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What is Harness Racing?

By S. Scolari
Updated May 23, 2024
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Harness racing is an offshoot of traditonal horseracing. In harness racing, the horses do not gallop with a rider on their back, but are tethered to a light cart, which a jockey guides around an oval racetrack. They are supposed to trot around the track without breaking stride, although doing so does not disqualify them. Breaking stride is called being "on a break." The driver must then try to get the horse back on the proper gait, get the horse out of the way of the others, and must not use the break to improve his position in the field.

Horses used for this type of racing are called S-breds or Standardbreds. This means they are "pure-blooded" thoroughbreds, specially bred for the demands of the sport and descended from other horses like themselevs. Harness-racing horses are sometimes called "trotters" or "pacers."

Every trotting horse has a "birthday" of January first, no matter what date it is actually born. Even if a horse is born on December 25, he officially turns one year old at that time and is called a "yearling." A year later, he officially turns two.

This is the standard method of categorizing horses so that they run against others of their general grouping but it can be a disadvantage to late-born horses. For this reason, breeders try to arrange it so that foals (baby horses) are born in April or May, which gives them plenty of time to mature.

The horses race around a standard oval track. Those with a history of breaking stride or who have been away from racing for a long time must race in a qualifying race before returning. A qualifying race is one without a purse(winnings) or betting. It is used to determine the horse's manners, ability, and likelihood of being able to conform to racing rules.

The Little Brown Jug and the Hambletonian are very famous harness races for three-year olds. The purses (winnings) are substantial. Horses who win races like these gather prestige for themselves, their owners, and their bloodlines.

Stallions (unneutered horses) are usually put to stud (used to breed) and mares are usually sent to brood mare farms to produce more racing offspring.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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