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American Saddlebred

American Saddlebred
Distinguishing features: High stepping with exaggerated action
Alternative names: Saddlebred, American Saddler
Country of origin: United States (Kentucky)
Breed standards
American Saddlebred Horse Association: Breed standards
Horse (Equus ferus caballus)

The American Saddlebred, formerly known as the American Saddle Horse, is a breed of horse that was developed in Kentucky by plantation owners. Today, in the horse show world, they are most commonly seen under saddle in Saddle seat style riding, and in various types of driving, including pleasure driving and various types of fine harness competition. They are also occasionally seen in other disciplines including dressage, hunter/jumper, and western riding. They also are popular parade mounts and used for trail riding due to their comfortable gait and steady temperament.


Breed characteristics

File:American Saddlebred5.jpg
High-stepping action is typical of the Saddlebred
The American Saddlebred with its conformation, personality, and stamina is suited to accomplish any task requested, but is most well-known as the "peacock of the horse show world." The horses used for Saddle seat and fine harness competition, the disciplines where the breed dominates, are flashy, high-stepping animals, with exaggerated action. Saddlebreds are sometimes used in western classes and in the sport horse disciplines. The Saddlebred is very sensitive and alert. The ideal American Saddlebred is well-proportioned and presents a beautiful overall picture. Large, wide-set expressive eyes and gracefully shaped ears set close together are positioned on a well-shaped head. The neck is long with a fine, clean throatlatch and is arched and well-flexed at the poll. The American Saddlebred sports well-defined and prominent withers, while the shoulders are deep and sloping. Well-sprung ribs and a strong level back also characterize the breed. The legs are straight with broad flat bones, sharply defined tendons and sloping pasterns. Saddlebreds are usually black, bay, chestnut, or brown, but grays, buckskins, palominos, pintos and occasionally roans are also found. The average height is 15-16 hh, but can also be as small as 14.2 hh or taller than 17 hh.

Saddlebreds can also be five-gaited, performing not only the walk, trot, and canter, but the slow-gait and rack. The slow gait is a four-beat gait performed in a prancing motion, lifting the legs very high. The rack is a more ground-covering four-beat gait, and is much faster, with the horse snapping their knees and hocks up quickly. Ancestors of the Saddlebred were naturally gaited, and many Saddlebreds today can naturally perform them, and most can learn the additional gaits.


American Saddlebred mare, circa 1906

In the 18th century, American colonists crossed the Narragansett Pacer with the Thoroughbred. Known as the American Horse, this cross was used in the Revolutionary War, and made its way into Kentucky. In the 1800s, the breed become known as the Kentucky Saddler. It was used mainly on plantations because of its comfortable, ground-covering gaits, and sure-footed manner. It was developed into a very stylish, fancy horse: beautiful for harness, strong enough for farm work, and fast enough for match races. In the 1830s, Morgan and Thoroughbred blood was added to give the breed more substance and action. This produced the American Saddlebred. The horse gained popularity in the 1840s. The stallion Denmark, born in 1839, became the foundation sire, with over 60% of today's Saddlebreds tracing back to this one horse.

General Robert E. Lee had a Saddlebred named Traveller; Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Stonewall Jackson also rode Saddlebreds. After the American Civil War ended, breeders began promoting the breed as a show horse, breeding for flash and animation, and earning the breed one its nicknames, "The Peacock of the Horse World," considered a term of admiration. One of the most famous Saddlebreds in the horse show world was Wing Commander (1943 – 1969). A six-time World Grand Champion, he became a leading sire of Saddlebred show horses.

Popular culture

Many film and television horses of the Golden Age of Hollywood were also Saddlebreds, including the horses selected to portray Mr. Ed, Flicka and one of the horses used in National Velvet. Saddlebreds played themselves in the film classic Gone with the Wind, and many early action movies, like the original Zorro.

The Hollywood connection works both ways: actors today who own Saddlebreds include William Shatner, who, reprising his role as James T. Kirk in Star Trek Generations, rode one of his own Saddlebreds during scenes shot with Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) set in the alternative universe of the "Nexus."[1] Another celebrity known for owning Saddlebreds and for his success as a horse show exhibitor is Carson Kressley, star of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.[2]

Other notable owners and exhibitors of Saddlebreds include the Don Mattingly family (Diamond 5 Farms), Misdee Wrigley Miller (of Wrigley's gum), Michele MacFarlane (Scripps newspapers), Elisabeth Goth (Dow Jones), the Pettry-Fergusson family (Rustoleum), Mary Gaylord McClean (Gaylord Entertainment) and many others.

See also


  1. Trivia on Star Trek Generations at Internet Movie Database, web site accessed June 22, 2007 at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111280/trivia
  2. "ASHA Individual Award winners announced; Aikman, Stonecroft Farm, Rowland, Kressley, Durant, Courts and Harris to receive honors at American Saddlebred Ball in February." Saddlebred News, American Saddlebred Horse Association Web site, accessed June 22, 2007 at http://www.asha.net/asha/news.php?f=ashaindividualawardwinner

External links


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