Fan Guide

In harness racing, a specific breed of horses called Standardbreds pull a two-wheeled cart known as a racebike, which is steered by a driver. These horses can reach speeds in excess of 30 mph. One thing that makes harness racing great is that anyone can get involved. With a small investment almost anyone can own a horse, and there are trainers and drivers of all different experience levels. There are even entire circuits just for amateur drivers.

But even if you can't afford to own or train a horse, you can get up close and personal with the animals and drivers at the racetrack. Many tracks offer barn and paddock tours and a chance to meet the horsemen who compete there. Although you can watch harness racing from your home, on your computer and even on your phone, the best way to experience the sport is live and in person.

The Standardbred is a beautiful, gentle breed of horse that is affectionate and easy to work with. The breed comes in many colors, with bay (a light brown) and brown being the most dominant. They weigh between 800 and 1,200 lbs. and are known for their willing temperaments. The beginnings of the Standardbred breed can be traced back to the horse Messenger, a gray Thoroughbred who was brought to the U.S. in the 18th century. Virtually every North American Standardbred can be traced back to Messenger's great-grandson, Hambletonian 10. The name "Standardbred" originated because the early trotters were required to reach a certain standard of time for the mile distance in order to be registered as part of the new breed. Harness racing is based in tradition and history, but the Standardbred breed continues to evolve each year. It's amazing to watch these incredible animals reach new levels of speed and excellence.

As a breed, Standardbreds are athletic, intelligent and wellsuited for many different tasks. After they're done racing (or perhaps if they never raced at all), many Standardbreds go on to find new homes and new vocations.

Vocations such as police or military mounts, trail-riding companions and outriders are all a good fit for retired Standardbreds.

Many ex-racehorses also have success competing in special disciplines such as dressage, endurance riding, and speed racking. But even if there isn't a new "job" waiting for a horse after he's done racing, the goal is always to find a good, loving home for them, and there are numerous adoption, retirement and pleasure horse organizations committed to doing just that.