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ESI Q and A Forums > ESI Q and A Forum > Questions and discussions for the ESI Q and A Forum > An old photograph of a rider in strange equipment

An old photograph of a rider in strange equipment
 Moderated by: DrDeb  
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Joined: Wed Oct 31st, 2007
Posts: 23
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 Posted: Fri Dec 10th, 2010 08:50 pm
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Dear Dr Deb,
I have just found this photo on the Internet. It would be interesting to know what kind of equipment does this horse have and why? Looks a bit like the "Pessoa system"...? This is the description that was with this photo: "John Dolan, some time after World War 2 in Scotland. A keen horseman, he participated in races that took place on the main streets just after dawn."
And here is an article where this photo appears:

Kind regards,


Joined: Tue Feb 16th, 2010
Location: Winslow, Illinois USA
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 Posted: Fri Dec 10th, 2010 09:33 pm
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I am pretty sure it is a rig to make trotty horses pace.  I was watching some standardbred raced (very sad, by the way) and some of them were wearing these during warm up.

Interesting tidbit: I had heard that pacey horse are great carriage horses on the flat, but they do badly on hills.  While Trotty horses do well pulling on hills.


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 Posted: Sat Dec 11th, 2010 06:33 am
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Dear Ailusia and Ivy -- Mr. Dolan is preparing a horse for use in harness in this photo. The horse is wearing hopples, which are loose straps set up as loops around the left and right pairs of legs, intended to induce pure (or at least a sufficiently pure) pacing gait. They can be used to 'convert' a trotter to a pacer.

He also has a running martingale on the horse, again, very commonly a part of driving equipment.

And he has a 'nose roller', which functions in the driven horse somewhat like blinkers; again very commonly used at the harness track. The horse is also blinkered, so essentially he can't see at all where he is going. This is done to make the animal focus entirely upon the driver.

He has also not only bell boots and standing wraps, but also brushing boots of the type commonly worn by harness racers. All these things on the legs are to protect the horse from either speedycutting or else stepping on his heels when he moves at racing speed. ‘Brushing’ and/or speedycutting are much less common with pacers than trotters, simply because of the nature of the pacing gait, but a thoughtful driver/trainer will still outfit the horse with plenty of protective gear.

Further, the animal is wearing an overcheck (attached to the saddle of course while the man rides, but when the horse is driven would be hooked back to either a surcingle or to the saddle of a harness); and a crupper (again attached to the saddle when ridden but when driven to the surcingle or harness-saddle). These straps function to totally prevent the horse from either lowering its head or raising/rounding its back. Most harness tracks mandate by the rulebook that competitors must have either an overcheck or a sidecheck on the harness, and their stated reason is that it is for safety, as preventing, or at least making it more difficult, for the horse to kick the cart or driver. It does do this, but so would getting the horse broke; and those few trainers who do get their horse broke before asking him to work will be seen to use no roller, no blinkers, and although the check will be on there it will be adjusted so loose as to have no effect. Not the case here, however; this horse presents in the form that has been typical at harness tracks the world over for the last two centuries.

My guess is that this particular animal was indeed intended for harness racing, and that he was a 'made pacer'. It is not always done, but smarter I think, to train the harness racer by riding him rather than driving him in the tack -- at least for some of his breezes. The information at the link you provided states that Mr. Dolan made part of his living by preparing horses for use in harness.

So this tack is not 'strange' at all, but very common. What is strange is that any modern horse person, having all the advantages of Internet access not to mention the cheap and ready availbility of thousands of books on the subject, should not already be familiar with it. I am frequently amazed, when meeting first-time horse owners, that they have not made the slightest effort to even go to the library to obtain and read one of those large-format 'coffee table books' about the nature of horses, how to keep and care for them, different types of tack, and so forth. Several of these are recommended under the reading list PDF posted at 'knowledge base'. Would anyone go into, say, a hobby around model trains or windsurfing without first reading a book on the subject?

And Ivy: There's no difference between a pacer going uphill or downhill vs. a trotter. What makes all the difference is whether the animal is permitted, and knows, to round its back from having coiled its loins. Many pacers do go hollow-backed, especially, as you see from this photo, if they have been trained to move that way; but then again, many trotters go with a hollow back too. Any horse, going at any gait, that goes either uphill or downhill while rounding its back (i.e. using its 'core' muscles) will be able to do its work better.

Neither do harness racers wear hopples only in warm-up; they are standard equipment in the races themselves. Have you never watched a harness race? Learn about American Standardbred horses at Wikipedia, and particularly look up ‘Greyhound’ and ‘Adios’. And then you can click on the  links below to watch video of harness racing at the championship level. -- Dr. Deb

U.S. Trotting Assn Adios handicap race at

Nihilator winning the 1985 Adios handicap at

and ESPECIALLY look at this old footage of the great trotter Greyhound -- look at the slow-motion front and side footage! This will make you understand what "going wide behind" and "speedycutting" mean -- at

 ....and here's one more, for a novelty act. If our readers from outside the U.S. want a real slice of what horsemanship in the American South is like, this horse show class is a dying tradition, a remnant or antique from an earlier era....from the 19th century. The class is called 'pacer under saddle' or 'pacer to ride', and it's judged on speed and style. Here you get the rural accents in the sound over, the loud partisan cheering, and also a picture of the bravery and skill of the riders -- going full-tilt, on stiff crooked horses in the slick mud just because that's conditions and that's what you deal with. The winner is an extremely handsome horse of probable American Saddlebred X American Standardbred breeding -- at





Joined: Wed Oct 31st, 2007
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 Posted: Sat Dec 11th, 2010 08:10 am
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Thank you! This is very interesting. Harness racing is not popular here at all (Poland) so I have seen it mostly on photos. Although it has been added to regular races at the local racetrack, more like curiosity than serious sport, but I watched it only once or twice a few years ago.

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