Racking Horse

  • HEIGHT: 15.2 hands (average)
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Southern United States
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: A natural rack, stamina, willingness, and versatility
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Pleasure riding, trail riding, bird-dog field trials, and showing

Racking Horses have been popular, especially in the deep South, since before the Civil War. Plantation owners valued the smooth, rapid gait (the rack), which could be maintained comfortably for hours, and admired the breed’s stamina, calm disposition, handsome good looks, willingness, and versatility. In addition to carrying riders, the horses performed various farm duties, including pulling buggies and plowing.

About the time that horse racing fell into disfavor in the South in the late 1800s because of gambling, showing horses became increasingly popular and Racking Horses appeared at small country shows in large numbers, often the most numerous breed or type represented. They made their way to bigger shows as well, though they did not have their own breed association and registry until 1971. Several years of hard organizational work by a group of Alabama businessmen then paid off, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally recognized the Racking Horse Breeders Association of America.

The Racking Horse has a handsome appearance, a good temperament, and comfortable gaits.

History of the Association and Registry

When the association was formed, one of the objectives was to create an organization that would serve the needs of the amateur horseman doing his own training at home. To this end, it was decided that the general membership would always have a voice in the decisions of the organization.

Initially, eligibility for admittance to the registry was determined by the performance of the gaits natural to the breed. Horses of all ages could be registered by gait performance alone. Once a large enough base of horses joined the registry, the eligibility rules became more restrictive. Today, foals must be gaited and must also be the offspring of two registered Racking Horse parents. Because of the careful selection procedures and insistence on gait, the rack occurs naturally in this breed; the horses are not trained to do it, as they are in some other breeds.

The Racking Horse breed came into being at a time when there were no shows being organized for pleasure riding horses. At Walking Horse and gaited horse shows, only horses with built-up shoes and tail sets were seen. Because the Racking Horse organization has always supported the amateur breeder, rider, and trainer, this breed has always been shown without artificial devices, extreme shoeing, or tail sets.

Breed Characteristics

Known for their calm temperament, intelligence, and willingness to learn, Racking Horses are popular in the show ring and on the trail. Racking Horses are shown under saddle, in harness, and in hand. They can perform a smooth fast rack for long periods of time. The breed’s earliest origins trace back to the Walking Horse, but the gaits of the two differ.


These horses average about 15.2 hands and weigh about 1,000 pounds. They are attractive and gracefully built, with long, sloping shoulders, a long, slightly arched neck, full flanks, a moderately sloped croup, and a medium tail set. The horses are known for having good bone and well-constructed legs. The hair coat is fine.


Racking Horses may be black, bay, sorrel, chestnut, brown, gray, palomino, or pinto (known as “spotted” within the breed).


The gait of the Racking Horse is a lateral pickup, even setdown, four-beat ambling gait that can reach considerable speed. In the rack, also known as the single-foot, only one foot strikes the ground at a time. As performed by this breed, the emphasis is on speed and correctness of gait rather than on exaggerated elevation of the knees and hocks. At shows, Racking Horses are not asked to canter.


According to the Racking Horse Breeders Association of America (recognized by the USDA in 1971):

• 80,000 horses are registered.

• The breed is most popular in the Southeast.

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