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courtesy of MaryBeth Alosa

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Ask any owner, trainer or exhibitor about the one quality they admire most about the American Saddlebred breed and they will tell you unequivocally the horse’s desire to please, to give 100%, to give their all.

When looking into the origins of the American Saddlebred, it is necessary to cross the pond to the British Isles. This American breed came into being when early settlers were searching for a comfortable riding horse with smooth gaits. The naturally gaited Galloway and Hobby Horses through selected breeding produced the Narragansett Pacer. These horses were eventually crossed with Thoroughbreds retaining their size and ability to naturally gait.

Prized for their disposition, willingness to please, strength, gaits and stamina, they were much sought after horses. Through further breeding crosses with Morgans and Arabians, the Saddlebred as we know it today was born. The American Saddlebred registry was one of the first breed registries in existence in the United States, founded in 1891.

Today’s Saddlebred stands anywhere between 14.2 hands and 17.0 hands with the average height about 16.0 hands. Any color is permissible with the dominant colors being chestnut, bay and black. Greys, Palominos, and Pintos are increasing in popularity and are being seen more often. The neck should be long and well arched. The ears should be close together and almost looking at each other.

For years, the Saddlebred has been dubbed “The Peacock of the Show Ring”. And when talking about the breed as strictly a ‘show horse’ they are almost unmatched in their grace, undeniable beauty, willingness to please their rider, and show off to the crowd. No horse puts on a show like the American Saddlebred.

At a typical Saddlebred horse show, you will find a number of different divisions, in which Saddlebreds compete, they include five-gaited, three-gaited, fine harness, park, show pleasure, show pleasure driving, country pleasure, and the highly popular Shatner Western Pleasure. In the under saddle divisions, Saddlebreds are shown in a traditional cut back saddle seat saddle (excluding the western divisions), and the horse wears a full bridle, complete with snaffle and curb.

In addition to Saddlebreds, you most likely will also find, Hackney Ponies, sometimes Morgans, and Fresians have also become more popular at Saddlebred shows. The culmination for the Saddlebreds is every year at the end of August when the best of the best compete at the World’s Championship Horse Show, held in Louisville, Kentucky during the State Fair. There is nothing like being at ‘Louisville’ on Saturday night, which is ‘Stake’ night. This high energy, unbelievably intense, get-up-out-of-your-seat horse show, showcases the finest Saddlebreds in the world who compete for the top honors and title of World’s Grand Champion.

In short, the five-gaited horse is required to perform the three natural gaits, walk, trot and canter, but in addition, they are asked to perform both the incomparable slow-gait and the spectacular rack. Both the slow-gait and the rack are four beated lateral gaits where one foot strikes the ground at a time. The slow-gait is typically more collected and performed at a slower speed than the rack. The rack is judged on both speed and form. Five gaited horses are also shown with full manes and tails.

The three-gaited horse, also known as a “walk trot” horse, is required to also perform at the walk, park trot and canter. The emphasis in this division is extreme motion, precision, high energy, beauty and grace. This horse should be long in the neck, looking through the bridle, ears up, and marching down the rail, showing off every step of the way. The “walk trot” horse is shown with a roached (shaved) mane to accentuate the neck. Many times these classes are held in the evening to where you will find the rider wearing a formal or tuxedo, complete with top hat. Elegant would be the defining word for this division.

The pleasure divisions are among the most popular divisions at the Saddlebred horse shows. The reasons are quite clear. The pleasure horse exhibits at the three natural gaits (and the slow-gait and rack if competing in the five-gaited pleasure division) and must flat walk. Manners are paramount for pleasure horses, they must truly be a pleasure to ride. They are also required to back a few steps in the line up. Pleasure horses are shown with full manes and tails. The country pleasure division also requires the three natural gaits, but the horse must be flat shod, no pads in the shoes, or weight added to the foot. Country pleasure horses are also required to halt during their classes as well.

The western pleasure or “Shatner” division was developed a number of years ago but only has recently caught fire in the Saddlebred world. Actor William Shatner, a long time Saddlebred exhibitor brought Saddlebreds in western tack to the fore. Not only in basic ring work at the walk, jog and lope, but a working class as well with a variety of obstacles. The division has grown to have it’s own National Finals in St. Louis every September.

For many, this is where the Saddlebred seems to stop. If people are familiar at all with the breed it usually refers to the aforementioned. But this undiscovered breed is so much more than a fabulous show horse of the traditional sense.

As many of you reading this article enjoy driving your horses either for pleasure or competition, hopefully will come to realize that the American Saddlebred can be a premiere choice in the driving venue. As a part of their base training, most Saddlebreds are trained to long line, hook to a cart, and then progress to their under saddle training. Jogging, however becomes part of a Saddlebred’s weekly diet of training. Thus many Saddlebreds are exquisite examples of fine harness and pleasure driving horses.

But let’s not stop there.

Beyond driving, the Saddlebred offers their willingness to please and desirable disposition for pleasure or trail riding at home; it’s strong hindquarters and sound bone for jumping, some natural elevation required for dressage, stamina for three-day eventing and natural ability at hooking and driving a cart for competitive driving. The American Saddlebred is such a finely tuned athlete its abilities are almost endless. So many times the Saddlebred is passed over because people don’t see the potential for other venues for the breed.

The bottom line is, no matter what your interest is, consider the American Saddlebred for your next horse. You won’t be disappointed.

If you would like more information about the American Saddlebred please click on the following links:


This article was provided courtesy of MaryBeth Alosa.


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