The trotting gait is natural to nearly all kinds of domestic animals, and also to many wild varieties, as the deer, the elk, the wolf. The wild horses on the plains of South America and on our western prairies go at a trot when moving neither very slowly nor at full speed. It is definitely known that since Greek and Roman times trotting has been the ordinary gait of the domesticated horse. Some exceptions should be mentioned. At an early date in England, fully six hundred years ago, ambling-horses were in use chiefly for women to ride. "Uppon an amblere esely sche sat" (Chaucer). We would now call them racking or pacing ponies, as their gait was a slow, irregular pace, or what was called, previous to the last forty years, a rack, and the horse in England, until as late as the year 1500, was rarely above thirteen hands.
As, in later times, riding on horseback by women ceased as a custom, the ambler, racker or pacer went out of use and is not now found anywhere in England. The trotting-horse there completely occupies the field for riding, drawing coaches and light vehicles. Within the last twenty years, trotting races have become very popular in England, France, Italy, Austria and Russia, and breeding farms for trotters have been established in all of those countries. A large number of fast trotters have been purchased in the United States and taken to Europe for use on track and in the stud. The races there are for longer distances than prevail here, being from one- to five-mile heats. The custom could well be followed on American tracks, as it tends to produce horses of greater endurance on the track and on the road. The English riding-horse goes at the walk, trot and canter. No other gait is tolerated.
That the ambler or pacer in England should disappear where it was no longer desired, was the result of a natural law. His origin was due to breeding and training, and when all efforts in that direction ceased his extinction followed. English books on the horse, published more than two hundred years ago, contain cuts of horses being trained to amble, rack or pace by the use of mechanical devices, such as ropes on the legs, iron balls tied to the ankles and obstructions placed on the ground. In America, until within the last century, the unsettled state of the country and the absence of wagon-roads made horseback-riding the usual mode of travel, and, for that reason, horses were desired possessing an easier gait under saddle than trotting. This made an extensive demand for the racker or broken-gaited horse. Aside from training, the use of a horse as a saddler, on rough roads, naturally tends to impair the purity of his gait as a trotter, as that gait is less comfortable to both himself and his rider. In localities where saddle-horses are needed it is a common thing to see horses which, when ridden, go at all the saddle gaits, but when driven are square trotters.
Changed conditions in America have now made the saddle-horse chiefly of use for pleasure, and the trotter overshadows him in importance.
Fig. 9. Lou Dillon, 1:58 1/2, holder of the world's trotting record.
For racing purposes the trotting-horse has a rival in America in the modern pacer, a variety that has been vastly improved within the past twenty-five years. (Reference is made to what is given under the heading, "The Pacing Horse.")
While the trotting-horse had reached a degree of excellence in England and on the continent nearly two centuries ago, and was capable of maintaining a considerable rate of speed in races of from four to twenty miles, up to the year 1806, no trotting-horses in Europe or America had taken a record of a mile in less than three minutes. In that year the horse Yankee took a record, on a half-mile track, of 2:59, at Harlem, N. Y. The record was gradually lowered, but thirty-nine years passed before any horse trotted a mile in 2:30. In 1845, the gray mare Lady Suffolk won a race on Beacon Course, Hoboken, N. J., trotting in 2:29%. The first trotter to beat 2:20 was Flora Temple, who took a record of 2:19%, in 1859, at Kalamazoo, Mich. Following are the notable reductions of the trotting record since that time:
Dexter, 2:17 1/4, in 1867.
Goldsmith Maid, 2:14, in 1874.
Rarus, 2:13 1/4, in 1878.
St. Julien, 2:12 1/4, in 1879.
Jay Eye See, 2:10, in 1884.
Maud S., 2:08%, in 1885.
Sunol (a three-year old), 2:10%, in 1889.
Nancy Hanks, 2:04%, in 1892.
Alix, 2:03 3/4, in 1894.
The Abbot, 2:03 1/4, in 1900.
Cresceus, 2:02 1/4, in 1902.
Major Delmar, 1: 59 3/4, in 1903.
Lou Dillon, 1:58 1/2, in 1903.
