Gorgeous Paints: Getting to Know the Spotted Saddle Horse

The spotted saddle horse is a light riding breed developed in the United States after the American Revolution. Colorful markings and a graceful, refined appearance are just two things to love about the breed.

History of the Spotted Saddle Horse

The spotted saddle horse breed was developed from short-statured, gaited pintos from Spain that were crossed with larger American breeds such as the Standardbred and Morgan. This mix increased the horses’ height while retaining both gait and desirable paint colors.

After the Civil War came to an end, the spotted saddle horse breed was further refined. Missouri Fox Trotters, Paso Finos, Peruvian Pasos, Tennessee Walking Horses, and even Mustangs were added to the mix, ultimately creating a breed that is lightweight, hardy, and ideal for pleasure and trail riding.

Today, there are two Spotted Saddle Horse registries: The National Spotted Saddle Horse Association (NSSHA) and the Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (SSHBEA).

Breed Characteristics

Spotted saddle horses can be as short as 13.3 hands high, although the average height is between 14.3 and 16 hands. With refined, graceful heads that display either straight or slightly convex profiles, muscular, slightly arched necks, muscular chests and long, sloping shoulders, they have short backs and muscular hindquarters. The tail is high-set, and the croup rounded and slightly sloped. Ideally, a spotted saddle horse should resemble a short, slightly stocky Tennessee Walking Horse.

As the breed name suggests, spotted saddle horses are all paints. Overo and tobiano patterns are most common, although coverage of white spots can range from nearly complete to minimal. All equine coat colors are acceptable for breed registration. When looking at pedigrees, you might notice solid-colored gaited stallions and mares, which are acceptable for use as breeding stock; these horses are not fully registered but spotted foals are documented as fully registered spotted saddle horses.

To be registered with NSSHA, a spotted saddle horse must have pinto coloration and display an ambling gait. As long as these two requirements are met, any breeds are acceptable for pedigree purposes. Even horses from undocumented parentage are allowed registry, and horses that have already been registered as Tennessee Walking Horses, Missouri Fox Trotters, Racking Horses, or other breeds are commonly double-registered with NSSHA.

A Unique Gait

Good looks are important, but they’re not the only reason the spotted saddle horse breed is so popular! These horses have a fantastic gait, with extremely smooth motion. Their intermediate-speed, ambling gait replaces the trot. Depending on terrain and conditions, the four-beat walk can cover between 4 and 8 miles per hour; the show gait, also a four-beat gait, is much faster, covering between 10 and 20 miles per hour. Like other breeds, spotted saddle horses have a cantering gait, which is three beats rather than four. Some members of the breed can also perform single-foot, fox-trot, stepping pace, and rack gaits, all at a smooth amble.

Spotted saddle horses are intelligent and good-natured. They’re ideal for showing in pleasure classes and for long, enjoyable rides. They work well in English and western saddles, and often do best in saddles for gaited horses. If you’re looking for a fantastic equine companion that’s capable of carrying you comfortably for miles while offering both brains and beauty, the spotted saddle horse breed is definitely one to consider.