Riding Speed Racking Horses
From Harness Racing to Pleasure Driving
Most speed racking horses contain a lot of standardbred blood. If you choose a standardbred from racecourse it has been trained for racing and is definitely broke to drive. Those that have competed at least one season have been driven well over a thousand miles. The average Standardbred racehorse will pull a lightweight cart 2500 to 4000 miles during its career.
Developing the Rack in the Standardbred
The smooth racking gait can be developed in just about every Standardbred even the 15% that are trotters, if desired. It’s usually a simple matter of shoeing and collection.
Once the horse is comfortable under saddle and giving nicely to the bit, it can be asked to move out a bit faster than the walk. On a loose rein, most will start trotting. However, if collected in the bridle and driven with the seat and legs, many will move from the walk right into a very smooth single-foot rack. If pushed for additional speed the rack will change into a rougher side to side pace. The difference is readily discerned by the rider.
Horses that don’t pick up the rack when collected, but continue to trot often respond favorably to a heavier shoe behind. The same sense of balance can be achieved by going barefoot in front with regular shoes behind. The added weight helps the horse swing over into a more lateral gait. A light chain fitted loosely on the hind pasterns will generally encourage even the most reluctant Standardbred to rack.
A few Standardbreds are very pacey right from the walk and don’t hit that smooth single foot gait when asked. These horses benefit from a heavier shoe in front or having their hind shoes pulled to encourage the rack before hitting a pace. A pair of light chains on the front pasterns also work wonders in helping this type of horse learn to rack.
Once the horse is racking, it’s a matter of encouraging that gait through positive re-enforcement and not pushing for speed until the rack is well developed. Changing from the snaffle driving bit used during the first few rides to one with some leverage is especially helpful. Three bits commonly used on Standardbred racking horses are a Wonder Bit also known as a Gag bit, a Kimberwick, and a western training bit with 6 ½ ” shanks. All of these have smooth snaffle mouthpieces and swivel cheeks to accommodate a direct reined horse.