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What is a Sulky?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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A sulky is a lightweight two wheeled cart designed to be pulled by a horse. Specialized versions designed for dogs are also available, along with sulkies which can be drawn by a team, instead of a single horse. Manufacturers of sulkies all over the world continue to produce this type of cart and to offer repairs to existing products, and it is also possible to obtain used sulkies through used equipment listings published by hobbyist and racing organizations.

The name “sulky” is a reference to the word meaning “standoffish,” because the sulky only holds one person. The sulky was originally designed as a form of lightweight transport for people who traveled on their own, such as doctors, and it initially had four wheels instead of two. The light weight made it easy for a single person to handle, reduced strain on the horse, and allowed people to travel quickly, as a single horse can pull a sulky with ease. Over time, the sulky design was adapted for use in horse racing.

Sulkies continue to be used as transport in some regions of the world, but they are probably most commonly seen today in harness racing. Harness races, which can be pacing or trotting races, use specialized sulkies which are extremely light, requiring the jockey to balance with care on the almost nonexistent seat. Training and exercise carts also designed for the racing industry are somewhat larger and heavier.

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Sulkies are also used for showing some types of horses. Pacers and trotters may be shown under harness with a sulky in some show divisions. Show sulkies are usually heavier and larger than race sulkies, with a relatively simple, clean design which does not distract from the natural beauty of the horse. Pleasure drivers can utilize a sulky designed for transport, with a suspension higher than that used for showing and racing.

People who drive dogs can also utilize sulkies with fittings designed for use with dogs. Since dogs have considerably less pulling power than horses, lightweight design is an important consideration for a dog sulky, to ensure that the dog is not injured. The sulky may also be designed to accommodate a team, distributing the weight of the cart and driver across several dogs. Dog driving is practiced in various regions of the world for recreation and transport, and in some areas, it is possible to enter competitions which feature dogs working under harness.

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