The Fascinating History of Furlongs: Why Horse Racing is Measured in this Unique Unit


Horse racing, a sport steeped in tradition, has long captivated audiences with its thrilling races and majestic horses. One intriguing aspect of the sport is the measurement of race distances in furlongs. In this article, we will delve into the history behind why horse racing is run over furlongs and explore the origins of this unique unit of measurement.

Origins of the Furlong 

The furlong has its roots in ancient Roman and English history. The term "furlong" is derived from the Old English word "furh" (furrow) and "lang" (long), indicating the length of a furrow in a plowed field. During Roman times, a furlong was defined as the distance a team of oxen could plow without resting. Over time, the measurement of a furlong evolved to approximately one-eighth of a Roman mile, equal to 660 feet or 201.17 meters.

Horse Racing and the Furlong 

Horse racing, as we know it today, has its origins in medieval England. Races were often organized between towns and villages, with a common distance being a straight line between two landmarks. These distances varied, making it challenging to standardize races and compare results.

In the 16th century, King Henry VIII formalized the use of furlongs in horse racing. He established the "Newmarket Town Plate," a race run over a straight track measuring one mile, divided into four furlongs. This race became a benchmark for horse racing, setting the stage for the use of furlongs as a standard unit of measurement.

The Influence of British Racing 

The British, known for their love of horse racing, had a significant influence on the development of the sport worldwide. As British colonies and territories embraced horse racing, they adopted the use of furlongs as a unit of measurement. This tradition continues to this day, and furlongs are widely used in races across the United Kingdom, the United States, and many other countries.


The measurement of horse racing in furlongs is a fascinating testament to the historical roots of the sport. From its humble beginnings in Roman plowed fields to King Henry VIII's establishment of standardized races, the furlong has become a widely recognized unit of distance in horse racing. This unique measurement adds to the charm and tradition of the sport, allowing fans and participants to connect with centuries of equestrian history. So, the next time you witness a thrilling horse race, take a moment to appreciate the legacy and significance of the furlong as the horses thunder down the track, striving for victory.

Photo: Jason Coote (2023) Copyright All Rights Reserved

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