The origin and development of the American saddle horse
When America was young and the hardiest of her countrymen were venturing forth form the colonies, roads were few in number and very rough, making the use of vehicles of any kind almost impossible. Consequently there was urgent need for a horse adapted to he necessities of these people dependent upon the horse for long distance travel as well as for short trips, a horse hardy, surefooted, intelligent, that could carry it's rider with ease for long distances at a steady rate of speed without distress to himself. Out of this need was developed the American Saddle Horse.
The early ancestors of the American Saddle Horse were very different from the finished Saddle Horse of today, as they were bred for use only. Inevitably, however, the desire for beauty crept in and a demand developed for style, finish, and conformation as well as for hardiness, tractability and easy-traveling quality and this demand for beauty grew more insistent and pronounced each year until the finished product of today has resulted.
The Virginia and South Atlantic colonists at an early date were breeding Thoroughbreds and were giving much attention to racing. Up in the Canadian provinces a hardy little horse was being raised said to be a cross of French importations with stallions which could be obtained from New England and New York. These Canadian horses had many qualities necessary for man's comfort and many of them were pacers. These Canadian mares was bred to Thoroughbred stallions and the production of a Saddle Horse necessary to the need of the people of that day began.
In 1608 the French imported into Canada horses of Arab or Andalusian strains and two centuries of use in that vast, wild and rough domain developed them into a hardy race with a saddle gait, which spread into the United States and became known as Canadian pacers. The earliest known easy-riding horses were the Narragansett pacers said to have descended in part from an ambling horse imported by Governor Robinson of Rhode Island from Andalusia in Spain. They were small horses noted for their easy gaits under the saddle, their docility, and their powers of endurance. More than a century ago the Narragansett pacer was exported in large numbers to the West Indies. From this export trade and the changing requirements that followed the growth of population and industry, the Narragansett pacer disappear entirely as a distinct breed, but in pre-revolutionary period intersectional races between the country gentlemen of the English colonies of Rhode Island and Virginia had been common, and doubtless some of the best of Narragansett pacers were brought to Virginia and Kentucky.
Of this nondescript breeding were the majority of the horses brought to Kentucky by the early settlers - horses without recorded pedigree, with no distinguishing name beyond the indefinite designation of 'Saddlers'.
The American Saddle Horse family antedates by ten years the foundation of the American Trotting Horse as in Kentucky, in Fayette County, a Thoroughbred stallion was foaled in 1839 called Denmark, from whose progeny has been produced the great family of the American Saddle Horse.
The development of the American Saddle Horse and the development of the American Trotter stand together as distinct, monumental, American achievements. There were American Saddle Horses before the stallion Denmark was foaled in 1839 but such was the influence of this horse that he may be truly called the chief foundation stock of this breed. An English Thoroughbred, foaled in 1825 brought to America in 1832 was die sire of Denmark.
Denmark was bred to a fine and easy-gaited mare known as 'the Stevenson mare', and from this mating was produced the colt known as lGaines' Denmark. Rob Roy was the result of Denmark's mating with a Copperbottom mare. Rob Roy was a great show horse and had he lived to an old age would no doubts have left a great progeny, for though he died young, he sired many saddlers and show horses. Many of his horses were taken by soldiers during the Civil War. When Denmark was mated with a daughter of Grey Eagle the produce was Muir's Denmark, foaled in 1852 and died about 1870. He was finely gaited and a horse of great style and finish. He left many descendant in Fayette and Shelby counties, noted for gaits and general good qualities. Gaines' Denmark , through steadfast adherence to type came a family distinctive in gait, manner , conformation, differing somewhat from all other horses finer than any, more beautiful, more intelligent and more useful than all - the American Saddle Horse.
While everywhere there are other strains of horses selected and used for riding, nowhere else, so far as we know, is there a distinct type bred, adhered to, or designated as a breed of Saddle Horses. The hereditary ability of the Saddle Horse to learn the easy gaits of the Saddle horse doubtless comes from the ambling horse on which the Thoroughbred was originally crossed, but the tendencies of the American Saddle horse need to be developed and the hereditary tendency is manifest by training.
To stimulate better care in breeding, to encourage more rigid selection of both stallions and mares, and for greater and better protection of the American Saddle Horse through adherence to a recognized type, there was established in April 1891 the National Saddle Horse Breeders Association and a Saddle horse Register was provided.
In order to establish rules for registration of animals by breeding in the first volume of the Register, it became necessary so select certain great sires thought to be worth of this distinction by reason of breeding and production and enter them as sources of saddle stock. The progenitors only of what were known to be saddle strains of horses were selected for the foundation list. In most of these foundation stallions there was a strong admixture of Thoroughbred blood and most of them traced to the great mother of Denmark, Betsey Harrison and possibly owe to this origin their reproduction of the American Saddle Horses.