleon, Ohio. | Source
Fill-in Driver Randy Bates was able to jump ship from the sulky as Wonder Buns reared in the harness and flipped backwards to the ground.
Fill-in Driver Randy Bates was able to jump ship from the sulky as Wonder Buns reared in the harness and flipped backwards to the ground. | Source
Fellow horsemen, handlers, and owners rushed to the track to assist in untangling reins and equipment and righting the frightened filly, who appeared unhurt.
Fellow horsemen, handlers, and owners rushed to the track to assist in untangling reins and equipment and righting the frightened filly, who appeared unhurt. | Source
After the horrific flip in her first start and first time away from home, Wonder Buns, owned by Sharon E. Steinke of Pioneer, Ohio, is scratched and leaves the track in a subdued walk.
After the horrific flip in her first start and first time away from home, Wonder Buns, owned by Sharon E. Steinke of Pioneer, Ohio, is scratched and leaves the track in a subdued walk. | Source

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    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Anne Helberg 

      4 months ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @Mjpe... Thank you for your interest in this Hub!

      However, I am a reporter/writer/photographer, not a trainer, so I would not propose to suggest how you train your horses.

    • profile image

      Mjpe 

      4 months ago

      I have a 2 yr old pacer, in training now, he is burning on the back leg right side from the hopple. Any idea why only burning on the one side, should hopple be let in or out?

      Thanks

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Anne Helberg 

      7 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @kirsib...Thanks for commenting, harness racing fan!

      The revelance of the filly who was starting for the first time is that she became entangled in her equipment, which is quite intricate. She couldn't get up until her handlers helped out, and they had to know how the equipment works.

    • kirsib profile image

      kirsib 

      7 years ago

      I really don't see how horse falling down is relevant to this article? Other than that glad to see another harness racing loving hubber :)

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Anne Helberg 

      7 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @FloraBreenRobison...Happy to be an informant!! Thanks for taking a peek!

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 

      7 years ago

      I never knew what all that equipment was called before.

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