There are few breeds which can match the gracefulness of the American Saddle Horse in the show ring. However, this breed has a rich history far removed from the show world. The breed was originally known as the Kentucky Saddle Horse. It was created to serve the needs of farmers and planters who often have to remain in the saddle from dawn until dusk supervising work in the fields. The horse bred for this role needed an even gait which would provide a smooth ride, and the stamina to work long hours. Sometimes the horse would also have to work in harness. In addition to the breed’s celebrated role as a showman, it is also successful in trail riding, show jumping, and dressage.
The conformation and overall appearance of the American Saddle Horse is elegance itself. The head is refined and relatively small, with large, expressive eyes and ears that are held erect. The neck is long, erect, and muscular. The body is compact with strong shoulders and smooth, muscular quarters. The legs are clean, long, and have excellent bone. The hooves are often allowed to grow long. The breed stands between 15 and 16 hands in height. The American Saddle Horse is seen in a variety of colors, the most prominent being bay, brown, chestnut, and black.
For many years the vast rough American Terrain required traveling by horseback. Therefore, Americans placed great stock in a horse which could carry them smoothly yet swiftly on their journeys. Cross-breeding horses of various origins led to the creation of a class of horses known as saddlers. These were similar only in that they possessed an excellent gait. The qualities which make the American Saddle Horse such a distinct breed are derived from many other breeds which influenced it. Among these were the Thoroughbred, Morgan, Narragansett Pacer (now extinct), and Canadian Pacer. The acknowledged foundation sire was the Thoroughbred Denmark, who was foaled in 1839 and who died in 1858.
In addition to its elegant conformation, the American Saddle Horse is an outstanding performer. There are three types of Saddle Horse: The Harness type, and the three and Five-Gaited types. The Harness type is shown in light harness put to a light, four-wheeled vehicle. It performs the walk and Park Trot. The Three-Gaited Saddle Horse works at the walk, trot, and canter. The Five-Gaited Saddle Horse works at the latter gaits as well as the Slow-Gait and the Rack. The Slow-Gait is a rou-beat gait with remarkable action. The Rack resembles the Slow-Gait although it is done at a much higher speed.
Until the late 1800s, the Saddle Horse was considered a type, not a formal breed, In 1891, an attempt was made to register the pedigrees of the most important saddle horses in America. A group of representatives of prominent breeding localities created a list of 17 major stallions. In 1902, the list was reduced to 10. In 1908, only one stallion, named Denmark, remained on the list. Foaled in Kentucky in 1839, Denmark was a Thoroughbred, Besides being a beautiful brown horse and a great sire, Denmark was a successful four-mile racer.
FAMOUS AMERICAN SADDLE HORSES
There have been hundreds of truly outstanding Saddle Horses. Any list of the very greatest would include the following:
Denmark: Foaled in 1939 and owned by Samuel Davenport of Kentucky. Denmark was Hedgeford, out of Betsey Harrison, both Thoroughbreds. Denmark began a great family of Saddle Horses, his most important son being Gaines Denmark 61.
Harrison Cheif – Foaled in 1872 and bred by J.W. Cromwell of Kentucky. Harrison Chief’s ancestors were Trotters. Harrison Chief was a prepotent sire whose offspring showed dynamic action in harness and under saddle. He sired the great Bourbon Chief who was the first horse to combine the qualities of Chief and Denmark Families.
The Great Wing Commander – The Great Wing Commander became a legend in his own time. Foaled in 1943, he was bred and owned by Dodge Stables. Wing Commander was trained and shown by the incomparable Earl Teater. In 1946, Wing Commander was first entered in competition as a five-gaited stallion and began a career of consistent championships. At the Kentucky State Fair in 1948, he won the five-gaited world’s grand championship. He continued to win this championship until 1953 when he retired to stud at Dodge Stables. Wing Commander earned a reputation as a prepotent sire of Champion Saddle Horses.
American Saddlebred Influences:
3. Narrangansett Pacer
4. Canadian Pacer
For more information, contact:
American Saddlebred Horse Association
4093 Iron Works Parkway
Lexington, KY 40511