The History of Trotting

On June 27th 1897 The New York Times published an impassionate article on the origins and pleasures of the trotting races. The article attributes the sport of harness racing to the Dutch - not as the original inventors, which were, of course, the chariot racing ancient Greeks and Romans - who when settling in 'New Amsterdam', now New York City, brought with them their beloved past-time of 'hardriverij' (pronounced 'hard drivery'). This types of horse racing was particularly popular with the Dutch because it transcended the boundaries of class. Anyone with a great trotting horse could enter the races, which would often see poor farmers' well-trained trotters triumph over the breeds of royalty. Today however, long after that faraway rebirth of a sport and beginning of an international trend in the 17th century, harness races/trotting races are no longer limited to the Netherlands and its colonies.

The origins of modern harness racing are indeed to be found in North America where trotting harness races became a popular rural past-time (using fairly unsophisticated carts and hole-riddled country roads as tracks) by the end of the 18th century. In the early 19th century the first harness racing tracks where established and trotting races where incorporated in the list of attractions of any self-respecting county fair.

As popularity for the sport was on the rise it was only a logical consequence that it should affect the business of horse breeding. While the classical thoroughbred is used in flat and jump races, the harness races use what is known as a 'standardbred' horse. The term 'standardbred' emerged in 1879, and was derived from the many 'standard' requirements which made a harness race horse great. A standard track of one mile, a standard time of 2.5 minutes maximum - a horse bred to meer the standard was clearly 'standardbred'. The history of the North American standardbred horse is as simple as it is spectacular: In 1788 an English thoroughbred stallion named 'Messenger' was imported into the United States to be used as a sire for race horses. Out of Messengers lineage arose in 1849 the legendary 'Hambletonian 10' - later to be known as 'The Daddy of'em All' - who can be traced in the lineage of virtually ever standardbred horse in North America.

In 1810 harness racing had made its way to Australia, recording 'Miss Kitty' as the lucky horse to take first place in the first ever official harness race in the country. 'Miss Kitty' is the pioneer of a long line of legendary horses in a sport that so captivated the nation of Australia. The Australian harness racing track does not conform to the standard lengths of either one mile (one round per race) or half-mile (for a two round race), but varies in its length. However, in order to concur with the standardised system, the times taken from the horses are converted into a mile-rate to allow for fair judgement of a horse's ability.

Since its humble beginnings as a farmers' sport, trotting has become an international favourite. Tracks devoted to harness races exclusively appeared all over the world, standardbred horses are now revered with the same admiration formerly reserved for especially spectacular thoroughbreds, skilled drivers (as jockeys are known in this type of horse race) are sought after just as much as their saddle-bound colleagues.

Iconic race tracks include Meadowlands Race Track in New Jersey, The Red Mile in Kentucky and the Mohawk Raceway in Ontario. The Inter Dominion series of Australasian racing includes trotting series, as does the Australasian Breeders Crown. New Zealand hosts, in honour of the great-grandfather of the standardbred, the New Zealand Messenger Championship. One could say that trotting has not only come a long way since its humble beginnings but has truly made its mark on the world of horse racing.

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