So much for the history of the American saddler. Now let us look at the characteristics of this remarkable breed. They are fine and harmonious - "all points" and stylish - are hardy and very enduring if given proper care, but are easy to abuse; docile, courageous, proud and good-tempered if treated gently. They instantly resent ill-treatment with whip or spur, or by a rough groom.
A first-class saddle-stallion should be 15 1/2 to 16 1/4 hands high; in color, a bay, black, brown, red sorrel and light or dark chestnut. The surpassing beauty and greatness of Denmark seems to be handed down chiefly through his sons and sons of sons of black color. I regard Montrose (a bay) the pattern saddle-horse of the past twenty years; but it has been left to Black Squirrel, whose sire was Black Eagle to produce a type distinctly his own and that has never been approached, except by two of his sons, for grandeur and beauty. Dappled dark gray is allowed, but it is not desired. The coat is fine and silky and the mane of medium weight - not too coarse or too heavy. The tail comes out high on the rump and is carried high with a full sweep. The head is small and fine, with a mild, intelligent expression. The eyes are not deep-set, but lively, without showing much white. Ears erect and not too far apart, and held in place without lopping while in motion. The neck is arched gracefully from deep oblique shoulders, and the head carried high with perpendicular face, yet without breaking the line of curvature from the withers to the fore-top. The withers are narrow rather than broad and flat, and rise gently from the shoulder. The barrel is round and carried full back to the hips on both top and bottom lines. The top line is short and the bottom line relatively long. The legs are unusually fine, hard and flat with smooth and not too large joints. Pasterns are medium in length and moderately oblique, and the feet are usually high and wide at the heel.
The southern saddler has been bred for the rider's comfort, and, while he can gallop with a fine, open stride, and jump well, his peculiar merit is in what in the North are called artificial gaits, but what in the South are called natural gaits. The rack is the most laborious to the horse of all the five gaits and no horse can keep it up for more than a few miles without great fatigue. The running, walkers cover six to eight miles an hour with great freedom from motion to the rider. An easy gait is necessary when the saddle takes the place of wheels. Contrary to the general impression, this gait is not tiresome to the horse, for he can go all day, and every day, with ease. There are two kinds of gaited saddlers, one a stylish, high-headed, spirited animal, going "in the air," and popular in cities and for park riding where show is desired; the other a level, smooth-going, swift road-horse for business men, doctors, sheriffs and farmers.
A first-class saddle-horse is expected to go at command, six or eight different gaits. There are several fancy gaits besides, which are modifications of the others, and depend upon the conformation of the horse and handling of the reins by a skilled rider. The following gaits are recognized for entry in the American Saddle Horse Register: walk, trot, rack, canter, running walk, or fox trot, or slow pace. The walk, trot, pace and canter need no description.
Fig. 13. Montgomery Chief. Rhythmical motion.
The fox trot is a broken trot in which the fore foot touches the ground an instant in advance of the diagonal hind foot. It has the slowest limits of the artificial gaits and can be kept up all day. It has four to six miles an hour rate, and is the utility gait of the general saddle-horse, and all are supposed to have it. A loose rein is always used, and the horse is apt to carry his head low.
The running walk is also a modification of the trot; but in this case the head is carried higher, and the hind foot touches the ground just in advance of the diagonal forefoot, breaking the concussion. A closer rein is held than with the fox trot, and the pace is faster, even up to a three-minute gait, before the horse is forced out of it. It is a more showy gait than the fox trot and gives a horse more of a climbing action in front. The feet take the ground in the same order as a walk, and it is a "walk on a run," if such a thing is possible.
The rack is a modified pace in which the hind foot touches the ground before the leading fore foot. It has a wide range of speed, from four miles an hour to a three-minute gait. It is suited to the side-saddle and is a favorite with ladies. Gentlemen do not like it so well as the fox trot, though it makes a good business gait. The rack is not an all-day gait. It is more readily taken to by horses with a pacing tendency.
The singlefoot is intermediate between a trot and a pace. Each foot moves independently of either of the others, and the same interval of time elapses between each footfall. It is usually not less than ten miles per hour, up to a three-minute gait. It is the smoothest of all gaits, because that part of the body supporting the saddle glides evenly forward, and there is no bounding or jolting. These four, with the natural gaits, are the most frequently used. • To do any of the gaits well, the horse should have what is called "shoulder action" as indicated by deep, oblique shoulders. These saddle-horses can be taught to go the eastern high-school gaits of the walk, trot and canter type, if such perversion of taste is desired. They are also fine roadsters and do not show their saddle gaits in harness. Contrary to general impressions, such use does not lessen their value as saddlers or make them forget their gaits.
The Englishman knows but three gaits on the road, - the walk, trot and canter. But in the South the warm climate has necessitated the easier gaits. The American saddler has not been popular in New York and other eastern cities. It requires skill to keep the gaited horse, and he is more expensive than the hackney. The Englishman has the best hunter, but the American breeds the best saddle-horse in the world.
We are now far from using the saddle-horse entirely for war. For power, he is giving place to steam and electricity; but, as the world progresses and becomes more wealthy, the saddle-horse will be popular as the most delightful means of locomotion and exercise, and of peaceful, restful and inspiring pastime.
See page 332 for illustration of "A saddler at rest," which by oversight was left out of this chapter.