A couple of years ago I stumbled upon American Saddlebred horses when I was on a research trip in Kentucky. I wanted to include horses into a book I was working on, and what better place than Kentucky to see some of the world's finest. My husband and I visited a number of race courses and working horse farms and were treated to some of the best Southern hospitality you can imagine. While most of the horses we saw were thoroughbreds whose livelihood is in the racing industry, we discovered the American Saddlebred horse in Shelby County, Kentucky, and visited a farm established in 1890. When we got an up close and personal look at a training session and a tour of grand house and grounds that make up the property, I knew I'd found the horse angle that I was looking for.
The American Saddlebred or Saddlebred for short is a uniquely American horse that has its roots in a number of breeds. The early settlers brought Galloway and Hobby horses, which were known for their ambling gait, to the new world which became known as the Narragnasett Pacer. Thoroughbreds brought to the colonies were bred to these horses and a bit later, the Canadian Pacer and Morgan horses were introduced into the bloodlines. This new breed was called the American Horse and the earliest known documentation of it was in 1776 when an American diplomat asked the Continental Congress to have one sent to Marie Antoinette in France as a gift.
|Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons
The Saddlebred is a magnificent animal known for its erect posture (head held high) and presence and showmanship in the ring, but also for its high-spirited, yet gentle temperament. No particular coloring is required to be registered, although bays and chestnuts are common. They have earned the moniker "peacock of the horse world" from their regal nature. During the Civil War, the Saddlebred horse was used exclusively as an officer's mount. While the breed was recognized from late in the 18th century, a breed registry wasn't formed until 1891. Since that time, the popularity of the Saddlebred has soared.
|Show Ring Competition - Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons - Heather Abounader Photography
Their primary purpose is as a show animal, but they're also used in some of the English riding disciplines and are a popular choice for pleasure riding. Show ring competitions are held throughout the US as well as in Great Britain and South Africa. The horses are shown in classes which include cart pulling and pleasure riding as well as four-gait and five-gait competitions.
|Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons
The five-gait class is unique to the breed. As well as running through the paces of the common gaits - the walk, trot, and canter - the five-gaited horse is taught two additional gaits that include a five-step pattern. Two versions of this are performed - the slow gait and the much faster "rack." While some horses require intensive training to achieve the five-gait, their breeding is such that some foals can perform the rack instinctively (rare, but can happen). Every fall the World Champion Saddlbred Five-Gait Competition is held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky - an event that has become known as the "other" Kentucky Derby.
|Five-gaited Saddlebred performing the rack. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons - Heather Abounader Photography
Saddlebred owners make money by winning competitions and through their breeding stock. It's a fashionable sport that is expensive to participate in, but magnificent for horse lovers to watch, and Saddlebreds are no strangers to Hollywood. Roy Rogers horse Trigger was a Saddlebred as were the horses that appeared in My Friend Flicka, National Velvet, Fury, Giant, and other movies. Famous people who have owned Saddlebred horses are Clark Gable, Will Rogers, and William Shatner.
Can you see why I had so much fun researching this topic? While my latest book A Flying Affair centers around the world of aviation in the 1920s, my heroine lives on a Saddlebred farm in Kentucky and has raised her beloved Gypsy since birth. I think I'm a little bit in love with Gypsy too.
What about you? Do you like horses or ride them? Have you ever been to a horse show? Join the conversation and tell me about your experiences.
Carla Stewart is the award-winning author of six novels. With a passion for times gone by, it is her desire to take readers back to that warm, familiar place in their hearts called “home.” Her 2014 release, The Hatmaker's Heart, was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award and the Selah Award. Her newest release is A Flying Affair. Daredevil Mittie Humphreys navigates her heart as well as the skies in this beguiling adventure of grit and determination during the rollicking Roaring Twenties. Learn more about Carla at www.carlastewart.com
"A well-written romance with characters willing to do what they need to achieve their dreams. The storyline is believable, and some of it is based on true events. Stewart did her research and brings to attention a forgotten piece of history, the Women's National Air Derby."―RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
"Compelling action scenes, clever dialogue, and believable characters add spice and depth to a multidimensional tale....The historical detail and vivid action scenes anchor an enjoyable story."―Publishers Weekly