Saddle seat is a style of horseback riding within the category of English riding that is designed to show off the high action of certain horse breeds. The style developed into its modern form in the United States, and is also seen in Canada and South Africa. To a much lesser extent, it is ridden with American action horse breeds in Europe and Australia.
The goal of the saddle seat riding style is to show off the horse’s extravagant gaits, particularly the trot. In the United States, there sometimes is confusion between saddle seat and hunt seat disciplines among individuals who are neither familiar with different styles of English riding nor the substantial differences in rider position and attire between the disciplines.
As an equestrian sport the Saddlebred is unknown mainly due to the fact that equitation is not an Olympic sport. South Africa initiated an international competition known as The World Cup, initially only between South Africa and the United States of America. This competition has grown in stature to the extent that in 1996 the aforementioned countries were joined by Canada, Namibia and the United Kingdom.
Show Classes for the Saddlebred
The Single Harness Horse
This is a division unique to South Africa.
The Single Harness Horse is shown in a Four-wheeled cart with full mane and tail.
The Single Harness Horse is shown both ways of the show ring at a walk, trot and extended trot with the accent on speed but keeping
conformation at all times. Boots are worn on the front feet for protection.
The Fine Harness Horse
The Fine Harness Horse performs two gaits both ways of the showring – walk and collected trot.
The walk is animated and springy. A good performing Fine Harness Horse should be beautiful, fine, alert and airy.
Shown with full mane and tail with boots worn on the front feet.
These boots are not needed for protection because speed is not a factor but adds to the elegant appearance of the horse.
The Fine Harness Horse is shown in a four-wheel show cart.
Saddle Seat Equitation is performed in various age divisions. All classes are judged on the rider’s ability to control the horse. Only mare and geldings are used.
The Pleasure Horse
The Pleasure Horse is shown in five divisions: Three Gaited, Five Gaited, Fine Harness, Western Pleasure and Natural Mane and Tail.
The Pleasure Horse should be a typical Saddlebred with quality style, presence and suitable conformation and have prompt comfortable gaits that give the impression of being agreeable to ride. Easy ground covering action is desired and special emphasis is placed on a true flat foot walk. Transitions from one gait to the next should be smooth and effortless. The Pleasure Horse must be shown with full mane and natural tail. The hoof length must not exceed 12 cm. Adults and children (Amateurs) show the Pleasure Horse.
In Hand Classes
Weanlings to 3 years and over – Hand Classes for both sexes.
Each class is judged on type, conformation and quality.
Male must have manly appearances and females must be petite.
All horses must have true movement with style and animation.
The Three Gaited Horse
- The Three Gaited horse performs three gaits both ways of the ring – walk, trot and collected canter.
- The horse should show beauty, brilliance, elegance, refinement, expression and high action.
- Gaits are collected, with energy direction towards animation and precision.
- The Three Gaited horse is shown with a clipped mane and tail to accentuate its quality and beauty.
The Five Gaited Horse
Five Gaited classes are considered by many as the most spectacular and exciting classes, because of the speed and strength exhibited by these well trained horses. Five Gaited Horses have long flowing mane and tails and show both ways of the showring at walk, trot, canter, slow gait and the rack.
- The slow gait and rack are lateral four-beat gaits inherited by the Saddlebred from their ancient English ancestors and are comfortable to ride.
- Protective boots are worn on the front feet to prevent possible injury from the hind feet when the horse is travelling at a high speed.
- The trot is a square, bold, two-beat gait performed with speed.
- Form and conformation with a natural high action.
- The canter is slow rhythms, and must be executed on the correct lead (left forefoot leading in the clockwise direction).
- The slow gait is a high action gait, performed very slowly, while the rack is fast showing action with energy and power.
- The walk is springy and athletic. Good form and well balanced speed is required.