The American Saddlebred is a uniquely American breed of horse which is famous for its showy gaits. These horses are elegant, extremely stylish, and famously vain; when in the ring, Saddlebreds tend to perform to a high level, often attracting a great deal of attention. In addition to being flashy, the American Saddlebred Horse is also friendly, good-natured, and very adaptable to a wide range of riding styles and disciplines, making these horses popular with equestrians from a range of backgrounds.
These horses originated from the lightweight pleasure horses brought to the Americas from England in the 1700s. By the 1800s, breeders in Kentucky had developed their own distinct take on these European horses, breeding a horse with showy gaits, stamina, and a very attractive conformation. Originally, these horses were known as Kentucky Saddlers. Later, they were known as American Saddle Horses, and eventually the name “American Saddlebred” was adopted for this breed of horse.
Saddlebreds are gaited, which means that in addition to the familiar walk, trot, and canter, they are also naturally capable of exhibiting other gaits, a four beat slow gait which is like an ambling walk and the rack, a fast-paced, high-stepping gait which is often on display in Saddle Seat competitions at horse shows. In addition to being flashy, these gaits are also comfortable to sit, because of the flowing motion of the horse's body.
Most American Saddlebred Horses are brown, chestnut, bay, or black, although other colors are admissible. These horses are muscular, with sloping shoulders and muscular hind legs. They are also famous for their long, flowing tails, which are often kept bound up in the stable so that they can grow to incredible lengths without snagging or being dragged on the ground. Saddlebreds are usually left unbraided for competition to showcase their streaming manes and tails.
These horses were originally bred for pleasure riding and farm inspections. Today, Saddlebreds are ridden and driven in a variety of disciplines, showing up in Saddle Seat competitions, as hunter/jumpers, in dressage, and as parade mounts, where their graceful gaits are especially well-suited. Saddlebreds are also ridden under Western tack.
The American Saddlebred is often ridden with their tails “set” with the use of a special piece of harness which supports and the the tail, rather than allowing it to flow straight down, as is natural. Some people find the look of a set tail aesthetically pleasing, and some horses are even “nicked” with a surgical procedure which allows them to carry their tails even higher.