Racking Horse Origin and Characteristics

The Racking Horse was first recognized as a breed by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1971. It is known not for its size or appearance, but its distinctive single-foot gait. A breed registry was formed the same year as the breed recognition and this group has been a leader in working with gait and breed preservation without the use of artificial devices.

Before 1970, and in some circles still today, one of the methods used to create higher leg action on a horse is “soring.” The act of soring creates a purposeful injury to the horse to force different leg movements. It is a practice that is illegal, but because it enhances the gait of a horse, is still used in secret.

Some classes in the Racking Horse association do allow for the use of special horseshoes or chains that are 6 ounces or less in total weight to enhance action. The goal, however, is to preserve this breed in its natural state.

More than 80,000 horses are currently registered with this breed. Although they are most popular in the United States, Racking Horses have been exported to several countries as well. With its friendly personality, these horses are the perfect breed to think about for beginners, those with disabilities, and for experiential treatment programs. 

What Is the History of the Racking Horse?

Before the Racking Horse came about, there was the Tennessee Walking Horse. These foundation horses were first bred in the years before the US Civil War, often in the states that would eventually secede from the Union. After the war, as the country moved toward the 20th century, horse shows became very popular. Southern Tennessee Walking Horses had some noticeable difference to the Northern Tennessee Walking Horses.

The southern Walkers were actually the first generation of the Racking Horse. Because there wasn’t a breed association in place, however, they were shown as Tennessee Walking Horses.

It wouldn’t be until the middle of the 20th century when the Racking Horse Breeders’ Association of America, the RHBAA, would finally form. The USDA recognized Racking Horses as being separate from Tennessee Walking Horses in 1981. By 1975, the new breed was already recognized as an official state horse in Alabama.

Racking Horses would gain immediately popularity in the equine world. Also in 1975, Bentley’s Ace, the first stallion of the breed to be syndicated, would be crowned the World Grand Champion. Coming from a local farm in Alabama, the $350 cost his owners paid for him as a colt turned into a $100,000 win.

Two additional stallions became important foundation horses in the early days of the RHBAA. Named Speck and EZD Falcon Rowdy, these two would win a combined 16 world championships in speed trotting. Rowdy was a dappled buckskin and Speck was a red roan. Together they helped to create the beautiful coat color combinations that can be seen in the modern breed.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the popularity of the Racking Horse began to decline dramatically. Some distinct bloodlines were completely eliminated. The ones that remained became closely related and inbreeding began to occur within the breed. To counter this issue, the RHBAA decided to open their registry to several other breeds if the horse can meet their breed standard.

Standardbred, Kentucky Saddle Horses, and Rocky Mountain Horses are common additions in the modern RHBAA. Tennessee Walking Horses are preferred because of the similar gait. Purebred American Saddlebreds are ineligible, but half-Saddlebreds may be eligible if the breed standard of the RHBAA is met.

Characteristics to Expect with a Racking Horse

Racking Horses are classified as light riding horses. They stand an average of 15.2 hands high, with mares sometimes a bit smaller and some stallions standing 16 hands or higher. Most individuals within this breed weigh at least 1,000 pounds.

A Racking Horse should offer a visual appearance of gracefulness at first glimpse. The neck is longer than average, with a croup and shoulders that slope, and pronounced musculature throughout the body. This leads to legs that should be slim, but with a solid bone structure. The hooves should be large enough to naturally limit lameness with the action of the single-foot gait.

Racking Horses should hold their head in such a way that it speaks of their intelligence. They should maintain a profile that is straight, neat, and alert. Their ears should reflect their personality and the eyes should be bright, clear, and large.

All solid coat colors are accepted by the Racking Horse breed registry. Roan coats are also accepted. Dilution genes are found often in this breed, creating pinto patterns. Palomino and buckskin horses are uncommon, but not rare, and some horses may have body markings that are still permitted.

Black, bay, chestnut, and gray tend to be the most common coat colors. Sorrel, yellow, and cremello horses can also be seen from time to time. 

Racking Horses with pinto patterning are allowed to register as a Spotted Saddle Horse while maintain their own breed registry.

The single-foot gait, sometimes called the “rack,” is a smooth gait that comes from its genetic heritage. Racking Horses at a full-speed rack have been known to reach up to 30 miles per hour. During a casual rack, a speed of 8 miles per hour is common. Most individuals within the breed have two standard speeds that they use with this gait.

Racking Horses should have an affectionate personality that is laid back, calm, and gentle. Individual personalities may have more spirit, but for the most part, this breed enjoys human companionship and the chance to go on a long trail ride.

What Is Speed Racking?

Speed racking is a competition that offers the chance for horses to compete with one another, but without the potentially harmful environment of a traditional horse race. The horses from various breeds that can perform the rack gait are brought together to show off their speed. They compete by completing a distance challenge. The conformity to the gait, when combined with the actual speed over the distance, is put together to produce a score.

The horse with the highest score is then crowned the champion of the event. Since the 1970s when horse shows were used as an alternative for racing, Racking Horses have won the world championship about half of the time.

Any horse can technically be taught to perform the rack, but this breed prefers to use the natural gait of the horse to perform the movement. Speed racking competitions are open to any breed, but if there is evidence of soring or any other illegal or harmful method to create the necessary leg action, the horse will be disqualified. The breeder, trainer, or owner may also be removed from their breed registry.

Speed racking events can be organized by almost anyone, but there are a few large events that take place throughout the year. Although the US Trotting Association doesn’t track speed racking, the RHBAA does, along with the Speed Racking Association of America.

Two events are held in Jamestown, TN each year that have turned into rather large celebrations for those who love speed racking. Called “Big Guns” and “Racking on the Edge,” these events are a great way to get to know this breed and the people who love these horses.

To qualify for competition, a horse may be required to demonstrate a specific speed while using the rack. For the Big Guns event in Jamestown, a 20-mph minimum is often required.

What Is the Future of the Racking Horse?

Racking Horses may not be the most popular breed in the United States today, but their population numbers are not listed as being threatened right now. Thanks to the quick action of the RHBAA, genetic bottlenecking due to inbreeding is not a risk to the survival of the breed. Although other bloodlines are still accepted, Racking Horses are still treated as a unique breed with an incredibly smooth gait thanks to its ancestry.

Their personality makes them an inviting family horse and a good ride for those who enjoy working with horses on a recreational basis. Racking horses are also quite affordable, with some older horses priced around $1,500. Stallions may be priced around $6,000 and registered mares are usually priced around $2,500.

For those who love working with horses, a Racking Horse is a wonderful addition to any herd. It is the perfect option for a first-time owner or those who may be afraid of being around horses. They may be big, but they are lovable, and they love going fast.