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What Kind of Horses Are Pacers & Trotters?

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Pacers and trotters are part of a fairly limited horse “club.” Standardbreds consist of both trotters and pacers, one breed among a handful of naturally “gaited” breeds. Missouri fox trotting horses possess a unique, comfortable trot for which they are named. The Canadian pacer and the Narragansett pacer, two breeds used to create the standardbred, are now considered extinct. Although trotters and pacers are best known for racing, many are versatile saddle horses as well.


The standardbred horse traces its roots back to the English import Messenger; however, it is Messenger’s descendant Hambletonian who is credited as being the breed’s foundation sire. The pacing gait was added to the standardbred through the now-extinct Narragansett pacer, and later through three imported Canadian pacing stallions. The breed’s originators determined that all horses registered as standardbreds had to trot a mile in no more than two minutes and 30 seconds or pace a mile in no more than two minutes and 25 seconds. The standardbred is a popular harness racing horse, but retired racehorses can be retrained to become pleasure riding horses, as well.

Missouri Fox Trotting Horses

The Missouri fox trotting horse is well-known for its “fox-trotting” gait. This unusual gait consists of the horse walking very quickly with his front legs and trots with his rear legs. According to the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Association, “The front hoof of the diagonal pair strikes the ground just before the rear hoof, and one front hoof is on the ground at all times in a correct foxtrot.” This movement results in a gait that does not jar the rider in the same way that a regular trot would do.

Canadian Pacer

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The Canadian pacer may be an extinct breed, related to the indigenous Canadian horse. It is also possible that this pacer was merely a specialized variety of the Canadian horse, which still exists today, given the Canadian horse’s “notable trotting, pacing, and 'roadster' abilities,” according to Gaitpost Magazine. The Canadian horse is itself nearly extinct, although its exact numbers are unknown.

Narragansett Pacer

The Narragansett pacer was the first deliberately bred horse breed developed in the United States, starting in or around 1677. It was developed by one man on land that he purchased from the Narragansett Indian tribe. The breed was fast, but it also had endurance. In addition, the Narragansett pacer had a steady gait that did not incline substantially from one side to the other. Although the breed was popular in the United States, it was equally popular in the West Indies. It is possible that the breed became extinct due to the large numbers being exported every year. At the same time, as American roads improved, this saddle horse lost favor as demand for horse-drawn vehicles increased. By 1800, the breed had become extinct.

The Difference Between the Trot and the Pace

Both the trot and the pace are “two beat” gaits. That is, two legs move in unison while performing the gait. A trotting horse moves its legs in a diagonal gait. When trotting, a horse will move her right foreleg forward at the same time as the left hind leg, followed by moving her left foreleg forward in tandem with the right hind leg. A horse that is pacing moves both legs on the same side of her body forward at the same time.