Commonly referred to as the “horse America made,” the Saddlebred originated in Kentucky and remains a highly popular breed today. Known for their friendly, calm temperaments and sculpted, sloping necks, Saddlebreds are popular for both riding and driving, and they serve as both pleasure mounts and competition horses. This breed is breathtaking to watch in motion, thanks to its animated style and high-stepping action.
Weight: 1,000 to 1,200 pounds
Height: 15 to 16 hands
Body Type: Light riding horse with dense muscling and a high-set, flowing tail
Best For: Nearly everything, from driving and under saddle competition to trail riding and eventing
Life Expectancy: 25 to 30 years
American Saddlebred History and Origins
The Saddlebred is a true American breed, and it first originated in the 1700s. American colonists crossed Thoroughbreds with the Narragansett Pacer to develop this breed, and the resulting horses became highly popular. During the Civil War, Saddlebreds were the mount of choice for many generals, including Ulysses S. Grant, Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and William Sherman.
But serving as a military mount was far from the Saddlebred’s only calling. The breed worked on plantations during the 1800s, and eventually breeders started crossing the horses with Morgans and Thoroughbreds, which added refinement to the breed.
Today, the Saddlebred is largely ridden saddle seat. It’s a popular show mount, both under saddle and when driven.
American Saddlebred Size
The Saddlebred is a light breed suited for riding or driving. This breed averages between 15 and 16 hands high, and its weight typically ranges between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds. Stallions develop larger, more muscled bodies and carry higher weights than mares and geldings, which tend to be smaller.
Breeding and Uses
The Saddlebred is a highly versatile breed, and you’ll find it everywhere from the show ring to the trails today. These horses are stunning to watch, so they excel in saddle seat classes, but they’re also popular mounts for huntseat classes and even three-day eventing competitions.
This breed also puts on a beautiful performance in harness. Fine harness horses are shown with a four-wheeled cart, but Saddlebreds are also used for pleasure driving and combined driving.
Colors and Markings
Saddlebreds come in many different coat colors. You’ll find the more common coat colors, like bay, black, chestnut, and grey, as well as rarer colors like palomino and pinto in this breed.
Unique Characteristics of the American Saddlebred
The Saddlebred can be three-gaited or five-gaited. Three-gaited horses perform the animated walk, trot, and canter, and they display high knee action and an animated look. Five-gaited horses perform those same three gaits, with the addition of a slow gait and a rack. The slow gait and rack are both four-beat gaits that display the horse’s power and elegance while being comfortable for the rider.
Diet and Nutrition
Every individual horse will have its own specific nutrition needs, but generally speaking, Saddlebreds do well on a diet of grass, hay, and a feed concentrate. Some show mounts may benefit from increased grain consumption, or the consumption of a grain designed to provide them with the energy they need to put on a top performance in the show ring.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
Saddlebreds are known for their calm and friendly temperaments, making them easy to train. This breed is prone to some health issues, though.
- Stifle and Hock Lameness: This breed’s movement is beautiful to watch, but it can cause hind end lameness issues including stifle and hock soreness and lameness.
- Ringbone and Sidebone: These conditions sometimes occur in a Saddlebred’s front hooves. Extra calcium deposits may form because of the concussive nature of the Saddlebred’s high step, causing pain and lameness.
Most Saddlebreds grow long, flowing manes and tails. While these are beautiful to look at, they require attentive care and regular grooming to keep them healthy. Regularly brushing and conditioning the mane with a spray conditioner can help to prevent knots and tangles, keeping the mane free-flowing.
Grooming and maintaining a tail can be more challenging, especially since some horses grow tails so long that they drag on the ground. Some owners regularly braid the tail or tie it up into a mud knot to help keep it out of the dirt and mud. Remember, though, that both of these options need to be removed regularly, or they could damage the hair and the tailbone. Detangling the tail by hand and using plenty of conditioner can help to maintain its condition and health.
Calm, friendly temperament
3- or 5-gaited
Prone to some serious health issues
Long tails can require significant care
Champion and Celebrity American Saddlebreds
Thanks to the breed’s popularity as a show mount, there are dozens and dozens of famous and champion American Saddlebreds. Here are just a few.
- Traveller: General Robert E. Lee’s Civil War mount performed a rack and was an early example of the Saddlebred breed.
- Easter Cloud: The first horse to win the World Champion Saddlebred title when it was first awarded in 1917.
- Wing Commander: Competed in the World Championships annually from 1948 through 1953, taking home six World Grand Champion and 5 Gaited Winner titles.
Is the American Saddlebred Right for You?
The Saddlebred is a versatile breed, and its calm temperament and friendly nature make it an ideal mount for many different riders. Saddlebreds can be successful school horses, or they can be highly flashy show mounts. They’re intelligent and quick to learn, so whether you’re looking for a horse to ride or a horse to drive, the American Saddlebred might be the right breed for you.
How to Adopt or Buy an American Saddlebred
Because the breed is so popular, it’s relatively easy to find a Saddlebred within the United States. If you plan to buy a horse from a sale barn or a private seller, realize that different horses will carry very different price tags. It’s possible to find a sound, kind, and capable riding horse for under $10,000, while top show horses with excellent bloodlines may cost as much as $100,000. You’ll need to carefully consider the qualities that you want in your new horse, such as age, training, and show ring experience to determine the type of budget that you’ll need.
Another alternative is to look for a Saddlebred through an equine rescue. These horses do come up for rescue on occasion, so if you’re patient, you might be able to adopt a Saddlebred for a fraction of what it would cost to buy one outright. If you do decide to adopt through a rescue, make sure that you’re working with an organization that has a good reputation. Verify that the rescue is a registered nonprofit with 501(c)(3) status, and ask plenty of questions about the horse’s history, temperament, training, and general suitability for your needs. You should also thoroughly read the adoption agreement so that you understand what your rights will be with the horse. Some rescues require you to return the horse to the rescue if you need to rehome it within a certain period of time.
No matter where you find your new Saddlebred, consider having a vet out to evaluate the horse’s health and soundness before you bring the horse home. A vet may be able to spot potential issues that you had missed, so you’re fully aware of the horse’s health and limitations when you decide to adopt or buy him.
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