Saddlebreds and Gaited Horses

Some horses can do more than just walk, trot, canter, and gallop. Gaited horses, as they're called, possess additional natural gaits. Because the gaits differ from breed to breed, they also have various names, such as rack, slow gait, stepping pace, running walk, single foot, and fox-trot. In some breeds, the gaits are enhanced through training to make them flashier and higher stepping in the show ring. In others, they are enjoyed more for the comfort they offer in long-distance riding. Older riders, especially those prone to sore backs, seem to enjoy the smooth, pleasurable rides gaited horses deliver on long trails.

American Saddlebred

The horse of choice during the Civil War, the Saddlebred, was ridden by a lineup of famous generals including Robert E. Lee (riding the famous Traveller), Ulysses S. Grant (Cincinnati), and William T. Sherman (Lexington). However, the Saddlebreds in those days were somewhat different from the flashy animals we see in show rings today.

The breed was first established in the Narragansett Bay area of Rhode Island from a mix of Scottish Galloways and Irish hobby horses. Until the Thoroughbred became firmly embedded in the lineage, they were referred to as Narragansett pacers.

Saddlebreds are favored as riding horses for their easy gaits, stamina, size, and refined pedigree contributed by the Thoroughbred stock. The American Saddle Horse Association was founded in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1891, and today Saddlebreds still populate Kentucky's Shelby County, referred to as the Saddle Horse Capitol of the World. The American Saddlebred Museum is located on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

Located on 1,030 acres in Lexington, Kentucky, the Kentucky Horse Park is an educational theme park devoted to the horse. Visitors can take a leisurely guided trail ride or carriage ride through the park grounds. There are also educational programs and special events throughout the year. For information, visit the website at

National Show Horse

This breed, established in the 1980s, is a cross between the American Saddlebred and the Arabian horse. Like their Saddlebred ancestors, these horses can perform the rack and the slow gait. Both are four-beat gaits, with the rack being merely a faster, flashier version of the slow gait.

Tennessee Walker

Founded in Tennessee, the Tennessee Walker is a mixture of Standardbred, Thoroughbred, Morgan, and American Saddlebred. The breed ranges in size from 14.3 to 17 hands, weighing around 900 to 1,200 pounds. It is found in all colors and is famous for its running walk, a smooth, inherited gait unique to the breed.

Missouri Fox-Trotter

This breed originated in the Ozark Mountains in the nineteenth century. Its four-beat fox-trot gait is comfortable over long distances and at good speed. The fox-trot is often described as a cross between the walk and the trot because the front legs appear to be walking while the hind legs are trotting. Fox-trotters can be of any color and range from fifteen to seventeen hands.

Paso Fino

Brought to North and South America by the Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century, the Paso Fino breed developed in Puerto Rico. Paso Finos have truly distinct gaits — the fino, corto, and largo — which are natural to the breed. They tend to be on the small side, ranging from 14.2 to 15 hands.

Peruvian Paso

Peruvian Pasos and Paso Finos share a common heritage, but their breeding environment took them in different directions. Peruvian Pasos were bred in the harsh conditions of the mountainous regions of Peru and are known for great stamina and gaits that are both comfortable for the rider and not tiring to the horse. This breed does not trot or gallop, but instead performs its natural four-beat lateral gaits, the fino, corto, and largo.

Rocky Mountain Horse

Founded in the Appalachia region of Kentucky, these medium-sized naturally gaited horses are exceptionally sure-footed and were used to traverse rugged mountain trails. Their breed association was established in 1986.

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