Horse Breed Series: American Saddlebred

The horse is an animal which has played a crucial role in human history. It’s carried the biggest names in history, from Julius Caesar to Ghengis Khan – and it’s made possible all of the agricultural, transport and hunting work that their respective civilisations were built upon.

America is a country which has only been around for just over two centuries. But during that period, this global superpower has had a profound influence on the horse. Many different breeds have come to be in the states – and the American Saddlebred is one of them. This distinctive animal came to be during the American Revolution, and since then has become a mainstay in American stables.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this breed – and find out just how it came to be, and how it might fit into your stable.

History

The saddlebred can trace its ancestry back to the British Isles, where several different breeds of horses were developed for their relaxed gaits. When the British expanded their empire to the Americas, they brought their horses with them.

These breeds were developed in a breed called the Narragansett Pacer, which was the first breed to be developed in the new world – specifically in Rhode Island. The breed was widely-used by the first citizens of the new country – including George Washington himself – but by the latter half of the 19th century, the breed had fallen extinct, thanks largely to extensive crossbreeding with imported thoroughbreds.

By the time the American Revolution came around in the latter half of the 18th century, the early Saddlebreds had already come to be – the result of crossbreeding between the Narragansett and other pacer breeds imported from Canada. The new breed had many of the virtues of the thoroughbred, including their size and strength, as well as many of the virtues of the pacer breeds, such as stamina – and, of course, their distinctive gait.

Since it was first developed, the saddlebred has gone on to play a crucial role in American history. They remain among the most popular breeds in the states, and enjoy the endorsement of many celebrities, including William Shatner.

Attributes

The American saddlebred is slightly larger than the average horse, standing at around fifteen to sixteen hands high and weighing around 500kg. In terms of coat colour, it’s particularly diverse, with seven different colours being common, including black, chestnut, roan and champagne. Rarer colours include palomino and pinto.

The saddlebred’s temperament is gentle and spirited. It’s an extremely intelligent horse which is able to learn a variety of different roles.

The breed has large, expressive eyes and ears which are well-defined and spaced close together. The body is well-shaped, and more lightly-boned than many other breeds. It has a long neck, strong withers and deep shoulders; the back is level, as are the legs.

Applications

The American saddlebred is a tremendously versatile breed, which can be employed in a variety of roles. It’s capable of endurance events, dressage, polo, jumping – and it’ll serve excellently as a workhorse, too.

The most popular application for a saddlebred, however, is as a show horse. They’re displayed in saddle-seat style, which emphasises the height of the horse’s gait.

Health problems

Like many breeds of horse, the saddlebred is predisposed toward a few different health problems. Let’s examine them in greater detail:

Lordosis

Saddlebred horses are at greater risk of developing Lordosis – or swayback. This condition sees the spine bending inwards, creating an unsightly downward curve. While this deformity is an ugly one, it’s not as serious as it is might be for other animals, like dogs and humans, whom it might cripple for life. Even horses that are severely affected by the condition still have the chance to be trained and ridden, even at show level.

Since equine lordosis is effectively benign, little study has been placed into its origins. It’s thought to be caused by a lack of development in the upper thoracic vertebrae, which in turn causes the rest of the spine to overextend.

The condition, to be sure, can cause some discomfort to the horse if it’s sufficiently severe. If you intend to ride a swaybacked horse, then be sure to pay special attention to the fit of the saddle. Some exercises, particularly of the abdominal muscles, may also prove effective.

Hock Lameness

This is a condition which sees the horse’s hocks slowly deteriorate. The hocks are what transmits the power from the lower leg into the floor, and if they cease to function properly, the horse will find itself unable to drive forward from their hind legs. Small, tight corners will become impossible, as will jumping. The condition tends to come about only very gradually; a horse might need a little time to ‘warm up’ before it gets moving, and it might begin to use its lower back muscles more to take the strain off the hocks.

For horses suffering from this problem, it’s important to manage the training program in order to halt a degenerative spiral. Where symptoms occur, they should be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, and the horse should be gradually returned to work.

Ringbone

This is a condition which occurs on the pastern or coffin joints of a horse. It’s characterised by the formation of new bone, which encircles the old one. It has many causes, including tension on the ligaments, injury to the horse, a lack of proper shoeing, and arthritis.

Ringbone gets progressively worse over time, and has no cure. The best that can be done is to manage the symptoms, and prevent it from occurring in the first place. This can be done using anti-inflammatory drugs, and by injecting special acids into the joint. Depending on how close the ringbone is to a joint, it might eventually inhibit the horse’s ability to move. If a horse is performing intense work, or competing a show level, then its performance will certainly suffer as the condition worsens. Such horses should be moved to less intensive work, in order to ensure that the effected bones are not constantly stressed.

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