In harness racing, the driver of the horse sits on a light, two-wheeled vehicle called a sulky. Sulky is a nice word, which comes down to us from the Greek aseolcan, meaning sullen, mopey, going off by oneself to, for instance, cultivate one's garden. From this definition it has also come to mean a single-seat vehicle with which the job of cultivation is done—a sulky plow.
This is pertinent stuff because the U.S. Trotting Association will be obliged shortly to come up with its own definition. According to current USTA rules, a man is eligible to compete in the sport if he has a horse in front of him which he guides from a sitting position in a sulky. There was no need to define the word because, since 1892, all drivers have used essentially the same vehicle—a spring-less seat slung between two spoked, bicycle-type wheels, attached through shafts to each side of the horse's body by leather straps. Is this a sulky? Well, up to now, yes.
Here now, however, is Joe King of Lockport, N.Y. with ideas of his own. Joe is 44, about 6 feet tall, with brown hair turning gray, a Bell Aircraft engineer who helped design the Rascal (a rocket-powered air-to-surface missile) and who is now working on jet vertical-rising aircraft. Joe is also a trotting fan and breeder of horses. Obviously employing aerodynamic principles, Joe has designed and built a new—well, a new vehicle for harness drivers.
"My No. 1 objective," he says, "was to decrease the drag on the horse. My sulky is to a regular sulky what a streamlined monoplane today is to the early-type biplane. I arrived at it by a process of eliminating all elements of drag on the old sulky and using an attachment to the horse that leaves him completely free and doesn't hamper his movement." Joe's vehicle has no shafts; instead, a center bar arches up from the base of the driver's seat, over the horse's rump and attaches to the top of the animal's bellyband. The wheels are disk-type, of solid aluminum. The seat is on a bar of spring steel, with another bar off it, supplying footrests for the driver.
The vehicle has now been tested at least twice, by respected veteran drivers in upstate New York. Levi Harner hitched it to a pacer named Baldwin Hanover who promptly worked a half mile in 1:01, the best training performance of his career, on a track whose condition was "not too good." Ed Arthur hitched it to a green 2-year-old, went a solo mile, then went a second mile against two older horses, weaving in and out to test the rig under stress and strain approximating race conditions. Arthur said afterward: "This is the greatest invention since the starting gate."
So now it is up to the USTA to answer the question, "What is a sulky?" or, put another way, "Is Joe King's gimmick a sulky?"
One idea might be to hitch the thing to a farm horse in a corn field. If it cuts a straight furrow, it's a sulky all right.