Coldblooded Trotter Career Length

Researchers from around the world are conducting studies and learning more about how Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds deal with workloads, how feeding and management can affect their performance, and what factors might influence their career length.

But what about local racing breeds? Those produced for Quarter Horse racing in the U.S. or for Icelandic pace racing in Iceland? Or how about the coldblooded, draftlike trotter bred for harness racing in Norway and Sweden?

Studying health and welfare in local racing breeds has great importance, especially as people become more attuned to animal well-being, said Brandon Velie, BSc, MSc, PhD, researcher in the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, in Uppsala.

That’s why Velie; Gabriella Lindgren, MSc, PhD, of the SLU Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics; Eric Strand, MSc, PhD, of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, in Oslo; and colleagues recently investigated risk factors specific to career length in Norwegian-Swedish Coldblooded Trotters (NSCT).

“Smaller, native populations are often understudied, despite their heightened vulnerability to disease outbreaks, misguided breeding trends, and debilitating disorders,” his group stated in a recent research publication. Local racehorse breeds experience “many, if not all, of the same selection and training pressures as larger racehorse populations.”

As such, as part of a larger NSCT industry-driven study, Velie and colleagues evaluated how gender, age at first race start, number of starts (total and as 2- or 3-year-olds), and career earnings were associated with career length in NSCTs. They looked at data from nearly 15,000 NSCTs born over a nine-year period, about half of which raced at least once.

They found that this local racing breed had significantly different factors affecting career length than Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, he said. For example, stallions had much longer careers—with higher earnings—than geldings and mares. That is probably related to the fact that NSCTs can be bred via artificial insemination, unlike Thoroughbreds.

“Generally speaking, stallions are stallions for a reason—meaning, these are elite horses with a high potential for success,” Velie said. “Across most racing breeds, stallions often achieve a certain level of success and then their career is cut short so they can become breeding stallions. But NSCT stallions can continue to race while still being used as breeding stallions.”

In fact, NSCT racehorses can continue to race until they’re 16 years old, he said. As a result, many stallions are still racing even in their teens. And because they are required to compete at levels established according to their previous earnings, they continue to advance their careers as they meet with tougher competition.

On the other hand, how the age at which NSCTs made their first starts correlated to career length was similar to larger racehorse populations. Velie and colleagues found that a younger starting age was associated with a longer career on the track—consistent with what other scientists have already observed in Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds.

“Currently, the vast majority of NSCTs are produced for racing purposes; thus, understanding how long they typically fulfill this purpose is essential not just from a product quality perspective but also from an animal welfare perspective,” he said.

The study, “Competition lifespan survival analysis in the Norwegian‐Swedish Coldblooded Trotter racehorse,” was published in the Equine Veterinary Journal