The actual origins and development of harness racing here is somewhat varied depending on which part of the UK you’re in.
Here in Wales, during a period when most people had a horse and trap or carriage, it is highly likely that the competitive nature of some horsemen resulted in a race or challenge on the way home from work, chapel, eisteddfod or hostelry. There would have been some lighter and fitter Welsh Cobs about in those days which could probably trot a mile or two at a faster pace than usual. It is unclear as to how and when the cross-over from racing the Welsh Cob in an informal manner and the introduction of the more refined trotter occurred. However, records show that the first recorded meeting in Wales took place in 1884 in the village of Llangadog, Carmarthenshire. The racecard from that first race meeting lists a combination of trotting, galloping and hurdle races and the Llangadog races continue to this day.
After the war, a new era of country entertainment was born and a number of local shows were organised. From the 1920s onwards, many of these shows included trotting races as a finale to the day. Most of these races would be competed on ridden cobs. However, gradually as American Standardbreds were imported into the country, competitors were looking for an extra edge and wanted to find or breed faster horses. By the late 1950s the Welsh Cob had been replaced by Standardbreds and pacing was the racing gait, not trotting. A circuit of races developed and there was an increasing number of competitors travelling from further afield. Horsemen made their way from London, Kent, Derbyshire, and Manchester, all to do battle at the races in Wales.
In 1963 the United Kingdom Trotting Association was formed and on 17th April 1965, a new track in Prestatyn, North Wales held its first races. Although racing was very popular and flourished in Cardiganshire, none of the results can be found in the official record book as they were considered as un-official and un-affiliated and referred to as flapping. However there was the occasional horse that may have ventured into both domains of racing! Indeed, this major divide persisted for many years until the 1980s when the BHRC allowed a ‘Welsh Amnesty’ which permitted those that had previously been racing on the un-affiliated tracks to become BHRC licence holders. This resulted in a number of the clubs and associations also becoming affiliated to the BHRC. There were those who chose to remain as members of the un-affiliated and is known today as the Wales & Border Counties Racing Association (WBCRA). It is against the rules of the BHRC for any licence holder to compete in any un-affiliated race meeting.
The racing seen in Ceredigion today is quite different to what our grandfathers; great grandfathers and great-great grandfathers would have recognised as trotting. However, they are responsible for laying the foundation for the sport that is followed by today’s generation of harness racing enthusiasts.