American Saddlebred

Harry Callahan

            © American Saddlebred Horse Association



The American Saddlebred horse can trace its roots to the natural-gaited Galloway and Hobbie horses which came to North America from the British Isles. These hardy little horses thrived and grew in the new environment, and through selective breeding the Narragansett Pacer was developed along the eastern seaboard. The Narragansetts were crossed with Thoroughbreds imported to America in the early 1700s, and by the time of the Revolutionary War, a horse called simply "the American horse" was a recognized type.

These horses had the size and beauty of the Thoroughbred, but retained the ability to learn the easy-riding gaits. These animals were used for riding, to pull carriages and for other work. They were prized for a pleasant temperament, eagerness, strength and stamina.

There was continual crossing with Thoroughbreds, along with other breeds including Arabian and Morgan. Thus, when the first horse shows were held in Kentucky and Virginia in the early 1800s, American Saddlebreds, generally referred to as Kentucky Saddlers at that time, were frequently judged the winners because of their beauty, style and utility.

Breed Standards

Saddlebreds come in almost all colors, ranging in height from 14 to 17 hands, and weigh 800 to 1,200 pounds.

The head and eye of the ideal American Saddlebred suggest refinement and intelligence. Long, sloping pasterns give a spring to the stride, making Saddlebreds very comfortable to ride. High quality, smoothness and balanced proportions complete and overall picture of symmetry and style.

Perhaps the breed's most distinguishing trait is its mental acumen. Happy, alert and curious, American Saddlebreds possess that people-oriented quality called personality, endearing them to their owners and admirers.

The Breed Today

Today, the American Saddlebred is best known for being the ultimate show horse, high-stepping and elegant, as he performs his five gaits - the walk, trot, canter, slow gait and rack. The slow gait and rack were developed from the easy-riding gait traits the Saddlebred had inherited. The footfalls of the slow gait and rack begin with the lateral front and hind feet starting almost together, but the hind foot contacts the ground slightly before its lateral forefoot. The slow gait is a highly-collected gait with each of the four feet striking the ground separately. It is executed slowly but with distinct precision, full of style and brilliant restraint. In the rack, each foot meets the ground at equal, separate intervals. It gives a smooth ride while the horse performs in a slightly uninhibited manner, with great animation, speed and correct form. In recent years, it has also become increasingly common for American Saddlebreds to participate in disciplines outside of the traditional show ring, including Dressage, Endurance, Combined Driving Events, and Hunter/Jumper disciplines, to name a few.

Ctrilisa Carlos

© American Saddlebred Horse Association



At Saddlebred breed shows, American Saddlebreds compete in four primary divisions in the show ring: Five-Gaited, Three-Gaited, Fine Harness, and Pleasure. Other divisions in which Saddlebreds generally show include Western and Hunt Seat.

The three natural gaits in which the Saddlebred is shown are the walk, trot and canter. Judging at the walk is based on manners, quality and natural action. The trot is a natural, two-beat diagonal gait, in which the front foot and the opposite hind foot take off from the ground in unison and land simultaneously. The canter is relatively slow, lofty and fluid, with a definite three-beat cadence.

The five-gaited horse showcases the three natural gaits as well as two additional trained gaits - the slow gait and rack. The slow gait is a four-beat gait with each of the feet striking the ground separately. It is executed slowly but with true and distinct precision. The rack is a four-beat gait which is highly animated and performed with great action and speed.

Each division has its own "look," and competitors should be groomed to perfection. Five-gaited, fine harness and show pleasure horses are exhibited with full manes and tails. Five-gaited and fine harness horses also wear protective boots on their front feet. Three-gaited horses are shown with roached, or trimmed manes, to accentuate their long, fine necks.

The common denominator for Saddlebreds in the show ring is that they should be alert, showing with neck arched, head up and ears forward, projecting an attitude of "Look at me!" They are judged on performance, manners, presence, quality and conformation.

Additional Information

For additional information contact:

    American Saddlebred Horse Association
    4083 Iron Works Parkway
    Lexington, KY 40511
    (859) 259-2742
    [email protected]