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Choosing an American Saddlebred

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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The saddlebred is a popular and versatile horse. Made in America, this horse is known for a smooth gait and pleasing personality.

History and Origin

As with many of the American bred gaited horses, the saddlebred, also known as the American saddlebred or Kentucky saddler, was originally developed to provide comfortable transport to pioneers over rough terrain. In the early 19th century, Kentucky pioneers realized that they wanted a horse that was versatile as well as stylish. Beginning with the foundation stock, which included Thoroughbreds and Narragansett Pacers, these pioneers were eventually able to produce the ultimate in style and comfort.

By 1891, the saddlebred was well established and the American Saddle Horse Breeder's Association and Saddle Horse Registry was begun. In 1908, it was decided that a horse named "Denmark" would be listed as the foundation sire. This horse foaled in 1839 but many feel that his son "Gaines Denmark 61" actually played a more important role in establishing the Denmark lineage. This horse was so outstanding that General Hunt Morgan selected "Gaines Denmark 61" to serve under his command in the Civil War and about 60 percent of current saddlebreds can trace their history to this horse. In 1991, "Harrison Chief" was also listed as a foundation sire.

Appearance and Ability

The saddlebred is a beautiful horse, often referred to as the "peacock of the horse world." This horse is compact with a short strong back, medium to long arched neck, small alert ears and wide nostrils. Standing 15-17 hands, the saddlebred can be chestnut, bay, black, grey, pinto or palomino. You may occasionally see a roan.

In addition to being beautiful, this horse is also pleasant and gentle. His naturally friendly demeanor, responsiveness to commands and signals, and his versatility make him one of the more popular American horses. The saddlebred can be used as for driving, riding or hunting. This horse is a common site in parades and is a good cow horse as well as a show horse. The saddlebred is also well suited to pull carriages and is used in harness events.

In the show ring, the saddlebred is either a three-gait horse or a five-gait horse. In the three-gait, the horse will walk, trot and canter. In the five-gait, the horse will also show a slow gait and a rack.

The slow gait is a slow restrained 4 beat gait. The rack is a fast and flashy four beat gait where each foot strikes the ground at equal intervals. There is no lateral movement in this gait.

In addition, the American saddlebred is also shown in western, trail and fine harness classes. Despite their beauty, versatility and gentleness, the saddlebred is not just a show horse. This breed makes an excellent companion horse for children as well as novice horse owners.

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