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The American Saddlebred horse, a beautiful all-purpose breed, is the product of over 250 years of selective breeding. While this breed is extremely valued for its high style, beauty, and athletic performances in the show ring, the breed can and always has performed well in many other specialities.
AMERICAN SADDLEBRED BREED ORIGINS
The origins of the American Saddlebred begin with the already developed British saddle type horse. The British easy riding and hardy Galloway and Hobbie horses were shipped to North America from the United Kingdom. From these early imports, a type of horse was developed in the Rhode Island area near Naragansett Bay, called Naragansett Pacers. As early as 1776, the early Saddle Horse from Rhode Island, was considered by many to be the best in the world, being requested by Marie Antoinette of France.
The Naragansett Pacer was mass exported to the West Indies and gave rise to the Paso Fino. But in America, Naragansett mares were eventually crossed with the new English Thoroughbreds and a new American Horse as it was called, had become a recognized type by the time of the American Revolution. This early American Saddlebred combined the Thoroughbred’s size and beauty with the easy riding gaits of the Naragansett and quickly became popular in Colonial America excelling in all the many jobs a new country demanded of a horse: for riding, for work, and for pulling carriages. They carried colonial cavalry to battle with the British and pulled wagons and mobile artillery.
Saddlebred horses as a “type” , have been clearly recognized and bred for specific characteristics since the days when America was fighting for Independence as a country. These horses had already helped build the budding American settlements and after the country was independent, continued to assist in the growth and exploration of the country from east to west, from south to north. After the war they retained their popularity throughout the colonies and carried pioneers west.
There were continual crossings with Thoroughbreds, and in time with Morgans and Standardbreds.
THE AMERICAN SADDLEBRED, A BREED SOUGHT THEN AND NOW, BY MANY COUNTRIES
The American Saddlebred as a breed, after the addition of the British Thoroughbred, developed from two main strains of founding sires, although these lines are now totally intermingled. An imported Thoroughbred stallion Hedgeford, was brought to Fayette County, Kentucky in 1832 and his son Denmark is the designated foundation sire of all Saddlebreds. The second important line came from Harrison Chief, a descendant of the Thoroughbred stallion Messenger. Toss in the American Morgans, a popular type of riding horse, and a lot of devoted and knowledgeable breeders, plus the Saddlebred type, and the official American Saddlebred breed was realized.
American Saddlebred horses existed no place else in the world, but were developed in America being selectively bred and formed right along with the country, and suited to the county’s many needs. It is no wonder the breed was then named the American Saddlebred.
A study of history records tells us that while always easy and good riding, or driving horses, it was discovered that no job humans might need horses to do was too tough. With willingness, ability and spirit Saddlebreds accomplished any task, usually very well, and to top it off they added style and elegance, carrying American pride with every step.
By the time of the American Civil war, American Saddlebreds were the most popular riding horse in the country. Generals on both sides proudly rode Saddlebreds. The endurance of this breed, constant willingness and courage was fully utilized by a country at war. American Saddlebreds are depicted as the horse of choice , in most of the sculpture dating from this time. Many of their names are still remembered coupled with their famous riders and outstanding exploits.
After the Civil War, as soldiers returned home, the American Saddlebred was soon to be found all across the country, in all states from east to west, from show ring to handling cattle.
Today, the American Saddlebred as a breed ,is popular in other countries as well -- in Canada, England, Germany, Scandinavia, Holland, Australia, Greece, Japan, to name a few.
To complete the circle, only recently have Saddlebreds begun to reclaim recognition of their extreme athletic ability in other sport horse arenas and other disciplines. The American Saddlebred always remains a pleasure to ride and partner - they were and are bred this way.
CONFORMATION OF THE AMERICAN SADDLEBRED BREED, AND THEIR GAITS
The average height of the Saddlebred breed is 15.3 hands, although 17 hands is not unknown, and there are no color restrictions. According to Modern Breeds of Livestock, The American Saddlebred Horse has a refined head with small ears and a long neck with considerable arch. The withers should be well above the height of the hips. The Saddlebred is of good proportion, presenting a beautiful overall picture. Its conformation enables the breed to perform well in all equine events especially dressage, jumping, carriage and endurance. A distinguishable trait is high intelligence. Alert and curious, Saddlebreds possess personality, making them people-oriented.
