The Standardbred: All You Need To Know About This Unique Horse Breed

This breed is famous for its trotting and pacing ability and is most well known as a harness horse. This breed is most popular in the countries of America, where this breed originated, and Canada, specifically in Ontario.

What Is A Standardbred?

A Standardbred is a breed of horse that originated in the United States of America. This breed is most commonly known for its pacing and trotting abilities and has been a popular harness racing horse for over two centuries. The founding stallion of this breed was actually a Thoroughbred who was brought to Philadelphia in the year 1788. These horses not only have Thoroughbred blood but they can also be traced back to a number of Morgan horses and bloodlines. These horses are one of the only breeds who can learn to pace which is where they move their legs in lateral pairs.

How Big Are Standardbred Horses?

These horses, like their Thoroughbred ancestors, can come in a variety of heights. The range of heights that these horses can be seen in is between 14.2 and 17.2 hands high.

When it comes to weight, these horses have varying weight depending on how tall they are, but the most common weights for this breed falls between 900 and 1,100 pounds.

What Colors Can Standardbreds Be?

Like many breeds, Standardbreds can come in any solid color. These include:

  • Bay (can be blood bay, black bay, dark bay, and light bay)
  • Black
  • Chestnut (can be sorrel, flaxen, light, and liver chestnut)
  • Gray
  • Bay Roan
  • Red Roan (can be strawberry roan as well)
  • Blue Roan
  • Cremello
  • Perlino
  • Buckskin
  • Palomino

What Type Of Horse Is A Standardbred?

A Standardbred can be classified as a warm-blooded type of horse. This means that they are still considered to be light horses but they are still much heavier and have more bulk than a hotblooded breed like the Arabian or the Thoroughbred. These horses actually might lean to the lighter, hotter warmblood types because of their genetic relation to the Thoroughbred.

The History Of The Standardbred

Standardbreds have a very unique history unlike that of any other breed.

The history of this breed can be traced back to the 1700s specifically to a gray Thoroughbred stallion named Messenger. This stallion was imported to the United States in the year 1788 due to his unsuccessful career on the racetracks of England. This stallion had a great pedigree which could be traced back to a number of influential stallions found in the Thoroughbred bloodline.

Messenger became a breeding stallion and was used for the next twenty years and fathered more than 600 foals. Many of the mares that were bred to Messenger were actually pacers and trotters and had offspring that went on to compete in harness racing classes. One of the foals produced by Messenger was a stallion named Hambletonian. It was Hambletonian who went on to create the Standardbred breed. Hambletonian was the sire of four stallions to which nearly every Standardbred can be traced.

The four stallions sired by Hambletonian were:

  • George Wilkes
  • Dictator
  • Happy Medium
  • Electioneer

The breed got its name in the year 1879 with the creation of a set standard for the trotting horse registry. It was this standard that called for horses to be able to trot and pace the distance of a mile within a certain amount of time in order to be registered as a trotter. These horses were bred to meet, and hopefully, beat the standard earning the name Standardbred.

What Makes The Standardbred Unique? How To Identify The Standardbred

This breed has many traits that make them relatively easy to identify. Some of the examples of the traits and characteristics are:


These horses are known to have a pretty good temperament naturally, but are known to be naturally competitive making them a little bit hard to control at times. This competitive piece of their temperament may be inherited from their Thoroughbred ancestors who are normally used as racing horses.


Standardbreds have very convex faces that are naturally curved outward. They have a Roman profile and an alert but kind expression. The ears are pricked and alert and they have a smooth, round muzzle.


These horses have sturdy strong legs that rarely go lame. The legs of the Standardbred are much more well made than those of a Thoroughbred as they are much stronger and able to take more impact better.


Hard, well shaped feet are part of what contributes to this horse’s incredible soundness.


Though not desirable in the conformations of most breeds, Standardbreds have a croup that is at a higher level than that of most other horses. Because of this high croup position, the hindquarters propel more power into the front end making these horses fast and able to take long strides.


These horses have a long back which is sometimes known to cause weakness. The back neatly tapers up to the horse’s withers and back up to the high croup.


Because these horses are most commonly used as harness racing horses, the girth of this breed must be as deep and wide as it is. The reason for this is to allow maximum lung expansion.

What Are Standardbreds Used For & Good At?

General Riding

Outside of racing, this breed is actually quite popular as a general riding horse. They are used in a number of different disciplines, but the English style of riding is most popular. People enjoy this breed because of its natural drive, great temperament, and kind disposition.

Harness Racing

Harness racing is this breeds specialty. It is this sport that makes them so famous. The horses that compete in harness racing perform two gaits.

One of the gaits that these horses race in is the trot, a gait natural to all horses. Standardbreds are expected to be able to trot the distance of one mile in two and a half minutes, no less.

Another gait that these horses are able to race in is a unique gait known as the pace. Pacing is a gait that consists of the horse moving its legs in lateral pairs. This means that the horse will move both of its left legs forward, then both its right, and so on. Standardbreds are expected to perform the pace at the speed of two minutes and twenty-five seconds over the distance of one mile.

This breed is known to be one of the world’s fastest trotters and harness racong horses ever.


Because of the good leg structure that these horses carry, they are great jumpers. Standardbreds have sturdier and stronger legs than the Thoroughbred making them, in some cases, more sound and better jumpers.

Track Racing

Thanks to the Thoroughbred genetics running in their bloodlines, the Standardbred makes an excellent racehorse for racing on the track with a jockey astride them. These horses are extremely fast and can even compete against some pure Thoroughbreds.

How Long Do Standardbreds Live On Average?

Standardbreds live an average lifespan of a warmblood horse their size. Usually, these horses will live to be around 25 years of age, but with good breeding and genetics, they can sometimes even reach into their thirties.

Fun Facts On Standardbreds

  • Standardbreds are extremely fast and can sometimes even trot the distance of a mile in less than two minutes which is incredible for the trot.
  • Some Standardbreds are born naturally able to perform the pace gait
  • Standardbreds are rarely seen in colors outside bay and chestnut
  • The name of this breed came from the time standard for the speed of a horse. This time standard was set to test the ability of harness racing horses.
  • The small cart pulled by Standardbreds when they are racing is known as a sulky

Hailey Sipila

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

Recent Posts