The great increase in the speed of the trotting-horse is striking evidence of what may be done by intelligent breeding and training, but it must not be thought that the records of Yankee, 2:59, in 1806; Lady Suffolk, 2:29%, in 1845, and Lou Dillon, 1:58%, (Fig. 9) in 1903, constitute a true measure of the increase of speed in the trotter. It should be borne in mind that great improvement has been made in tracks, sulkies, harness and all the equipments of the fast trotter. The performance of Lady Suffolk in trotting a mile in 2:29 1/2, in 1845, was fully equal to a mile in 2:15 under present conditions. When Maud S. took her record of 2:08%, in 1885, she drew an old-fashioned high-wheeled sulky, on a regulation track; a feat that stood unmatched for nearly twenty years. In 1891, Sunol, by Electioneer, trotted a mile to a high-wheeled sulky in 2:08 1/4, but it was done on a kite-shaped track, which some horsemen believe to be a shade faster than the oval, when attempts are made at extreme speed. The stallion Palo Alto, also by Electioneer, took his record of 2:08% to a high-wheeled sulky, but this performance, like that of Sunol, was on a kite-shaped track. Sunol, Maud S., Palo Alto, Cresceus Major Delmar and Lou Dillon mark the highest development of speed of the trotter. The progress in breeding has been steadily upward. Though so much has been accomplished, it cannot be said that there has yet been produced a breed of trotters in the sense that the thoroughbred horse, the setter and collie dog, and the game and Dorking chicken, are ranked as breeds. This is due to the comparatively late period of the commencement of anything like a systematic effort to establish a breed, and to the irrational methods of many breeders. A striking illustration of this proposition is the fact that the National Trotting Horse Breeders' Association for years had rules which admitted for registry, as standard trotters, animals that neither trotted nor had a trotter for sire or dam. A record at pacing or having a sire or dam with pacing records entitled an animal to admission to the trotting standard. As well admit a Jersey cow with a certain milk or butter record to registry in the Shorthorn Herd-book. Years ago the folly of such action was seen and the rule was abrogated, but, while it stood, hundreds of short-sighted breeders fell into the delusion and used pacing sires and dams in the vain hope of producing fast trotters. The fallacy of it is now so clearly seen that no breeder of intelligence is misled by it.
All rules may have exceptions, but the general rule that "Like produces like or the likeness of some ancestor," is as well settled as is the truth of the multiplication table. A number of breeders of exceptional ability and exceptional opportunities have had phenomenal success in some seeming departures from the principle of this rule, as Governor Stanford in his use of Electioneer upon thoroughbred mares, but it must be kept in mind that in his power to impart the trotting gait to his progeny, Electioneer stands alone. The fact is also important that Governor Stanford had a very large number of thoroughbred mares from which he selected those which he bred to Electioneer. In choosing them he thoughtfully looked to the question of size, conformation, disposition and gait, regarding the last two qualities as of the utmost importance. He saw clearly certain deficiencies in the trotter which he believed would be remedied by a thoroughbred cross, and the production of Sunol, Palo Alto and Arion justified his theory; the first two having thoroughbred dams, and the dam of the last being also very highly bred. The same thing has been done by Senator Rose, and Mr. Alexander, of Woodburn Farm. The young breeder may ask, Was not this a departure from the rule that like produces like? I answer, No. The trotter lacked certain qualities, or did not have them to the degree found in the thoroughbred, among which were courage, or never-say-die gameness, such as has made a racer run out a finish on a broken leg, soundness of limb, the perfection of lung and heart action and intelligence.
All these are essential in the make-up of the fast trotter, and the resort to the blood of the thoroughbred to get them was but an intelligent application of the great rule in breeding. The rule to guide the average breeder in the production of a trotter is to breed a fast trotting-mare to a fast trotting-stallion. Many other things should be considered to insure desirable qualities aside from mere speed, among which are purity of gait, size, beauty, color, soundness, disposition, etc. It is but stating the rule in another form to say, have in the sire and dam the qualities you wish in the foal. Unsoundness of every form should be avoided, as in nine cases out of ten the unsoundness is hereditary and will reappear in the progeny, and in the tenth case the weakness that produced it is probably due to inheritance. Contracted feet, in a given case, may be immediately due to neglect or bad shoeing, while the primary cause is a natural tendency to that infirmity, inherited from sire or dam. The same may be said of crooked or curby hocks, spavins, ring-bones and other forms of unsoundness. No one can afford to use animals so affected for breeding purposes, no matter how desirable they may be in other respects; as vices and defects are more easily reproduced than good qualities. Above nearly all things, choose for both sire and dam, a pure-gaited trotter, for the gait of the ideal trotting-horse is as the swing of the pendulum. A trotter should carry his toe-weights in his head. When Lou Dillon trotted a mile in 1:58 1/2 she covered more than forty-four and a half feet to the second. How plainly this points to the importance of perfect trotting action! The foregoing rules apply not only to the breeding of trotters for the track, but for all purposes. The farmer, mechanic or other man of small means, not a professional breeder, cannot expect, with his limited opportunities, to produce grand circuit flyers, for under the best conditions they are accidents; but by adherence to the course here given he can breed, with reasonable certainty, handsome, sound and speedy trotters for carriage and light wagon, and also desirable coachers. Horses of this kind should be of good color, - bay, brown, black or sorrel. As a rule, bay or brown horses command the best prices; grays and roans do not sell well. Beauty and style of movement are qualities highly prized. Roadsters and coachers should have a higher, bolder action in front than is usually found in the fast trotter; and this quality, like all others, should be sought in the sire and the dam.