Note: The United Kingdom is the only European country to conduct both Trotting and Pacing meetings. The harness races held on the European continent are trotting only events.
Trotting and Pacing are the two modes of harness racing. A harness race is a horse race in which the horse does not carry the jockey but pulls him in a light-weight two-wheeled cart, known as the sulky. The distinction between the two modes of racing is the gait which the horse assumes throughout the race. Trotting requires the horse to 'trot', naturally, meaning that the horse is moving its legs in diagonal pairs - i.e. left front leg and right hind leg forward at the same time and vice versa. Pacing on the other hand is a lateral stride, meaning the horse moves the front and back leg of the same side forward as one. If a horse breaks its stride during the race it is immediately disqualified, making the trotting and pacing races not only a test of physical endurance but also of mental strength.
There are two modes of starting in harness racing, a moving start and a standing start. In the moving start the horses trot or pace slowly behind a vehicle with mounted gates riding around the track. To start the race the vehicle accelerates and speeds away, collapsing the gates as it goes. A standing start, as you may have guessed, requires the horse to be immobile behind the starting line until the race begins. Interestingly there are no weights used in handicapping a harness race; instead the horses are assigned individual starting points, handicapping the stronger horses by giving the weaker contenders a head start.
The first recorded harness race in the United Kingdom was recorded on the 29th August 1750, taking place on Newmarket Heath. It involved only one horse and a four-wheeled wooden cart, the bet being whether the horse could pull the cart over a distance of 19 miles in less than one hour. Since then harness racing has evolved to a popular spectacle; however, today's harness races feature up to 14 horses and are held over a much shorter distance.
Trotting and Pacing are not sports suitable for the average thoroughbred, as the gaits can prove tricky for this type of horse. The animals bred specifically for the purpose of harness racing are referred to as 'standardbred' horses. They have a muscular, long body; yet they are smaller and heavier than the thoroughbred, which makes them perfect contenders for pulling the cart in a competitive race. The standardbred naturally prefers the gaits of pace and trot, and is an excellent horse to train not only for the harness races but also for show jumping and eventing. Standarbreds also have a reputation of being incredibly even-tempered.
While a large number of UK racecourses stage harness racing events, there are three standout venues when it comes to Trotting and Pacing: York Racecourse in Pool Lane, Corbiewood Racecourse near Bannockburn, and Tir Prince Racecourse at Towyn. The latter, Tir Prince, also includes an amusement park, making it a most family friendly harness racing venue.