Famous horseman Tom Bass on Belle Beach
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 NarragansettPacer 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.
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.