By Cheryl R Lutring (ASAoGB)
The American Saddlebred is famous for his unique and splendid show ring style and persona. Because he is superb among equines at this sensational activity, it could be only too easy to overlook his more mainstream virtues. What a great shame this would be! Many Saddlebreds proved themselves in other disciplines - notably endurance, dressage and carriage driving. I accepted the invitation to write an article on the prospect of converting a show Saddlebred to a utility horse and rarely have I been asked to do anything so easy.
A likely first encounter with a Saddlebred is probably going to be via the ubiquitous Horse Show and it is guaranteed he will catch your eye before any others. Why? Because he is essentially different: he is flash and glamorous, he is refined, he performs with athleticism, speed and animation. In any of his many specialised showing divisions he will fulfill these criteria. But if you are lucky enough to catch the top horses at the connoisseur shows, you will experience a real treat! The crème de la crème of the Saddlebred Divisions will stun you with their lofty motion, their extreme collection combined with remarkable speed, and in the case of the unique five-gaited horses the thrill of their extra gaits. Visiting simply out of interest to watch Rare Visions, my five-gaited mare, in a training session, my English veterinarian remarked, 'she makes the hair on the back of my neck prickle, sensational'. I would add that this seasoned horseman also had tears in his eyes combined with the biggest grin I have ever seen! And this is a regular response at all the demonstrations and displays we undertake.
However, amongst some onlookers, these precious attributes seem to send
out a different message, and consequently the breed has become tarred with
an unfortunate and misleading reputation. The qualities listed above
are not a reflection of a 'mad out of control' horse, nor are they an indication
of an unworkable brain. Quite the opposite. The Saddlebred
is born with a lot of natural presence, confidence and a 'hey look at me
attitude' which cohabits with an amenable temperament that loves to learn
and work. If this were not so, the show trainers would not be able
to put into him the education that is required to be a fine show horse,
nor would the horses be able to take the stress and pressure of a top show
class where twenty horses can be cutting up the tanbark at speeds of 30mph
plus all at the same time! Think about it, this is almost race conditions,
yet these mounts, whilst giving an electric performance, must stay sensible
in the head and alert to the aids (cues), they must remain totally calm
and mindful of their rider. Aren't these the qualities we look for
in a 'utility' mount or trail horse?
So, obviously then, a retired show horse could easily be a very desirable
candidate for utility work. There are no hard and fast rules
about converting a show horse because all show trainers have different
methods and different environments. But some specifics can be taken
Don’t' forget also that his show equipment would have been different to the likely tack you will use for the trail. Again, adjust him slowly and carefully. Your different saddle will distribute your weight differently; your bit and requirement of his mouth will have a different emphasis.
The Gaited Saddlebred
Although the Saddlebred exhibits the most splendid trot, he also manages to be a talented gaited horse. For showing purposes most professional trainers do not favour a young untouched horse that exhibits the amble in preference to the trot in the paddock. This is because the Five-Gaited horse must execute an astounding trot, and individuals that are strongly gaited tend to be weak in trot. Trainers therefore prefer a horse with a strong trot and train it to gait, which is not difficult as all Saddlebreds inherit the ability from their Ambler ancestors. Show barns tend to call the gaits of the five-gaited horse 'man-made’, which is confusing and misleading. The breed inherits its gaited ability from its Ambler ancestors, and inherits its speed and good trot from the Thoroughbred ancestor; therefore the gaits are not artificial but encouraged and enhanced by knowledgeable training. Just as, say, a dressage horse needs to be taught to execute its walk, trot and canter better, on cue and at various speeds, so the Saddlebred needs to be educated to produce his best performance in the show ring.
For utility purposes, after the initial adjustment period is over carry
on as you would with any breed from any background. That wonderful
Saddlebred will convert you too with his willingness, his athleticism,
his mental aptitude, and will most likely you will never want to return
to another breed. Good luck - enjoy.
and THEN Fill out form below.
OR Fill out Form Below and mail check.
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P.O. Box 54
Waynesboro, Georgia 30830