The Curious World Of Harness Racing

A sport that has its origins in the Amish people's apparent practice of racing each other to church. 

Harness racing is a form of horse racing in which, instead of the rider being mounted on the horse, the horse pulls the ‘driver’ in a two-wheeled cart called a sulky. Unlike thoroughbred racing, harness racing in Denmark requires a specific gait called a ‘trot’ – the horse moves its legs forward in diagonal pairs. 



The sport is popular across Scandinavia but has its roots in North America, apparently beginning with Amish men racing each other in horse drawn carts when travelling to and from church. Now, harness racing is one of the biggest sports in Denmark, pulling large crowds of spectators and gamblers to the stadiums on race-days. The day we visited, it turned out, was the first race day of the year there was a quiet atmosphere and the stands, although grand, felt neglected.

Charlottenlund Race Track is the oldest of its kind in Europe. It has been hosting races since 1881. It has clearly been improved and renovated since it was first built but it almost feels as though the broad, wooden stands and metal course railings are nearly as old as the sport itself.



The race begins with the horses and their drivers lining up behind a 4×4 vehicle towing a suspended gate behind it. As the vehicle pulls off, the horses keep pace, the shouts and whistles of the drivers audible. As the horses are restricted to a trot, rather than a gallop, the races are slower than a thoroughbred race. This may also be because many of the drivers are in their 50s.