American Saddlebred History
THE AMERICAN SADDLEBRED
THE HORSE WITH AN AMERICAN HISTORY
Since the beginning of time, a certain type of horse has been fixed in the mind’s eye of man; a proud, high stepping horse with an arched neck and nostrils flared. Early American horse breeders succeeded in bringing this beautiful picture to life in the American Saddlebred.
The American Saddlebred was developed by eighteenth century colonists who sought a good-looking, sensible and adaptable animal to ride and drive. Saddlebreds trace their ancestry to ancient English ambling horses through the legendary Narrangansett Pacers of colonial times. Breed type was established by the time of American Revolution, when Narrangansetts were crossed with imported Thoroughbreds. Early breeders took care to maintain the easy gaits, and added beauty, size and strength.
The American Saddlebred was bred throughout history to work in partnership with man. They went west with the pioneers through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky where the production of good saddle horses became a priority. By the time of the Mexican War in 1846, the American Saddlebred was a well established breed with entire companies of American volunteers from Kentucky and Missouri mounted on these horses. The Civil War also demonstrated he superiority of the breed on the march and on the battlefield. High ranking officers in both armies rode Saddlebred types such as Lee, Grant, Sherman and Stonewall Jackson.
After the Civil War, many veterans went home to all parts of the nation with their prized Saddlebreds. The Saddlebred industry continued to grow due to the great demand for saddle horses. During this time, the American Saddlebred was still very much a working animal. However, as horse shows gained in popularity, intense rivalries developed between breeders, and skilled horsemen began making a living at training show horses.
In 1891, the popular horses were formally declared a breed when the American Saddlebred Horse Association was founded. It was the first organization for an American Breed of horse. Today the American Saddlebred is represented in all 50 states plus Canada, South Africa, Europe, Scandinavia, Great Britain and Australia.
While most admirers of the Saddlebred love the elegant show horses, they are now re-establishing their worth outside of the traditional show arena. American Saddlebreds have been successful in most equine disciplines, from cow horses to jumpers, dressage to carriage horses. If conditioned properly, they are capable of almost any task they are asked to perform, and they do it with style.
Over the past 100 years, the American Saddlebred has been used for many purposes, from plantation horses and war mounts to Hollywood stars. Some of the most famous Saddlebreds in movie history were Mr. Ed, “the talking horse”, Roy Roger’s horse “Trigger”, and "Silver," the horse that belonged to the Lone Ranger.
The most important characteristics of an American Saddlebred are its beauty, its willingness to learn and work its impressive athletic ability and its personable temperament. While the Saddlebreds are extremely alert and curious, they are highly intelligent, people-oriented horses. Most Saddlebreds are said to possess that indescribable quality - personality, which endears them to their owners and admirers.
Today the American Saddlebred is successful in barrel racing, dressage, and on the trail, and is most commonly seen in the show ring. At horse shows, the horses and riders are both judged on their skill and precision as they circle the arena.
The American Saddlebred is still the ultimate show horse, high stepping and elegant. The American Saddlebred is known as the “peacock” of the show ring and carries himself with an attitude that eludes description; some call it class, some call it style, but everyone agrees it is a presence.
In the show ring, American Saddlebreds compete in six divisions: Five Gaited, Three Gaited, Fine Harness, Park, Pleasure and Western. Each division has its own look and desired traits; however, they all strive to meet the model of an ideal American Saddlebred. All divisions of competition are judged on performance, manners, quality, and conformation.
The five gaited horses are typically the headliners of the show ring. In addition to the conventional gaits, the walk, trot and canter, the five gaited horse is unusual because it has the capacity to learn two additional gaits - the Slow Gait and the Rack. The slow-gait and the rack both "man-made" gaits. When the horse slow gaits, each foot hits the ground separately in a very controlled and collected fashion. The rack is much faster than the slow gait. The rack is so animated and exciting to watch that you would never believe it is perfectly smooth to ride. Watch the rider as she racks her horse and you will see that she may bump side to side in rhythm with the horse’s hips, but she does not bounce up and down at all. The way a rider asks the horse to rack is to spread their hands apart and gently sea-saw the bit back and forth in the horse’s mouth.
Horses competing in the three gaited division are the epitome of beauty, brilliance, elegance, refinement and expression. The horses perform the walk, park trot and canter in an animated and precise manner. To accentuate the refinement of the horses in this division, they are shown with a roached mane (a shaved mane) and high set tail.
The pleasure division has been broken into two sections-Show Pleasure and Country Pleasure. All horses competing in the pleasure division conform to the typical Saddlebred type. Manners are emphasized in this division and all horses must perform a true flat walk, an animated show trot and a pleasurable canter.
Horses in the Country Western pleasure division demonstrate the traditional western gaits-flat walk, jog and lope. Western tack and western attire is required for this division.
The hunter division of the American Saddlebred further showcases the versatility of the breed. The hunter must give the distinct appearance of being a pleasure to ride and display a pleasurable and relaxed attitude. Horses may be shown with a braided mane and tail. They are shown at the flat footed walk, trot, extended trot, canter and hand gallop.
American Saddlebreds have a long proud history. They’ve carried armies to war, sportsmen to Madison Square Garden and children to a better understanding of life. The creation of man and nature in concert, the American Saddlebred is truly “The Horse America Made.”