Standardbred is the term referring to the particular breed of horse suited ideally to the sport of harness racing, specifically trot and pace races. The term differentiates the harness racers from the horses used in flat and jump races, which are commonly known as thoroughbreds. The standardbred horse is slightly shorter and more muscular than its thoroughbred cousin, enabling it to move at high speed even when burdened with the sulky (the cart used in modern harness racing).
The term 'standardbred' was coined in1879 and was derived from the generic achievements expected from a horse entered into a harness race. The standard length of a trotting race, in North America, was a track of one mile; the standard time expected was two minutes 30 seconds (a standard which has long since been surpassed by new generations of even better trained horses). A horse bred specifically to meet these standardised requirements was - quite logically - referred to as 'standardbred'.
While it is difficult to impossible to train a thoroughbred to move in the gait of trot or pace as consistently as a standardbred, the latter naturally prefers these gaits to a canter or walk. The standardbred is a bettors' favourite due to its reliability in keeping in stride. The variability of gaits inherent in this breed of horse also makes them ideal candidates for show and dressage riding.
Because of their even temper and sunny disposition, retired standardbreds frequently end up as pleasure riding horses on holiday ranches and riding schools. They are also the favoured breed of North America's Amish people, who keep standardbreds to pull their carts on often busy roads - a task for which the steely-nerved standardbred is perfectly suited. Racing Foundations all over the world are frequently advertising retiring horses looking for new homes and the standardbred is usually everyone's favourite retiree.
The home of the standardbred horse are the United States of America, where the blood lines of literally every standardbred can be traced back to the sire of the modern standardbred, 'Hambletonian 10' - also known as 'The Daddy of 'em All'. Hambletonian 10 was the great-grandson of the equally legendary Messenger, a little run but much bred English thoroughbred, who was exported to North America in 1788 to begin the standard-breeding process. Hambletonian 10 sired 1.335 foals in 24 seasons as an active stud, making him - and extension his great-grandfather messenger - the largest producer of standardbreds in the world. Deservingly, Hambletonian 10 has been inducted into the Immortals category in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame.
Standardbred horses born in Australia are in all likelihood descendants of Childe Harold, namesake of Sydney's Harold Park race track. Childe Harold was foaled in Kentucky, USA, in 1871, and as a three-year-old took the win at the International Trot held in Liverpool. After an illustrious career on the continent, Childe Harold was taken to Australia in the early 1880s, where he proceeded to sire world class trotting horses for the hungry Australian market. Until Child Harold's arrival on the Australian breeding scene, Tasmania held the reputation of producing the best harness racing contenders, which led to a popularity explosion of the sport in Tasmania during the early days of Australian trotting.