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Myths About Standardbreds

Standardbreds are only pacers, true or false?

False, Standardbreds are either “pacing bred” or “trotting bred”. For racing purposes, the type of “breeding” dictates whether the Standardbred will be a trotter or pacer, however, there have been exceptions to this rule. The majority of Standardbreds in Western Canada are “pacing bred” or what is generally referred to as “pacers”. With meets in Eastern Canada and the United States attracting many Western Canadian racing stables, the possibility exists that more “trotters” will be brought into this part of the country in the future.

Standardbred pacers never trot, true or false?

True, Standardbred PACERS NEVER TROT IN A RACE. However, pacing does not dominate the rest of their daily activities. Standardbreds trot, and pace, from birth. The Standardbred has been taught that they must not break the pace – when they are training and racing – but do not get corrected for their gait when they are not in harness. Most Standardbreds possess a very string, smooth trot and love to “show off” when turned out in the pasture or paddock for a break from training and racing. Pleasure driving? Without racing equipment many Standardbreds enjoy trotting – even prefer to trot than pace. When unsure of a situation the pace gear takes over quickly, however, with patience and reassurance the “pacing moments” become non-existent.

Standardbreds can not canter or lope, true or false?

False. Most Standardbreds love to race across the pasture at a canter/lope – even a gallop. Many times it is impossible to pick out the Standardbred in a herd of horses racing across a field. Standardbreds are horses with an extra gear – the pace, so naturally they have all the other “regular” horse gears.

You can’t ride Standardbreds, true or false?

Wrong again. More and more people are enjoying Standardbreds for pleasure riding, cattle penning, jumping, ranch work, competitive trail riding, endurance riding, even western and english flat classes, barrel racing… The possibilities are endless. With time and patience, the Standardbred learns new skills. Their attitude and temperament make them willing partners in any equine endeavor you may attempt.

If you do ride a Standardbred, all it will do is 40 mph, true or false?

This myth is actually worth a chuckle, but it is still false. If a Standardbred could pace 40 mph under saddle, chances are the horse would still be on the race track making a tidy sum for its owners. In most cases, Standardbreds will start out quite slowly while trying to adjust to a rider aboard. A Standardbred just starting under saddle feels like any other colt, being a little unsteady as they adjust to a rider’s weight. The added bonus is that the Standardbred is comfortable with the saddle and bridle and the tacking up procedure, plus they already know how to steer, stop, stand, and back up. They are not sure what your legs are doing, but they certainly have enough sense to accept the pressure and learn the rider’s cues. The direct rein is understood, just add the leg, being consistent with each use, and soon the leg is also understood. The same with asking for a change of gait, verbal command (from being driven), add the leg aid, be consistent each time, and soon this new command is a regular feature.

All Standardbreds are ugly, true or false?

False. There is no “typical looking Standardbred” nowadays. Individual Standardbreds have been mistaken for Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Arabians, Quarter Horses, Morgans, Tennessee Walkers… the list goes on. There is a look and style for every taste, and all Standardbred models come with the “standard equipment” i.e. exceptional temperament, good bone, strong feet, and a capacity for incredible endurance. Breeders are not only breeding for desirable racing traits but are continually striving to produce conformationally correct offspring for today’s very competitive racing industry. An eye opener would be to visit the annual yearling sale and see for yourself the quality of horses produced for today’s market.

Standardbreds are cheap horses, true or false?

You decide. Buying a yearling at the sale is not for the faint of heart. Several yearlings each year sell for upwards of $20,000. To breed your mare, stud fees range from $1,000 to $10,000 (or higher). Starting daily training in harness as ‘long yearlings”, these “babies” will have regular farrier, dental, and veterinary care, and a well balanced nutritious diet to promote healthy bone and muscle growth and allow for the energy required for training. These training fees can range from $15 to $30 per day. In the summer or fall of their second year, if everything has worked well, the young student may be qualified and begin a racing career. Training fees for specialized care and training at the race track can be slightly higher per day, depending on the stable and/or individual requirements. So far we have not considered registration fees, tattooing fees, nomination fee for the sale, sustaining fees for the Sire Stakes (paid annually as yearling, two year old, and three year old), eligibility fees (so the horse can race), or the owners, trainers, breeders, and grooms required annual association membership(s) and licensing fees. Other costs would partially include training and racing equipment, shipping fees, and stable supplies. The Standardbred may then go on to earn up to several thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars during a racing career. Now this horse is finished racing. Is he a cheap horse? You may purchase a retired Standardbred for just over meat price. Possibly more if the horse had been turned out, started under saddle, or performing an equine activity with some aptitude. Obviously, the price is very reasonable for an equine athlete that has been very well cared for and has had an enormous amount of handling and training.

Standardbreds off the track will have bad legs, true or false?

False. Many Standardbreds are simply not fast enough to be competitive in the harness racing industry where a mile is regularly paced in well under two minutes. Instead of pushing the horse beyond his limit, physically and mentally, a trainer or owner will decide to “retire” the horse from racing. Some may never have raced but still have countless hours of handling and exercise; have received regular farrier, dental, and veterinary care; and are in excellent condition. True, some Standardbreds have had leg injuries, which may or may not necessitate retirement, with the horse becoming sound and ready for a new career after a couple of months rest. A pre-purchase veterinary examination , with your intended equine activity in mind, will usually determine whether the horse will be a suitable and capable candidate.

Standardbreds are “hot” because they are race horses, true or false?

False. Standardbreds are generally very kind, gentle, and love to be handled. New challenges are accepted with interest and enthusiasm. Vehicles, tractors, harrows, water trucks, large moving gates, crowds of people, other horses in harness, horses under saddle, bicycles, hoses, showers, wheelbarrows, semi trucks, horse trailers… these are only a few of the everyday things a Standardbred accepts as normal. Having personal attention every day for most of their life, Standardbreds adore attention and return the affection readily.

Standardbreds have to be saved from the race track, true or false?

Again, you decide. Witnessing countless young stock begin training then eventually leave home to start life at the race track is like having your kids leave home every year. I imagine the breeders feel the same when their babies go to the yearling sale. You feel a great sense of pride, and wonder how they will do out in the real world. Watching these youngsters become more confident and competitive after “jogging” many conditioning miles that gradually become faster, you know without a doubt they love what they are doing. One would have to be totally out of touch for this to go unnoticed. Caring for a horse on a daily basis tends to make one closer with the horse, a point very obvious at the race track. New “retirees” at the track often have many of their past people came along to say good-bye and give them one last hug. Emotions generally run high, tears spill, and somehow a genuine respect emerges – for the horse and his people. Amazingly this scenario unfolds many times over when you take a Standardbred home from his racing career. These horses are genuinely loved and respected. The care is meticulous; the diet, health, and exercise all carefully monitored; warm baths, relaxing massages, warm blankets, clean well bedded stalls provided seven days a week. To describe purchasing a retired Standardbred as “saving him from the track” doesn’t hold water when you know what his life really involved. Instead, treat yourself to a very special horse, and enjoy the experience while offering the Standardbred a new beginning.

Written by Performance Standardbreds Member Carolyn Rogers. Please contact us if you would like to request a copy or reprint.

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