The American Saddlebred horse can trace its roots to the easy gaited Galloway and Hobbie horses which were shipped to the North America from the British Isles in the 1600s. These hardly little horses thrived and grew in the new environment; through selective breeding the Narragansett.
Pacer was developed and Named for Rhod Island’s Narragansett Bay area where many were raised. These were also found up and down the eastern seaboard, including, Virginia where they were also bred in large numbers. These animals moved their legs in concert on the same side of their bodies, contacting the ground in a broken cadence. The now “extinct” in the U.S. and in mane, because they were exported to the West Indies by the thousands. The Paso Fino is a direct descendant of the Narragansett and is probably almost the same horse.
Before they were all gone, Narragansett mares were crossed with Thoroughbreds, which the colonists began importing from England in the early 1700s.
By 1776 during the American Revolution, a horse simply called the American horse had become a recognized type. It dad 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 the plow during the week, the carriage on Saturday night and for other word. They were prized for a pleasant temperament, eagerness, strength and stamina.
It was the American horse that carried colonial cavalry to victory over the British at King’s Mountain in South Carolina. After the Revolution they carried their masters through the Cumberland Gap to the Frontier of Kentucky. These animals were the immediate precursors of the American Saddlebred.
There was continual crossing with Thoroughbreds, and over time some Morgan and Standardbred blood was added. When the first horse show were held in Kentucky, Virginia and Missouri in the early 1800s. American Saddlebreds were frequently judged the winners because of their beauty, style and utility. The first “national” horse show was held in 1856 at the St. Louis Fair and Saddlebreds were prominent.
Horses became a major commercial commodity in Kentucky, and “Kentucky saddlers” were particularly prized and achieved national prominence. Thousands were shipped to the eastern market and throughout the south. This is the first breed of horses claimed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky as its own.
By the time of the Civil War, Saddlebreds were among the most popular riding animals in America. They were used in great numbers by the Confederate cavalry and demonstrated incredible endurance and dependability on long marches and under fire. The men of John Hunt Morgan and Nathan Bedford Forest were exclusively mounted on these horses. Generals on both sides proudly rode Saddlebreds. Traveller, General Robert E. Lee’s mount and the most famous horse of the war had breeding typical of an early Saddlebred. His sire was the Thoroughbred Greay Eagle and his dam a mare of mixed breeding.
After this terrible strife, American Saddlebred horse went to all parts of the nation with returning soldiers. They could be seen on the bridle paths of Central Park in New York City and on the plains of Texas herding cattle. Today, American Saddlebreds are found in all 50 states, Canada, England, Gernany, Scandinavia, Italy and many other countries. The Saddlebred is the most popular of the non-racing breeds in South Africa, which began importing them after World War I. A five gaited stallion bred and razed in South Africa won the World’s Grand Championship at the 1997 Kentucky State Fair.