The American Saddlebred horse is a charismatic equine breed with high-stepping gaits and eye-catching looks.

Often called the horse America made, the breed traces back to Colonial America when settlers crossed imported Thoroughbreds and gaited breeds to produce a distinct riding horse. Further refinement during the 18th century in Kentucky created a breed revered for its quality, size, stamina, and ambling gaits.

Today, the traits that made the American Saddlebred a preferred mount of cavalry officers during the American Civil War make this breed the ultimate show horse. Unfortunately, performance demands on American Saddlebreds can increase the risk of specific health problems.

Strategic management and balanced nutrition can limit these risks to support overall health and peak performance in American Saddlebreds. But some Saddlebreds also carry genes linked to incurable medical conditions.

This article will review the origin, history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the American Saddlebred. Keep reading to learn more about caring for and feeding your Saddlebred horse.

American Saddlebred History

The ancestors of the American Saddlebred gained recognition under several names throughout American history. These horses served primarily as all-purpose riding mounts and war horses until the foundation of the official breed registry for the American Saddlebred in 1891.


American Saddlebreds are considered a gaited breed. Some Saddlebreds can perform ambling gaits, which include several four-beat gaits with no suspension phase. These gaits are more comfortable for riders than a standard walk, trot, or canter.

The first breed developed in America, the Narragansett Pacer, was a gaited horse. These now-extinct horses significantly influenced several modern American breeds, including the American Saddlebred.

Narragansett Pacers descended from ambling horses imported to the continent from the British Isles. Research suggests that the traits responsible for ambling gaits originated in 9th-century medieval England and were spread throughout Europe by the Vikings. [1]

Settlers in the American Colonies crossed Narragansett Pacers with imported Thoroughbreds to produce a distinct riding horse breed called the American Horse.

In the 1800s, American Horses accompanied pioneers to the western frontier, where Kentucky breeders refined the horses with additional Thoroughbred blood. This new breed of saddle horses became known as the Kentucky Saddler.

Morgan, Standardbred, Hackney, and Canadian Pacer bloodlines also helped shape the breed during the 19th century.

Historic Use

The American Horse and the Kentucky Saddler were popular all-purpose mounts during their time. The comfortable gaits and quality of the original American Horse even attracted the attention of an American diplomat in France who wanted to gift one to Marie Antoinette.

Kentucky Saddlers were larger and more attractive than their American Horse ancestors. Renowned for their endurance and bravery on the battlefield, these horses proved superior war mounts for cavalry officers.

High-ranking officers on both sides of the American Civil War rode Saddlers. Famous Saddlers included Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Traveller and Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s Cincinnati. [2]

The demand for Saddlers as show horses allowed the breed to thrive during peacetime. Saddlers competed in exhibitions as early as 1816 to showcase their quality. The industry gained popularity throughout the 1900s as formats and rules became standardized.

Breed Registry

The American Saddlebred Horse Association began in 1891. Originally known as the National Saddle Horse Breeders Association, the organization maintains a registry of almost 250,000 American Saddlebreds.

Horses must have pure American Saddlebred blood verified by DNA testing to meet eligibility requirements for registration with the American Saddlebred Horse Registry. However, the ASHA also offers a Half American Saddlebred registry for crossbred horses. [3]

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