Breed evolution: If you're looking for a smooth ride with a bit of flash, the Spotted Saddle Horse might be for you. This eye-catching breed developed in Tennessee, when Tennessee Walking Horses and Missouri Fox Trotters were outcrossed on pinto horses of various breeds, with colorful results. Eventually, Standardbreds, Mustangs, Paso Finos, and Peruvian Pasos also contributed to the rich genetic heritage of the breed.
In 1979, the National Spotted Saddle Horse Association was organized in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In 1985, the Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association was formed in Shelbyville, Tennessee. The SSHBEA requires that horses have white above the hocks (not including facial markings) and exhibit the breed's hallmark saddle gait to be eligible for registration.
Recently, the SSHBEA closed one side of its registration books and required that all horses born after January 1, 1999, have at least one SSHBEA registered parent to be eligible for registration. Many Spotted Saddle Horses are double-registered as Tennessee Walking Horses; speaking with a horse owner and examining the pedigree will reveal if that is an option for any specific individual.
While the current trend is for a Walking Horse build, initially, the Spotted Saddle Horse was strongly influenced by the hardy pony breeds, so had heavier legs and heads, shorter necks, and more compact bodies than is common today. Currently, Spotted Saddle Horses may range from 14.3 to more than 16 hands high, with graceful, long limbs, tractable temperaments, and tremendous athletic prowess. Their most identifiable characteristics remain their colorful coats and smooth gaits.
The breed's renowned saddle gait, smooth as silk, consists of a balanced four-beat gait that allows the horse to cover ground at 10 to 20 miles per hour.
Owners tell us: Peggy Moore, owner of Whiskey Run Horse Farm near Shelbyville, Tennessee, and long-time breeder of Spotted Saddle Horses, says that this surefooted breed knows how to take care of itself over difficult, rugged terrain.
"They're calm and trustworthy," she says. "They're also a pleasure to live with, because they're very people friendly. And color? It's exciting! Every individual is unique, with no two alike."
Moore's favorite trail ride is in Illinois' scenic Shawnee National Forest. "We ride out of Bay Creek Ranch, an exceptional year-round horse camp, which also has a lodge. There are pristine woodland trails and lots of water crossings - excellent for training our young horses.
"I also love the friendly camaraderie amongst Spotted Saddle Horse owners, which has brought lifelong friends into my life. Of course, the horse's gait is their most endearing trait: very smooth, and simply perfect for long trail rides."
The SSH's trademark gait is long, easy-moving, ground-covering. This four-beat gait is extremely comfortable to ride, with horses moving smoothly and easily over all terrain. Since there's no moment of suspension (when all four feet are off the ground), riders experience no bouncing or bumping. SSHs cover more ground at the walk than most other horses will at the trot. Riders sit easy and just glide on by - no posting necessary. Whether the ride is short or very long, riders can relax in the saddle and just let the horse flow over the ground.
If riders are accustomed to Walking Horses, they'll already be familiar with the SSH's smooth gaits, long strides, and vigorous head-nodding at the walk. However, stock horse riders will have to get used to more movement behind, under, and in front of the saddle. Before their first trail ride, they should take a few turns around a round pen or arena, and practice sitting tall in the saddle, relaxing, breathing deeply, and letting their back and hips move with the horses' movements.
On the trail: Photographer William J. Erickson has eight Spotted Saddle Horses at his Copper Horse Ranch in Warden, Washington. Many, like his stallion, Cabaret, are double-registered, both as Tennessee Walkers and Spotted Saddle Horses. Erickson and his children, Andy, Sunie, and Ben, are avid trail riders.
"Our world revolves around riding the high country," he says. "There are unlimited possibilities in Washington, but one of my favorite rides is the French Ridge Trail out of Icicle Creek near Leavenworth. We start at 1,500 feet [above sea level], heading for Turquoise Lake at 7,200 feet. En route, the trail opens up, with a breathtaking panorama of Cascade Mountain views.
"The trail is challenging - a lot more people set out for the lake than ever see it. In places, the trail is narrow and steep, with a 500- to 700-foot drop on one side. I've seen some horses slip on loose footing there and never mentally regain their confidence. But our Spotted Saddle Horses get you where you want to go safely."
Selection savvy: Visit breeders who specialize in producing sound, sane, surefooted horses that can travel up and down rocky trails all day long. Don't be blinded by a flamboyant coat: When you've checked the horse's conformation, gaits, hoof quality, and friendly demeanor off your list, it's time to admire the chrome.
Look for a calm, cooperative, kind disposition. SSHs usually come with extra gaits. In addition to the walk, intermediate gait, and canter, your new horse may have a foxtrot, a rack, a singlefoot, all of the above, or more. Take lessons from someone familiar with all those gaits, and enjoy discovering your new horse's "gears."
SSHs usually have a wide back and wide, sloping, loose-moving shoulders; select a saddle that has a wide or extra-wide tree, and doesn't interfere with his movement and restrict his gait. Your SSH is likely to need a full-size bridle and a longer browband than one made for a stock-horse breed. If you ride in English tack, you'll also need extra-long reins - 60 inches rather than 54 inches.
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