Standardbreds available span all ages, however most horses coming off the track are between 2 and 10 years old. Many are geldings, though mares and stallions are also available. Most have had extensive handling and training, ie. standing for the farrier, loading into a trailer, clipping, etc.
Some were too slow to have any sort of competitive racing career. Harness racing, for many, is a business, so if the horse is too slow to be competitive, they won’t cover their expenses. Others may have been injured which prevented them from competing soundly. Most trainers are cognizant of the horse’s welfare and do not want to race them if they are hurt. Many injuries just require time off, some may require surgery. But most horses, once given the time to heal, have many productive pleasure or competitive riding and driving years ahead of them!
Standardbreds can adapt to many different disciplines, having been used for both Western & English riding including, dressage, jumping, barrel racing and endurance competitions. They can also be used for different driving events such as combined driving, roadster horses and obstacle driving. “Ride and Drive” classes are also popular for Standardbreds. The USTA Standardbred Equine Program (SEP) has partnered with many discipline groups to present annual breed awards. For the most up-to-date information on these partnerships, visit standardbreds.ustrotting.com/off-the-track.cfm.
Most Standardbreds come off the track familiar with many types of equipment and their feel. Most know how to stand for bathing, clipping, getting shod, plus they usually behave well for the vet and load into a trailer easily. Most Standardbreds have good dispositions, intelligence and a willingness to please.
However, few horses coming off the track are saddle-trained or know how to lunge. Teaching your Standardbred to be a good horse under saddle is a process, involving learning to respond to leg cues, seat and the rider’s hands (which are somewhat different than a harness driver’s hands), plus the more detailed specifics of any given discipline, such as learning to neck rein or leg yield. Many people who have re-trained a Standardbred will tell you they take to having a person on top of them very well and it doesn’t take very long until they can be used as a trail horse or for pleasure. If you are thinking about acquiring a Standardbred as a show horse, you should be willing to put the time and resources into transitioning the horse to saddle/driving work for pleasure or show.
Adoption may seem like an attractive alternative to buying a horse since the adoption fee/donation is usually less expensive than the purchase price for a horse. In addition, adoption groups usually remain the owners of the horse for the horse’s lifetime and adopters do not usually receive registration papers. Most groups have emergency clauses where they will take a horse back if the horse turns out to be a bad match or if financial reasons prevent an adopter from affording to keep the horse. The upkeep on a horse will be the same regardless of whether you purchase or adopt. Therefore, you should carefully go over your own financial situation and lifestyle to see if an off-the-track Standardbred fits in your life.
No. The USTA is the breed registry for Standardbreds, not a placement agency. In addition to promoting harness racing, for which Standardbreds are bred, the USTA supports using Standardbreds for pleasure and show horse use.
Most placement agencies are based in or near areas where harness races are held, namely the East Coast and Midwest. Pari-mutuel harness racing is located in 16 states across the country, so chances are there are off-the-track Standardbreds near you!