About French Trotter Horses
Horses in France first began to be selectively bred for
trotting races in the early to mid-1800s. The French Trotter developed primarily
from Norman stock which was crossed with English Thoroughbred and half-bred
hunter types, Norfolk Roadster, and some American Standardbred. The French
Trotter is sometimes referred to as a Norman Trotter, due to the influence of
the Old Norman horse on the breed's development.
The early Trotters were rather heavier and coarser than they
are now, bearing a greater resemblance to their Normandy ancestors, but
infusions of Thoroughbred blood have greatly refined the. Early significant
influences on the development of the breed were by the stallion Young Rattler,
foaled in 1811, who was by the Thoroughbred, Rattler, out of a mare with a high
percentage of Norfolk Roadster blood.
Eventually five impressive Trotting lines were established
and these were due to the stallions Conquerant, Lavater, Normand, Phaeton, and
Fuchsia. Although there have been infusions of American Standardbred blood, the
French Trotter has retained its unusual habit of trotting on the diagonal,
rather than adopting the lateral pacing of the Standardbred.
After the continental trading blockade was raised, following
the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo in 1815, the market-wise Normandy
breeders began to use their common but tough, all-purpose Norman stock as a
foundation for breeding horses for general military use, both riding and light
draught, and then, increasingly, to produce specialized horses of both types.
Supported by the Administration of National Studs, they imported English
Thoroughbreds and, just as importantly in the context of the trotting horse,
English half-bred or hunter stallions, which were then unknown in France. They
also imported the incomparable Norfolk Roadster the greatest trotter under
saddle and in harness in the whole of Europe.
Chief among the early imports was the half-bred Young
Rattler (foaled 1811), by the Thoroughbred Rattler, out of a mare with Norfolk
Roadster connections. He is often called "the French Messenger," as
his influence on the French Trotter was close to that of Messenger, the foundation
sire of the American Standardized Young Rattler, together with other half-bred
stallions and the essential contribution made by the Roadster, the Norfolk
Phenomenon, improved the Norman mares in terms of conformation, movement, and
scope, and prepared them for subsequent crossing with English Thoroughbreds.
Thirty years after Young Rattler, Thoroughbreds such as the
Heir of Linne and Sir Quid Pigtail were making their mark. Ultimately, five
important bloodlines became established: Conquerant and Normand, both sons of
Young Rattler; Lavater, a horse by a Norfolk sire; and the half-breds Phaeton
and Fuchsia. Fuchsia, foaled in 1883, sired 400 trotters, and over 100 of his
sons were sires of winners.
In due course Standardbred blood was added to give the
Trotter more speed, but it has had no effect upon the unique character of the
French Trotter, which is a conventional diagonal trotter, unlike the
Standardbred, which in almost every instance is a lateral pacer.
In 1937, to protect the qualities of the breed, which can
now beat world-class harness-racers, the French Trotter Stud Book vas closed to
non-French bred horses. Recently, however, it was partly opened to let in a few
The French Trotter excels at both ridden and driven trotting
races, and maintains a particularly balanced and level stride.
The Trotters are bred for functional, not aesthetic purposes
and there is quite some variation of physical characteristics within the breed.
However, in general terms, they tend to have a slightly heavy and large head,
which is plain, but not unattractive.
The neck is of good proportional length, and is well set to
shoulders which are becoming increasingly sloped. The withers are usually quite
rounded, the back broad and strong, with extremely muscular quarters. The legs
are very well conformed, being strong and muscular with good joints, hard,
dense bone and very hard hooves.
They tend to be chestnut or bay in color, but can be any
solid color, and stand approximately 16.2 hands high
Source: The Encyclopedia of Horses & Ponies.