Spotted Saddle Horse Origin and Characteristics

The Spotted Saddle Horse is a breed that comes from the United States. It was developed by crossbreeding gaited horses, such as the Tennessee Walking Horse, with pinto ponies and horses that come from Colonial Spanish horses or a similar type. The result of these development efforts is a breed that has a colorful coat, a smooth gait, and multiple recreational riding uses.

Two registries have formed to help support the Spotted Saddle Horse, founded in 1979 and 1985. One has an open stud book, while the other requires a semi-closed stud book as part of the registration process. For the latter, at least one parent must already be registered with the association for a foal to be eligible for registration, no matter what the quality of the horse happens to be.

This breed always performs an ambling gait instead of a trot, along with a walk and a canter. Not being able to perform this gait, even if other conformation characteristics are present, is treated as a fault that prevents registration. 

Origin of the Spotted Saddle Horse

The pinto ponies and horses that came from Spanish ancestry were deliberately crossbred with breeds that were distinctly American, like the Standardbred and the Morgan. The American horses were larger than the Spanish horses, but breeders want to have the coat patterns and variations that were found with the pinto coats. By crossing these two together, larger horses with patterned coats could be developed.

The breeding process that created the Spotted Saddle Horse began soon after the American Revolutionary War at the turn of the 19th century. After the completion of the US Civil War, additional gaited breeds were added to the bloodlines. Missouri Fox Trotters, Peruvian Pasos, Paso Finos, and even Spanish Mustangs were brought into the breed.

The purpose of breeding was to create a general recreational horse that could be used in the Appalachians. Most of the horses during this era were bred first for the pinto coloration, however, and then for the physical characteristics.

Breeding programs may have been formalized at the local level from 1866-1978, but they were never any conformation standards in place to help forward the development of the breed. The National Spotted Saddle Horse Association (NSSHA) was the first to form, in Murfreesboro, was the first to form. They are very adamant about the care and well-being of the horses in this breed. Action devices are completely banned, including any weight around the pasterns. Performance packages are also banned.

The second association, the Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association (SSHBEA), formed to help push the breed forward without the open influences that are sometimes seen with an open stud book.

What Are the Characteristics of the Spotted Saddle Horse?

The Spotted Saddle Horse is classified as a light riding horse. The minimum height expectation for the breed is 14.3 hands, although some individuals may reach a height of 16 hands. Most horses will weigh about 1,000 pounds, with a 100-pound variation on either end of the spectrum still accepted.

The NSSHA was register horses in their stud book as long as the horse meets a minimum height requirement of 13.3 hands.

The head of a Spotted Saddle Horse should be well-refined, offering a straight facial profile. A slightly convex profile is still listed as being acceptable. This head should be supported by a neck that is slightly arched and noticeably muscled, which leads to shoulders that slope and a chest that is visually muscular. The hindquarters of the horse should be broad and muscular, while the croup should slope slightly and be rounded.

In many ways, the visual standards and physical characteristics that are expected of a Spotted Saddle Horse are similar to what is expected of a Tennessee Walking Horse.

Pinto coloration is 100% necessary, with white spots being present on a background coat color of any color. Most Spotted Saddle Horses have a tobiano or overo pattern. The spotting can be very minimal on some horses, but be almost complete on others.

If a horse has verified parentage that would make it be a Spotted Saddle Horse, but it has a solid coat color, then it can still qualify for registration as breeding stock. This will verify the parentage for any offspring the horse may have in the future. Gaited mares and stallions qualify for this registration as well. Breeding stock registration is not considered a “full” registration with either registry.

The NSSHA also requires Spotted Saddle Horses to have an ambling gait instead of a trot to be registered, along with the pinto coloration. If those two characteristics are present, any breed may be present within their pedigree. Missouri Fox Trotters, Racking Horses, and Tennessee Walking Horses are allowed for registration. Even horses with undocumented parentage is allowed if the required characteristics are present.

For the SSHBEA, registration must include at least one parent in the pedigree that is already registered with the organization. Even if all characteristics are met, if one or both parents of a foal are not registered, then SSHBEA approval will be denied.

What Are the Gaits of the Spotted Saddle Horse?

Instead of the trot being the intermediate gait for the horse, a Spotted Saddle Horse performs an ambling gait. It may be a show walk, which is a 4-beat gait, with the horse reaching a peak speed of 8 miles per hour in some instances. The show gait is similar to the show walk, but is at a faster pace for most horses. Some individuals can reach a top speed of 20 miles per hour with this gait.

The canter is a 3-beat gait with the Spotted Saddle Horse, typical to most equine breeds.

Some horses within this breed are able to perform variations of an ambling gait that can be seen in other breeds. This includes a stepping pace, the rack, a fox trot, and a single-foot gait. The pattern of the foot fall is what differentiates the performance. As long as one of these ambling gaits is present, the horse will qualify for NSSHA registration.

Spotted Saddle Horses are sweet, kind, and usually possess a willing temperament. They tend to be curious, but they also prefer to be active. These horses love to put on a good show and love having attention showered upon them. That makes them an excellent competitor in certain sporting disciplines and why they are such a popular recreational riding horse.

Spotted Saddle Horses have a well-developed history, purposeful characteristics, and standards that must be followed to ensure the integrity of the breed. With their unique coloration and wonderful spirit, the horses within this breed are a pleasure to get to know.