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Harness Racing

Harness racing is a form of horse racing in which the horses race in a specified gait - either trotting or pacing. They usually pull two-wheeled carts called sulkies, although races to saddle (trot monté in French) are still occasionally conducted in Europe.

The difference between trotting and pacing is that a trotter moves its legs diagonally, right front and left hind, then left front and right hind striking the ground simultaneously, whereas a pacer moves its legs laterally, right front and right hind, then left front and left hind striking the ground simultaneously.

In Europe races are conducted exclusively between trotters, whereas in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States races are also held for pacers.

Pacing races constitute 80% to 90% of the harness races conducted in North America. The horses are faster and, most important to the bettor, less likely to break stride (a horse which starts to gallop must be slowed down and taken to the outside until it regains stride). One of the reasons pacers are less likely to break stride is that they often wear hopples or hobbles, straps which connect the legs on each of the horse's sides. The belief that hobbles are used to create this gait is a misconception. The pace is a natural gait, and hobbles are merely an accessory to support the pace at top speed.

Most harness races start from behind a motorized starting gate. The horses line up behind a hinged gate mounted on a motor vehicle which then takes them to the starting line. At the starting line the wings of the gate are folded up and the vehicle accelerates away from the horses. The other kind of start to race is a standing start, where there are tapes across the track behind which the horses either stand stationary or trot in circles in pairs in a specific pattern to hit the starting line as a front. This enables handicaps to be placed on horses according to class with several tapes, usually with 20 meters in between. Some European, Australian and New Zealand races start using tapes.

The sulky (informally known as a bike) is a light two-wheeled cart equipped with bicycle wheels. The driver carries a long, light whip which is chiefly used to signal the horse by tapping and to make noise by striking the sulky shaft. There are strict rules as to how and how much the whip may be used.