The walk, trot and canter are gaits common to all breeds of horses, but Saddlebreds are also born with the ability ability to learn the slow gait (stepping pace) and rack. The American Saddlebred breed of today , as it has always been, is known for brilliant show performances.
While the Saddlebred horse is close knit, individuals are not chunky, rather they embody grace and elegance combined with strength. The very natural, unaided actions of what is thought of as the typical breed motion is animated , smooth and straight, the feet do not swing out or in, as they move forward and back. The stride is open and free, differing from the low, pointing, long stride of the racing breeds.
Because of a natural flexibility and good balance the American Saddlebred is, of all breeds, the most adapted to learning five gaits and performing all well. The natural gaits are of course the walk, trot and canter. What people call the naturally shuffle-gaited horse breeds is anathema to the Sadddlebred horse industry as the gaits of the Saddlebred breed are true and animated , and are executed with precision, speed and style. This Saddlebred breed just has an inherited propensity to learn these gaits properly and possess an easy, trainable temperament. Anyone who says all so called gaited breeds look and act alike has not seen an American Saddlebred, let alone ridden one.
America claims to have developed several distinctly American breeds and the American Saddlebred is one of them. The Saddlebred breed alone, is the true Saddle Horse of the world.
THE AMERICAN SADDLEBRED BREED IN THE SHOW RING
The early Saddle Horse was quite different from the present breed and did not lead a life of ease, being used as a general purpose animal. They were a bit smaller in size. Few were five gaited, some being easy trotters, others were pacers, some of course did rack, but almost none could do all gaits.
In the early history of the country , country fairs and shows began to appear, which caused breeders to recognize and prize certain desired characteristics and the development of the breed followed suit, especially as the amount of labor for this horse was lessened and people valued prettier horses possessing good riding qualities. The estimate of Saddlebred quality and value had a solid foundation in the judgment and habits of the American people at an early period in the history of the country.
In the 1800’s when horse shows became popular in Kentucky, Virginia and Missouri, the American Saddlebred was most often judged the winner on the basis of its beauty, style and utility.
As the country was settled, shows became common and the Saddlebred topped the charts dominating the American show world, a position that is maintained to this day.
In the show rings of the world, especially in three and five gaited classes, individuals of the American Saddlebred breed are without equal in providing horsemen with a glorious sight. Imagine a sustained competition for the better part of an hour and speeds varying from the racing speed of the rack to the restrained, strict movements of the slow gait , all plus trotting and cantering with equal verve and stamina.
This breed competing in Saddlebred shows must be practically perfect in all things. Attention is given to possessing or acquiring extreme and balanced action. Forelegs must be lifted high and well folded at the knee, fetlock and pastern. Behind, the hock must be flexed and the foot carried well under the body and very high. All around action must be straight and true, graceful and symmetrical. The five-gaited horse must have speed at both the rack and the trot. The show horse must carry its neck up!
American Saddlebred breed as a whole, when in the ring, must have flash, animation, style, bloom and an airy way of going. They must have excellent conformation and be fine while possessing good bone. All show horses must be properly turned out and well groomed. They must be kept well in form, in the ring, be well mannered and pay attention to their riders, while giving the utmost of themselves at all times.
American Saddlebred horse shows traditionally offer Three-Gaited, Five-Gaited, Fine Harness, Pleasure and Western classes ( all with variations according to age of animal, and level of performance, and age and skill of rider).
Yet Saddlebreds also own the adaptability to compete in dressage and eventing, tackle the obstacles in a Grand Prix jump course, or are elegant hitched to a carriage. They also have the strength and speed for combined driving tests, as well as the stamina to finish an endurance ride or complete a competitive trail ride.
The American Saddlebred in South Africa is now an extremely popular, breed second only to the Thoroughbred race horse. In 1977 a S.A. stallion came to Louisville, Kentucky where the World’s Championships tor the breed take place each year, and won the World’s Grand Championship Five Gaited title.
There are many opportunities to enjoy this breed at shows throughout the USA, in South Africa, Germany and England.