Adapted largely from the best modern authorities on "The American Saddler," for use in the class-room.
The first use made of the horse by man was for riding bareback. Later he was furnished with the saddle. This noble animal was first used in war long before he became employed in peaceful industry. Even after he was used in harness, his first connection with it was in drawing chariots of war. These ancient war-horses were a great factor in molding history. The decline of Rome was partly due to the horsemanship of the Huns, who originated in the country north of the Chinese wall, and whose barbaric hordes poured over the Empire. The Arabs were warlike and conquering because of their horses; where would the Boers have been if it were not for their active saddle ponies?
Such has been the association between horse and man for so long a time that it is no wonder he should have inherited a love for the animal.
In the northern United States, the winters are too cold for horseback riding and in summer the roads are better cared for than in the South; hence road horses became more common than saddlers and the road wagon more in evidence than the saddle. The running horse, the foundation of the saddler, was always a special pet of the southerner, who was not driven to the use of the trotter by the strict puritan ideas of New England; hence the South, particulary Kentucky, is preeminently the home of the American saddler, formerly called the Kentucky saddle-horse. When the pioneers went to that state, it was a choice between going on horseback or on foot, and practically everybody rode. In those old times there were no railroads, and the highways were too poor for wheel vehicles, so that the inhabitants were compelled to use the saddle for traveling both short and long distances. But the saddlers of those days were not the high, stylish steppers of the present.
Some of the best foundation horses came from Canada, where the pace, or ambling gait, has been most encouraged; while Virginia and the South Atlantic States have given more attention to race-horses. This type of Canadian horses is said to be a cross of early French stock with stallions brought from New York and New England, and combined the hardiness and perhaps gait of the former with the better size of the latter. About 1830, there were imported into Kentucky the thoroughbred and half-bloods from Virginia, and a few of the pacers from Canada. These were crossed, and produced a more useful animal for saddle purposes than any bred there before. It was found that certain strains of the thoroughbred blood made the best cross with the pacers or any native strains, for the production of horses with saddle gaits. Those which were thus best suited for the purpose were selected and bred in and in. Especially distinguished among these, and today the most famous, was Denmark, who had three sons notable under the saddle and winners in the show ring. Of these, Gaines' Denmark was the best, and stands at the head of a family. Wherever his blood reached, fine saddle and harness qualities resulted. Many of the best Canadian pacers were crossed with Denmark, and this mingling of thoroughbred, trotting blood and old "side wheelers" (pacers) was the foundation of the grace and gaits of the American saddler. The thoroughbred alone is too high-mettled, and the other strains are too plodding, and lacking in spirit. There are about a dozen good strains, but all "nick" best with the Den-marks, and they in turn "nick" with certain strains of the thoroughbred or running-horse. Denmark is to the saddler what Rysdzke's Hambletonian is to the trotter. His family is said to be of uniformly good size and constitution, of pleasing color and disposition, with a fine high bearing and markedly prepotent powers. Besides the Denmark family, other families are coming into use, such as Cabell's Lexington (a Morgan strain), Dremon, Waxy, Eureka, Dillard and others. Cabell's Lexington and Dremon were progenitors of distinct family types, but both showed their Canadian blood in their heavy manes and tails. Dremon and John Waxey, son of Waxey, bore strong resemblance to the Canadian horse. With such composite blood, Kentucky early became famous for saddlers, which were equally good for harness.
These horses are the product of the southern bridle path, and have been thoroughly trained in gaits most comfortable to the rider and easy to the horse - the walk, trot, canter, running walk, fox trot and slow pace. Many gentlemen lived a good deal in the saddle, and gaits which the horse and rider could endure all day were necessary. The abrupt trot of the English hackney was not adapted to a warm climate, since it was hard on both horse and rider, and, though the "side wheeler" had an easy gait, he lacked in grace, hence the special saddle gaits were evolved.
During and following the civil war, Kentucky led in the breeding of saddle-horses. The superiority of the southern horse is shown by the fact that, for two years during the war, the northern cavalry was far inferior to that of the Confederates. Before and after the war, many stallions went to Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois. Missouri got the most, and is now nearly equal to Kentucky in the number and quality of her saddle horses, and many are now also being bred in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Texas.
The first saddle-horse came by chance rather than by design; but experience with runners and trotters has taught the Kentuckians that to get an animal to be relied on for a highly specialized use, it must be bred for that use. This is a cardinal principle in saddle-horse breeding now, and, without it, such breed of gaited horses would be impossible. In 1891, the National (now American) Saddle-Horse Breeders' Association was organized to recover from the debris of the trotting wreck the good qualities of the saddle. The president of the Association is General John B. Castleman, whose saddle-mare, Emily, took first prize at the World's Fair in 1893 and created a sensation at Madison Square Garden a little later. The third volume of the register has recently been issued.