Regarding the origin and history of the pacer previous to the last thirty years, nothing need be said additional to what is given in the pages devoted to the trotter. Until a comparatively recent period, pacers were chiefly used for saddle purposes. It sometimes happened that individual animals showed much speed, and, when possessed of a considerable portion of the blood of the thoroughbred horse, had the stamina and bottom to go races of one-, two-and three-mile heats. However, for racing purposes the pacer played an unimportant part, and when horse-back riding ceased as a custom, pacers were rarely seen. Persons unskilled in horsemanship may wonder that pacers should not meet the requirements for road-horses, both for pleasure and utility. For this there are many substantial reasons. For mere speed on a track, or very smooth road, the pace is a shade faster than the trot. This is the only thing that can be said in favor of the pacer as a driver. In no other quality can he rank with the trotter. In considering him as a horse for pleasure-driving, it should be observed that as a type he lacks beauty of form, having, as a rule, poorer quarters and a tendency to upright shoulders and a sloping rump. He does not often have a proud carriage of the tail, and goes with a low head. In general bodily conformation he is decidedly inferior to the trotter. The high, bold action which so charms the eye is impossible to the pacing movement. A pair of pacers as coachers would be an absurdity. It may be asked why pacers would not do for the saddle. It must be remembered that the old-fashioned pacer or racker, once popular as a riding-horse, had a broken gait like some of the easy movements of the modern saddle-gaited horse. The present-day pacer has a true pacing gait, and is the worst possible horse under saddle. These considerations have such weight in the judgment of horse-owners that the porportion of trotters to pacers throughout the United States is fully one hundred to one; this, notwithstanding the general prevalency of pacing on the race-tracks.
Within the last twenty-live years great advances have been made by pacing-horse breeders, and an animal has been produced with which the old-time pacer is not worthy of comparison. These breeders had in mind the creation of a type of fast and game pacers for racing on the track. This was the chief purpose they had in view, and their wisdom is shown by their success. They did not attempt to make of the pacer a road- or general driving-horse, or a saddler, but aimed solely at his improvement as a racing animal. As a result the pacing record has been lowered below the two-minute mark by the following named horses: Dan Patch, 1:56, by Joe Patchen, 2:01 1/4, Prince Alert, 1:57, and Star Pointer, 1:59 1/4, by Brown Hal, 2:12 1/2. Among pacers whose records are close to two minutes are Little Boy, 2:01%; Anaconda, 2:01%; Coney, 2:02, and a great many others.
An analysis of the pedigrees of the great pacers will show that the highest results have come from the use of sires that were themselves fast pacers. The rule of intelligent breeders is to have for both sire and dam pure-gaited pacers with speed and endurance. Soundness and other plainly necessary qualities are, of course, not ignored.
Fig. 11. Prince Alert (pacing), 1:57. From Horse Review Co., Chicago. Ill.
It is true that the fast pacer of to-day carries a large proportion of the blood of the thoroughbred, which is an indispensable part of his make-up, but no breeder would now resort to a further thoroughbred cross. At one time a class of theorists advocated the production of fast trotters and pacers by a continual crossing of trotters and pacers, but it is now only remembered as an amusing vagary. As an illustration of what follies a spirit of controversy may lead an otherwise sane man into, the case may be cited of a prominent writer on breeding topics fifteen or twenty years ago, who used to argue that pacing and trotting were "two different manifestations of the same gait."
While all must admit the success of the effort to breed fast pacers for the track, it cannot be contended that in point of usefulness it could not claim higher credit were the pacer more suited to the general wants of the people. The highest art of the breeder may alike be shown in the production of tumbler pigeons and beef cattle, while the importance of the work will allow of no comparison. A parallel is found in the vast rivalry among naval architects in the endeavor to produce the fastest sailing yacht whose use is confined to the cup races.
It seems to be demonstrated that the pace is naturally a faster gait than the trot, to the extent of several seconds in the mile. The reason for this is an interesting question. The record of Dan Patch (Fig. 12), the champion pacer, is 1:56, while that of Lou Dillon, the fastest trotter, is 1:58 1/2, two and a half seconds slower. Most horsemen will agree that there is that amount of difference in the natural speed of the two methods of locomotion. The mechanical difference is that the pacer at speed strikes the ground simultaneously with the fore and hind feet on the same side, while the trotter puts them down alternately. Instantaneous photographs of trotters at speed show that no two feet are on the ground at the same time. From these considerations it seems clear that in the pacing movement the play of the muscles is more smooth and free, thus conducing to increased speed. This greater freedom and harmony of muscular action is probably an important factor. The pacer also has an advantage in the simultaneous planting of both feet on the same side, for the reason that he can make the freest possible stride without fear of the hind foot catching the front one. A great danger to a trotting-horse in racing is the cutting of his quarters by treading on them with the hind foot, and the horse knows it. When the animal is propelling his body forward at the rate of more than forty feet to the second, the interval between the raising of the fore foot and the following movement of the hind foot is but the flash of an eye. A man when running very swiftly instinctively exercises his utmost alertness to guard against a fall. Is it not reasonable to believe that a trotter when going twice as fast may also feel the necessity from his more complicated gait of modifying his speed in a degree, for self protection? These observations pre not based on the ideas expressed by other writers, but it is believed they give the most rational way of accounting for the difference in speed between the pacer and the trotter.
Fig. 12. Dan Patch, 1:56 Holder of the worlds pacing record. By permission of L. N. Legendre, photographer, New York.
It may be thought by some that the pacer may ultimately become popular as a driver when, by reason of the country being older, our highways will be improved. This is very unlikely to occur, as in European countries having the finest possible roads he is practically unknown.
Within the last ten years has become quite prevalent the reprehensible practice of driving horses wearing hopples in pacing races. Broken-gaited horses that will neither pace nor trot naturally, but have some speed, will be put in strong leather hopples, where it is impossible for them to go at any other gait than the pace, and in that way compelled to pace, often being unmercifully punished the greater part of the course. This practice should be prohibited by law. On many race-courses hoppled horses are not allowed to compete. It is very dangerous to drivers, as a tired horse in hopples is liable to fall. Numerous deaths of men and horses have occurred from such accidents. It is also injurious to the breeding interests, for many foul-gaited pacing stallions have taken low records while driven in hopples, which are worthless for breeding purposes. They may be taken to places where they are unknown and acquire custom in the stud on the strength of a record which is, in reality, fraudulent.