THE BEST THERE EVER WAS

DAN PATCH AND THE DAWN OF THE AMERICAN CENTURY
A book by
SHARON B. SMITH

DAN PATCH’S GAIT

The trotter

The pacer

Most four-legged animals, including the majority of horses, employ a steady and reasonably quick method of locomotion when they don’t want to run. The legs on each corner move at the same time: the right front and the left rear go forward at the same time, while the left from and the right rear go back. But some horses don’t do this. They are pacers, horses who are also called amblers, or sidewheelers. Their gait is lateral. The legs on each side of the body go forward and backward at the same time.


There have been pacers as long as there have been horses. During the Middle Ages they were the most popular riding horses in Europe, since their gait was more comfortable to ride. When riders learned to post, the amblers lost their advantage. Most riders believed a posting trot, in which they alternately rose and sat to avoid the jarring leg fall, was even more comfortable than the amble. The gait didn’t quite disappear, but it lay low for a century or more. The gene that produced the gait remained, however, and in combination with the speedy trotting genes of an upstate New York stallion named Hambletonian, led to the development of the fastest pacer in the history of the species.


Dan Patch was known as a trotting-bred pacer. His sire and dam were pacers, but many of the rest of his first few generations of ancestors were trotters. At the time Dan Patch emerged on the racing scene, in 1901, pacers were becoming increasingly popular with racing fans, bettors, and horse owners, although the majority of races were for trotters. Today, most harness racing in North America involves pacers. Dan Patch’s popularity helped turn the tide towards pacing.