Retraining Standardbreds – Pacers

Learn a basic way to help retrain you pacing Standardbred.



As the years and months go on, it makes me extremely thrilled to see that more and more riders are beginning to use Standardbreds as their personal and competitive mounts.!! Although this has come with a lot of questions in regards to retraining pacers to trot/jog and canter/loop properly.

Like training any other horse, you need patience, confidence and must be comfortable yourself.! Like any other horse, gaited or not, they all learn different ways. I personally do a LOT of my work with Standandbreds under saddle, in the saddle. It is common to pick up your lounge line, send your horse out in a circle around you, and pushing them into the asking gaits. I find this allows the horse to teach themselves those gaits, but not always the proper way and could allow them to develop different muscles than intended.

Once you get you Standardbred used to the change of tack, saddle vs. harness, then you begin your process of teaching them to accept a rider. I am not going to go into details regarding the process of introducing a horse to a rider unless someone is interested in the process I take.

You have now “backed” your Standie and you have taught them to stop, steer and walk forward. OTTSB already have that forward motion mentality and will want to go. As we know Harness Racing has both Pacers and Trotters, so I will provide you with a basic outline of how I retrain my pacers.

When you ask you pacer for that first trot/jog, it is not always the smoothest. For me, when I start all my pacers I will put bell boots on their front feet, getting them to actually pick up their feet. I do not keep the bell boots on all the time when training, but I will put them once a week as a reminder. I do this when I introduce both gaits.

I begin introducing them to a trot/jog while going down the long side of the arena, asking for a walk into every corner. This helps teach them transitioning as well. Once my pacer has the concept of a trot/jog on the long side, I switch it up, trotting/jogging through the corners and walking down the long side.

Once my pacer develops some balance, I introduce them to trotting/jogging a 30 meter circle at one end of the arena, asking for the downward walk transition down the longside, back to an upward trot/jog transition into the corner carrying into a 30 meter circle. REMEMBER TO DO THIS BOTH DIRECTIONS!!

After my horse has begun to develop the proper muscles to balance themselves in a 30 meter circle, I then add in a circle in the middle of the arena and drop the diameter down to 20 meters teaching my horse to flex and bend properly through the circle. REMEMBER TO DO THIS BOTH DIRECTIONS!!

When asking for your change of direction, ride from K to M & F to H, crossing the arena. I always add in a walk trot transition while changing directions, teaching my horse their proper transition. When transitioning your horse from one gait to the next, remember to seat deep and quiet asking for your downward transition and give your horse motivation through your seat and calves for your upward transitions. These are tricks I use to teach my horse quiet and collected transitions. Once your horse has developed enough muscle to balance themselves, begin changing direction from E to B & A to C.

I always do basic exercises with my horses teaching them to bend by doing serpentines, yielding from the the quarter line to the outside of the arena asking for the inside flex, 10 meter circles teaching your horse to bend around your inside leg, as well as doing 20 meter circles spiralling in and out moving your horse off your leg aids.

When you feel the time is right, coming out of one of your corners, sit tall, with a deep and balanced seat, provide pressure with your inside leg and supporting your horse with your outside leg into a canter/loop. Going down the longside asking for a quiet downward transition to a trot/jog before you get to your corner. Be sure to collect your horse before asking for the canter/loop again going out of the corner. If your horse is not collected prior to asking for the upward transition, do not rush it, stay calm and relaxed. You now have all the time in the world to get them collected and balanced prior to the next corner asking for the upward transition.
Unlike trotting/jogging, once you have been able to collect and balance your horse for the upward transition to a canter/loop going out of every corner, begin asking for a canter/loop on a 30 meter circle in the centre of the arena. Your horse may blow out, but breathe and open your inside hand and provide pressure on your outside leg to keep them continuing on the circle. They may not get the proper lead the first time and it may not be smooth but hang in there, things get better with time.! REMEMBER TO DO THIS BOTH DIRECTIONS!!

Just like trotting/jogging, begin canter/looping 20 meter circles on both end of the arena, as well as in the centre of the arena. A fun exercise I like to do, so my horses do not get bored of going around on once circle, begin at one end of the arena, continuously using your inside leg aids move your circles down the arena and back. This helps teach your horse to move off your inside leg aid as well as improves their balance and bending. REMEMBER TO DO THIS BOTH DIRECTIONS!!
Remember to add in upward and downward transitions into your canter/loop work. When changing direction from K to M & F to H, crossing the arena, add in an upward transition while changing direction. Do not rush your horse into fly or teaching them auto changes until they are balanced, comfortable and confident in all 3 gaits.

These are just exercises to do without equipment. I understand that it is not always easy having the proper equipment to use. If you do have the equipment here are some exercises I use and have learned over the years from various top riders, trainers and coaches.

With ground poles, from X to A & X to C placing 4 poles spacing 4ft apart and from E to X & X to B placing 3 poles spacing 4ft apart. You will then trot/jog through these changing direction each time. You can add downward transition between trotting/jogging poles from E to X & X to B.

You can do a variation of the above exercise but going from K to M & F to H, and reverse, at a trot/jog.

I place 5 poles spacing 4ft. Apart from K to B & B to K riding this at a trot/jog and reverse. As well as placing the space pole set from F to E & E to M at a trot/jog as well as riding this reverse.

When I start teaching my pacer on poles, I start with placing 5 poles in a circle in the centre of the arena. I space the inside of the poles at 6 ft apart and the outside at 12ft apart. I begin cantering/looping my horse on the outside of the poles, and as my horse improves on this exercise, I will gradually collect their canter/loop and move to the inside of the pole circle. REMEMBER TO DO THIS BOTH DIRECTIONS!!

You can also raise your ground poles to teach your horse to pick up their feet


This is just a basic outline I have provided for you to use when you are working with your pacer and get them going under saddle. Feel free to ask any questions. If I have missed something, please me know and I will gladly provide you with my knowledge and experience. 🙂