Trotting has always been a popular sport in Great Britain with many long distance match races on the roads during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Gradually towards the end of the nineteenth century trotting races became more formal affairs with races arranged on either grass or all weather tracks. The horses were the native horses of the areas including the Norfolk Trotter, the Hackney and the Welsh Cob. During the later part of the nineteenth century many horses were imported into Great Britain for racing.

The American Standardbred had been developed in the United States by crossing the Thoroughbred stallion imported from Britain in 1788 named Messenger, with local harness horses. The name for the breed was derived from the standard, set down in 1879 of 2 minutes 30 seconds for one mile, which the horses had to pace or trot. Both pacing and trotting Standardbreds were imported to Britain from America and several of these were later exported to Australia and New Zealand. Horses were also imported from Europe and even from lceland. These lcelandic ponies were mainly pacers and they were very popular from about 1890 until 1920.

The first Stud Book for trotting horses in Britain was published by the Trotting Union of Great Britain which was established in 1889. It was the brainchild of the Secretary Mr. F Cathcart and was part of the Racing Calendar based on the Alexandra Park Trotting Club but included information from several other tracks. The first Stud Book was printed in 1892 and was produced annually until about 1901.

The Stud Book sets out ‘The rules to define a trotting-bred horse, and to establish in Great Britain a breed of trotters’. These rules were as follows:-

  1. Any stallion that has himself a record of two minutes and 50 seconds (2.50) or better.
  2. Any mare or gelding that has a record of 2.50 or better.
  3. Any horse that is the sire of two animals with a record of 2.50 or better.
  4. Any horse that is the sire of one animal with a record of 2.50 or better, provided he has either:
    – A record himself of 2.55 or better
    – Is the sire of two other animals with a record of 2.55 or better
    – Has a sire or dam that is already a standard animal
  1. Any mare that has produced an animal with a record of 2.50 or better.
  2. The progeny of a standard horse when out of a standard mare.
  3. The female progeny of a standard horse when out of a mare by a standard horse.
  4. The female progeny of a standard horse when out of a mare whose dam is a standard mare.
  5. Any mare that has a record of 2.55 or better, and whose sire or dam is a standard animal.

*For ponies of 13h 3in or under the same rules will apply, but the time standard will be 10 seconds slower.

Only records passed by the Trotting Union of Great Britain were accepted and the cost of registration was 5 shillings which would equal to about £120 today. ln the first Stud Book six mares were registered, five of them under rule 2 with no breeding while the other one was registered under rule 5. There were also six stallions in that Stud Book, two imported from America, two from Denmark, one bred in lreland from imported parents and one bred in Scotland. Another rule was added for the second Stud Book

  1. Horses whose sire or dam are standard in the country where born.

These ten rules continued to be the basis for all registrations in the Trotting Stud Book of Great Britain & lreland until it ceased probably in 1902, however annual registrations were still recorded and published in ‘The Trotting World’. By the turn of the century there were approximately 70 mares and 70 stallions registered.

Once the Racing Calendar stopped production, the only regular printed feature in Britain was the Trotting World. This was a weekly magazine published in London from 1902 until 1932 and covered all parts of Great Britain and lreland. The reports often recorded the breeding of the horses racing but there was no Stud Book published at the time. There were references to the need for a Stud Book and it was reported that there were moves afoot in the early 1920s to publish a Stud Book again, but it doesn’t seem to have happened. After the Trotting World stopped publication, there was no official journal dealing with Harness Racing or the breeding of Standardbreds in Britain.

ln 1963 Prestatyn race track in North Wales opened and horses’ breeding was again published when known, this time in the annual pacing and trotting records published by the United Kingdom Trotting Association. ln 1967 Volume 1 of The Harness Race-Horse Stud Book of Great Britain was compiled by Mrs Smart, secretary to the United Kingdom Trotting Association. This must have been a mammoth task trying to check back several generations with no written records to refer to. Much of the information Mrs Smart recorded from owners and trotting enthusiasts so laying down the foundations for a Stud Book for the trotting and pacing horses of Great Britain.

In the first volume Mrs Smart explains ‘This first publication has been compiled from voluntary registration by interested owners, and because no records of breeding ever having been kept, no responsibility can be accepted for any mistakes, although a great deal of research has been made in an effort to ensure that details of breeding are correct’. It was a great achievement and really added great impetus to harness racing in Great Britain.

In 1976 the Stud Book was published by The British Harness Racing Club and that association continued to publish their owner’s horses, every three or four years, the last one being Volume 8 published in 1993.

When STAGBI (The Standardbred and Trotting Horse Association of Great Britain & lreland) was established in the late 1990s it began collating data on all Standardbred horses in Great Britain and lreland, whether racing or not. lt was the first time that trotting and pacing horses became recognised as a breed, rather than as a race horse.

lreland, like the rest of Britain had never been able to encompass all trotting and pacing horses, although records had been kept by many different individuals and organisations, at last all information was pooled to form a breed society for all British and lrish Standardbred horses. The first Stud Book covering 2000-2004 was published in 2006 after a lot of work to merge several different databases, and Volume 2 (2005-2008) became available in 2009.

Tracing the lineage of harness horses in this country has always proved a challenge, due to the lack of published records, sometimes for decades, as well as the very popular habit of owners for changing their horses’ names. This was common throughout the twentieth century, horses often raced in one part of the country under one name, then had a different name in another area. Some horses had three or even four different names during their lives! lt is only recently that name changing has not been allowed and that alongside identification by passport and microchip has established a much higher level of integrity not only in breeding but also at the races.

The Standardbred is now a recognised and recorded breed in Britain, a breed which has been developed for generations to react to the unique challenges of the harness racing scene in Britain, whether it is on the hard tracks leading the speed challenge, or at the grass meetings of the traditional trotting areas in the North and West of the country and in lreland.

In 2016, the Irish Harness Racing Association took responsibility of the recording of Standardbreds born and residing in Ireland, thus becoming independent from STAGBI.

Over time the role of STAGBI has developed and it is therefore important to acknowledge the two distinct roles of STAGBI:

  1. A Breed Society that maintains a Stud Book;
  2. A Government-approved Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO) responsible for implementing the UK Government’s Equine Identification Regulations.

With the first of these two roles, STAGBI is the recognised Standardbred Breed Society for the UK and is represented as such by the International Trotting Association on a global stage.

Looking at the current day responsibilities of STAGBI as a Passport Issuing Organisation, these are as follows (as per Minimum Operating Standards (MOPS)):

As a PIO we are governed by The Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/262 (the “2016 EU Regulation”) which came into force through the EU from 1st January 2016. In England, the 2016 EU Regulation is implemented by the Equine Identification (England) Regulations 2018 which replace the Horse Passports Regulations 2009. In Wales, it is implemented by The Equine Identification (Wales) Regulations 2019. In Scotland, it is implemented by Equine Animal (Identification) (Scotland) Regulations 2019 and in Northern Ireland by The Equine Identification Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019. Now that the UK has left the EU, the 2016 EU Regulation has been retained in UK law by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, subject to amendments made by the Equine (Records, Identification and Movement) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (as amended). However, as a result of the NI protocol, the retained 2016 Regulation has no application in NI and NI is instead still subject to the 2016 EU Regulation as it has effect in the EU rather than the UK retained law.


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