Horse Breeds Native to America
The American Saddlebred
The American Saddlebred is one of a number of horse breeds which are native to the United States.
The American Saddlebred is one of America's oldest breeds. It has never been used for racing but has been bred for the specific purpose of transporting riders and/or drivers comfortably and efficiently.
The roots of the Saddlebred go back to Galloway and Hobbie horses which were brought to North America from the British Isles. These were naturally gaited, tough little horses which flourished and bred. Selective breeding produced the Narragansetts Pacer. These Pacers were crossed with Thoroughbreds, eventually producing what was called simply 'the American horse'. They were used for anything and everything. They had good temperaments, willingness, strength and endurance. Over the years, there was also input from the Arabian and Morgan breeds and the American horse went west as the country was settled. In Kentucky, additional thoroughbred blood resulted in a larger, more elegant horse while retaining the easy gaits. At early shows in Kentucky and Virginia during the early 1800s the Saddlebred was referred to as a Kentucky Saddler and judged on beauty, style and utility.
The breed was highly prized as a cavalry charger during the American Civil War. They were striking to look at, sensible and had remarkable stamina.
Originally breed registration was based on performance, not pedigree. In 1891 the American Saddlebred Horse Association USA was formed. Any horse that could exhibit five gaits was allowed into the registry as was any horse which was seen as able to compete in a class of Saddlebreds. Later one registered parent was required before registration could take effect.
The Saddlebred has a style and presence that is displayed by few other breeds. The height of the breed varies from 15hh to 17hh. The most common is chestnut varying from a dark liver to red to gold. Bay, brown, black, palomino and pinto are also common as is grey.
The head and neck are very refined in appearance. The head is well-proportioned with a straight profile and small, elegantly shaped ears placed close together at the top of the head. The large eyes are expressive. The muzzle is fine and the nostrils large and open. The throat is very clean and the long neck has a considerable arch.
The withers are high and the back short and strong. The croup is long and level. The thighs are full and muscular as are the gaskins and the cannons are short and broad. The pasterns are long and sloping. The feet are round (the hind ones slightly less so) and uniform with large, elastic frogs and wide heels. The chest is deep and the shoulders very long and sloping but muscular.
Five gaits are recognized – walk, trot, canter, slow gait and rack. The slow gait and rack start with the lateral hind foot hitting the ground slightly before the lateral front foot followed by the feet on the opposite side. Each foot hits the ground independently of the others. The slow gait has a high collection and is executed slowly with distinct precision.
Footfalls in the rack are the same but there is less restraint and restriction imparting great animation and speed to the gait.
Today the American Saddlebred excels in most equestrian disciplines. Outside the specialized saddle seat show arena, Saddlebreds have been successful in jumping, dressing and carriage-driving. The American Saddlebred is often touted as the 'The Horse America Made' and there is a very informative book of that name written by Louis Taylor.