Standardbred horseshow is off the beaten track

Former pacer Hilary's Conquest under saddle. (photo supplied)

Some of the locals might think they’ve seen it all when it comes to Standardbred horses at the Orono Fairground. But Standardrama organizers say they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Those familiar with the breed and its racetrack abilities may be surprised to see Standardbreds performing in a dressage class, or under Western tack, pole bending and barrel racing, but that’s exactly what’s in store for visitors to the first annual Standardrama horse show at the Fairground on Sunday, June 27th.

Sarah Hirtle of Peterborough is head of the Standardrama show committee along with Tammi Hughes of Oshawa. Hirtle says the horseshow is the first of its kind in the area, and meant to demonstrate how versatile the Standardbred is by showing it in traditional horse competition.

“We feel the Standardbred is the undiscovered charm of the show world,” she states. And the Orono Fairground seems like the perfect venue for the event, she says, because of its history with Standardbreds. “It used to be a racetrack,” says Hirtle. “Tammi’s grandfather used to race there. It’s also a really nice place, and it’s a good, central location for the area east of Toronto.”

Hirtle – who is married, and the mother of two boys, one 15-months, the other four-years old — works as a stable groom. It’s a job she’s done for 10 years, working at all the Ontario racetracks such as Kawartha Downs and Woodbine. But she says it wasn’t until a few years ago, when she got her first Standardbred for riding, that she became hooked on riding them, showing them, and promoting them for adoption.

The owner of three Standardbreds, Hirtle used to groom two of them, but when they were done racing, she bought them “straight from the race stable,” she says. She has also fostered horses for the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society (OSAS). Standardrama’s co-organizer Hughes is a guardian for the society, checking on fostered horses to make sure they’re taken care of properly.

Hirtle says she rides mostly dressage, English pleasure and equitation. After attending the annual OSAS shows in south-western Ontario for a few years, she and Hughes decided it was time to host a show in their area. “It all started with the OSAS. They’ve been doing a show annually for quite a while now,” she states.

The OSAS is an approved charitable organization, founded in 1996 to assist in the adoption and relocation of retired and non-racing Standardbred horses within Ontario. The society helps to educate and assist in the retraining and management of the horses.

According to the OSAS, Standardbred horses are “quick and willing to learn, with wonderful stable manners and patience. Nearly every Standardbred has a natural trot, knows how to steer and stop, and has been driven in harness. They are also accustomed to being handled extensively, fussed with, and shipped often. They also stand on cross-ties, and are used to being bathed and clipped. Most, if not all, Standardbreds can be ridden a short distance, the first time they are under saddle.”

One of the goals of Standardrama is to show both the riding-horse community and the racing-

horse community that Standardbred horses can have a good, productive career outside of racing, says Hirtle. The majority of the horses are done racing before they are 10-years old, she notes.

“Standardbreds are not just a throw-away breed. But 10 years ago, when I started as a groom, they were automatically sent for slaughter or sent to the Amish community for the buggies once they were done racing,” she says. “As a groom, or a trainer, you get attached to them, and then one day they’re just gone and you never know what happens to them. I would like to know when these horses leave my care that they have a chance.”

“People thought Standardbreds weren’t able to canter. This is not accurate,” she says. “They can do what any other horse can do. People thought they couldn’t trot, only pace, but that isn’t true. They are so easy to train. People thought they were hot, but they’re very tolerant, very quiet, and very hardy. They go from the harness to the saddle very easily, and can be trained to do whatever you want.”

Most horses retire due to lack of speed, according to the OSAS. “Some may have sustained an injury and are no longer able to stand the demand for speed that racing requires. This does not affect their usefulness as pleasure horses,” states the OSAS, which compiles information from the racing trainer and veterinarian to help match horses with those who are interested in adopting. A donation of $750 is requested once a suitable horse has been selected.

There will be lots of opportunities at the Orono show for people who are interested in adopting a Standardbred horse from the OSAS to learn more, according to Hirtle. “We are planning on having a board displaying horses available for adoption. And as for OSAS horses from foster homes that are in the show, their information will be made available, so people can come and view them.”

Another goal of the show is to promote the breed’s versatility. “We’ll have English equitation classes, and barrel racing classes, and we’ll even have driving classes because they make wonderful pleasure driving horses,” she says.

“Standardbreds are easily trainable to any discipline,” states the OSAS. “If you plan to do more than leisurely trail rides, be prepared to do some work to get the trot and canter collected. Your persistence will be rewarded, as the breed is cooperative and quick to learn. If you are a novice rider, we suggest working with a trainer who is familiar with this gentle breed.”

A full complement of 21 classes, including halter and showmanship, English pleasure and equitation, Western pleasure and equitation, games, pleasure driving, jumping, dressage, and even a costume class, will be held over the course of Standardrama. There will be prizes for the top three participants in each class, with ribbons to sixth place, as well as high-point junior, high-point division, and high-point versatility awards.

There will also be an outdoor tradeshow area with vendor booths on the grounds. The show will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Standardrama is part of the Ontario Standardbred Show series, which includes four other shows this season: the Standardbred Showcase at Grand River Raceway on August 1st, the OSAS Show (venue to be announced) on August 29th, the SW Ontario Standardbred Horse Show in London on September 12th, and the Oxer Stable Show in Milton on September 26th.

Standardrama is run completely on sponsorship, says Hirtle, and organizers are still looking for companies to sponsor classes and donate prizes, and for volunteers to help with the event. Those interested can find more information at .


One thought on “Standardbred horseshow is off the beaten track

  1. I was hassled about 4 years ago to take a standardbred mare in foal and i resisted as I breed arabians, any way here I am the mare went to a great home to a woman who lost her ex racing mare she trail rided and I have the most stunning interactive young athlete who is picking up dressage just great. When he was a baby I saw him passage and I thought, hah he can move just right, He is also fun to work loose in my oval arena and you are right, he is real quick on the uptake. He is not branded and I take him out and people go WOW! at his presence HAHA I was once a snob looking down my nose, how cheap was that!! although a few years back I was at a natural horsemanship clinic and I couldn’t take my eyes off a stunning standardbred.This is the greatest horse I have ever worked with, he is real deep and I look forward to taking him out this year for his debut.

    Brent Stringer
    New Zealand


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