The American saddlebred horse is distinctly an American creation. With at least passable roads in the East, the breeding of harness horses was centered in this area, particularly in the vicinity of New York and Philadelphia. Farther inland, however, roads were few and far between, and horses’ backs afforded the chief means of transportation. The early residents of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia selected animals with easy, lateral, ambling gaits, finding these to be most desirable to ride over plantations and hilly and rolling grazing areas, especially on long journeys.
Animals of the Thoroughbred breed and what later proved to be the forerunners of the Morgan and Standardbred breeds were also infused. The type of horse demanded was one that could travel long distances without distress to either the horse or the rider and which possessed beauty, speed, tractability, intelligence, courage, durability, longevity, and versatility (adapted to harness use if desired). Conditions calling for horses of this type prevailed throughout the states mentioned, beginning with the earliest settlement.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the men, women, and children of this area became equestrians. The amalgamation of diverse blood continued and with it constant selection for the desired qualities, particularly adaptability to easy riding gaits. Eventually, the plantation owners fixed a definite and beautiful type, even though it was not to be known as a breed until many years later, since no breed registry association was formed until The modern American Saddlebred Horse now traces most of its origin to a four-mile Thoroughbred race stallion, Denmark (foaled in 1839).
Although this horse did not achieve great fame on the track, his races were said to be characterized by unusual stamina and gameness. Denmark left numerous progeny, but his most notable offspring was Gaine’s Denmark, out of a natural ambler of native stock, known as the Stevenson mare. Many have credited this mare with being of greater foundation importance than Denmark himself. Certainly, the Stevenson mare supplied the genetic basis for the gaits so easily attained by her descendants.
American Saddlebred Horse Characteristics
The chief distinguishing characteristic of horses of this breed is their ability to furnish an easy ride with great style and animation. Park hacks may be either three- or five-gaited, the choice being largely a matter of preference and training. Walk-trot-canter horses are known as three-gaited; whereas animals possessing the rack, and, in addition, a slow gait (running walk, fox trot, or slow pace) are known as five-gaited.
Members of the breed are usually bay, brown, chestnut, gray, black, or golden in color. Most of them stand from 15 to 16 hands in height and weigh from 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. The American Saddlebred Horse is noted for a beautiful head carried on a long graceful neck, short rounded back, level croup, high-set tail, and proud action.
The entire ensemble is without a peer when it comes to style, spirit, and animation. At the same time, members of the breed are docile, intelligent, and tractable
Adaptation and Use
The American Saddlebred Horse is now used almost exclusively as a three- or five-gaited saddle horse. Many of these horses are still used for business purposes, but by far the greater number of the top animals are used as pleasure horses—either on the bridle paths or in the show-ring.
Fine harness show horses come from the American Saddlebred Horse, and it has been said that horses of this breed meet the demand for combination horses better than any other group. Animals of American Saddlebred Horse extraction are occasionally used as stock horses, jumpers, and for other light horse purposes; but their versatility does not approach that of the Thoroughbred. They are primarily a park hack, for which use they are preeminent.