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Difference Between Trotters and Pacers
 By Winniefield Park   •   13th Apr 2019   •   1,083 views   •   0 comments


Most of us are more likely to have a Standardbred track near us than a Thoroughbred track. Most fairgrounds, at one time, had a racetrack and the most common type of racing on these tracks was harness racing. Standardbred racing was very popular, and with a loyal core of fans, still is. Standardbreds come in two flavors - pacers and trotters. In North America, there are far more pacers than trotters. The reason for that may come down to one thing: speed. A good pacer is faster and more agile than a trotter, and for fans of the sport, faster is better. Pacers are less likely to break into a canter as well, which means itís easier to keep them in steady, without having to go to the outside of the track and get back on pace before re-entering the race. In other parts of the world, trotters are more popular, and some races are ridden.

What is the difference really, beside the gait at which they race? The biggest difference between a trotter and a pace may be something we canít see. Horses can be trained to pace, but with mixed success. The natural tendency of a horse to pace is determined by its genes. Researchers have discovered the mutation of a specific gene DMRT3, in horses that inclines them to pace naturally from birth. The pace is a natural gait, and as anyone retraining a pacer for riding can tell you, it can be difficult to teach the horse how to trot after its race career is over.

There is little difference in the conformation of trotters and pacers today. Both trotters and pacers are built a bit differently than their founding ancestors. Standardbreds originated from a mix of breeds and early ones looked heavier bodied and shorter legged. Some look very like Morgan horses. Todayís trotters and pacers are finer, with a more a racey appearance. Many very early Standardbreds were used for other things besides racing, so they had to be sturdier to stand up to hard every day work. Often they raced in more than one race per day. But just by looking at a Standardbred standing still, you might not know whether it is a trotter or pacer until it startes to move.

The harness that both trotters and pacers wear is similar, but there are some differences. Pacers often wear hopples. These are straps with large loops on each end that connect the front and hind legs of the racer. There is a set of hopples on each side of the horse. This helps encourage the horse move both front and hind legs at the same time. And it helps to prevent the horse from breaking into a canter. The pace may be set by genetics, but to race at high speeds, time, training and equipment are required to keep the horse pacing steadily.

Trotters too, might wear trotting hopples that go only around the front legs and attach to pulleys. This gear is designed to help discourage the horse from breaking into a canter. Some trainers maintain that it is actually harder to train a horse to trot at high speeds. So, even though the trot is natural, it isnít a assured a horse will never break.

Unlike Thoroughbreds, Standardbred racing continues to break race track records. There are a few reasons for this, not all of them having to do with the horses themselves. Equipment has gotten lighter. Synthetic harnesses are lighter than leather. Vehicles are made of lighter materials too, instead of wood and metal. Tracks have changed, not only because of the footing, but in fencing and other equipment. And of course, the horses have been bred to go faster. Thereís not breed standard for a Standardbred horse, but breeders still look for the conformation that lends itself to speed in breeding stock.
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