Saddle Seat Riding: What Is It, What Horses Are Used, & What Makes It Different Than Other Disciplines?

What Is Saddle Seat?

Saddle Seat is an American style of riding that primarily uses the American Saddlebred Breed. Saddle Seat is one of the less commonly seen and less popular styles of riding today and it isn’t really used for anything outside the show ring. This style of riding is known for being very flashy and active and involves training some horses to perform some gaits not naturally performed by horses.

Where Did Saddle Seat Originate?

Saddle Seat has been around for a long time. The first time this style of riding was seen being used was before the American Civil War. In the south, plantation owners used these horses to ride through the fields and land of their plantation. They needed special saddles and new techniques to ride the new unique horses they were breeding, thus creating the Saddle seat style of riding that we know today.

What Is Expected Of The Horse?

In Saddle Seat riding, horses are expected to have a powerful gait with exaggerated front action. They are expected to be nearly completely reliant on the rider’s hands for cues, commands, and direction as the rider is supposed to ride with their legs off the horse. Horses used for Saddle Seat are supposed to have a very high head carriage and tail carriage and should lift their legs high off the ground.

Do The Horses Used For Saddle Seat Like The Sport?

I believe that they do. These horses, even when not asked to, will sometimes walk with a very high step or even a high carried head like they would in the show ring. Some horses will mimic what is asked of them and seem to show off. This can be seen when a horse is playing as well as if it is just being ridden on the loose rein.

Is Saddle Seat Dangerous?

Horseback riding, in general, is a dangerous sport, but is the Saddle Seat discipline especially dangerous? The answer is a yes and a no. Yes, it is dangerous as the rider isn’t required to wear a helmet and the horses are often performing fast gaits. Sometimes, when an Arabian horse is being used for this discipline, it can be fiery and hard to handle making it more likely for the horse to throw their rider. When watching a Saddle Seat class at the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show a few years back, a young girl fell off her half Arabian when returning to the warm-up paddock. The reason for this is the horse spooked and she fell off the side of her horse. It is also considered less dangerous however than other sports in the horse world such as jumping, eventing, and barrel racing.

How Is Saddle Seat Judged?

Saddle seat, in some horse shows, is known as Country English Pleasure. The reason for this is that to the judge, the horse should look like a pleasure to ride. Judges look for the most in-sync team who seem to have the best communication, coordination, and the horse seems to be the best behaved.

How Old Should A Horse Be Before It Is Used For Saddle Seat?

A horse should be fully grown before being used for this discipline. The reason for this is because in this sport, the rider sits on the weakest part of the horse’s back putting a lot of strain on the horse’s spine. The horse should be fully grown and developed to make sure that the strain isn’t being put on a growing back.

How Long Does It Take To Train A Saddle Seat Horse?

It can take several years to create a Saddle Seat horse able to show in this sport successfully. Usually it takes about two years to train a horse used for three-gaited classes, and up to six years to train a horse for five-gaited classes. This is because in five-gaited classes, horses must perform two man made gaits and three natural gaits. The man made gaits must be taught to the horse and perfected by horse and rider over a period of time.

What Do Riders In This Discipline Wear?

Top Hat

In Saddle Seat, riders wear top hats that usually match their coats. Top hats can be worn by wither men and women. If a man is riding however, he will most likely wear a Fedora-like hat.

Tail Coat

One of the most notable things from a Saddle Seat rider’s dress is their coat. Their coat is actually a tail coat that matches their hat in color and that buttons in the front. The tails of the coat will go on either side of the horse and they give the rider a professional and powerful appearance as they ride their impressive horse around the ring.


The pants worn by these riders are also the same color as the coat and the hat. These slacks will sometimes have a hole in the back to allow a spur to pass through. The end of the pant leg stretches down past the rider’s heel to give the illusion that the rider’s heels are further down than they actually are.


Tall boots aren’t worn in this discipline. Instead, shiny paddock boots are used instead and, unlike other English riding styles, the pants actually go over the boot rather than being tucked inside.

What Tack Is Used On Saddle Seat Horses?

Flat Saddle

A flat saddle is a saddle with an extremely low pommel and cantle. The seat is positioned really far back compared to other English saddles and the saddle flaps are a lot larger than other saddles as well. This is the most identifiable saddle in the English world because of its unique appearance.

Double Bridle & Reins

A double bridle is used frequently in this discipline. A double bridle consists of two bits that go in the horse’s mouth that connect to two different reins both held by the rider. Not only does the horse have two bits but they also have two reins.

Breeds That Excel In This Discipline:

  • Saddlebreds
  • Saddlebred Crosses
  • Morgans
  • Arabians
  • Standardbreds

Hailey Sipila

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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