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Saddle Seat Myths and Misconceptions

A saddle seat judge clears up four common myths surrounding saddle seat riders and horses.

By Micaela Myers | May 2007

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Arabian Saddle Seat

Many saddle seat riders believe their sport is misunderstood by those unfamiliar with the discipline. Here, Carole Stohlmann, a United States Equestrian Federation "R” saddle seat equitation, Arabian, National Show Horse and Saddlebred judge from Oklahoma City, clears up four common saddle seat myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1: Saddle Seat Horses Display Artificial Animation

Stohlmann explains that a good saddle seat horse has the conformation and breeding to perform with animation naturally. "Saddle seat horses are conformed to move as they do,” she says. "The longer muscling, the lengthy pasterns, the ratio of the forearm and cannon bone, the increased angulation of the hocks–all allow the saddle seat horse to drive forward from the rear and show more hock action, propelling the horse forward and lifting with elevated knee action in the front.”

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Myth #2: Saddle Seat Horses Are Scared

This misconception usually comes from riders who aren’t used to a discipline that encourages expression and energy from the horses. "Saddle seat horses may appear scared, but in truth their animation and vitality are displayed because they are less restricted and somewhat free to be expressive and attentive to all that is around them,” Stohlmann says.

Myth #3: Saddle Seat Riders Are Just Posing, Not Really Riding

As in all disciplines, some saddle seat riders are more proactive and skilled than others. But rest assured, that almost flat, often slick cutback saddle means even maintaining the correct position takes practice.

Stohlmann believes this myth stems from the upright position required in saddle seat, which some people may interpret as stiff or posing. "Actually, the conformation of the horse, together with the flat, cutback saddle used in saddle seat riding allows the rider to sit in a more upright position, which frees the withers and shoulders of the horse to accommodate a more elevated stride that lifts the rider out of the saddle [for posting],” she explains. "The posed rider is not desirable and interferes with the suppleness of the horse in performing his gaits—as stiffness and posing does in all riding.”

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Myth #4: Saddle Seat Horses Are Out of Control

"The myth that saddle seat horses are out of control may appear so to those who work diligently to display slow, methodical and controlled gaits,” Stohlmann says. In other words, a saddle seat horse may appear out of control to someone more familiar with English or western pleasure, but for the saddle seat horse, greater energy and movement is desirable. "The animation and energy of the saddle seat horse combines with considerable forward motion so that the horse can move forward freely and display the movement that is the hallmark of a good saddle seat horse,” Stohlmann explains.

Keep the above in mind the next time you watch a saddle seat horse and rider. Brilliance, animation and forward movement are the hallmarks of a great saddle seat performance, so put your traditional rail class notions aside, and enjoy a great show!

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Reader Comments

Nicole    country, AL

1/24/2015 5:18:03 PM

I was lucky as a kid in that I got to see two totally different disciplines when I was learning to ride; saddle seat and all-around stock horse, and even though I own a western QH I think that they are probably abused more than the saddle horses. I live in an area with lots of TWHs, Racking Horses and Spotted Saddle Horses so I see saddle seat often and I like to watch it on YouTube...especially speed rackers!

Lynne    Milwaukee, WI

3/16/2014 7:24:50 PM

I rarely to never comment on articles but, after spending quite a lot of time thinking about this one, I'm going to brave the fires and go ahead. This is a wonderful article with some excellent and intuitive information. I would love to share it with others but, due to the inaccuracies and bias rampant in the comments, I don't feel that it would be a responsible thing to do. With very nearly 50 years as a rider and exhibitor of virtually every breed and discipline available, and over 20 years as a judge, I have to say there are problems in all of them. As a judge I have had to do some fancy dance steps to avoid being run over by a horse out of control. As a rider, I have occasionally lost control. Anyone with any saddle time under their belt, unless it was all at 25 cents per ride at WalMart, has lost control at one time or another. A horse is a living animal with a mind of it's own, and that mind is not always in sync with the rider's. As for the soring issue, no, not all TWH are sored. In fact, roughly 85% of TWH are trail horses not used for showing at all. What would be the point? AND, no, TWH are not the only ones sored (and that does include diagonally gaited horses). As a judge I have had the misfortune to watch the good, the bad, and the ugly in virtually every breed. AND done everything humanly possible to remove the "bad" from the ring as soon as possible. Please don't make generalizations. Every horse, rider, situation is individual and should be treated that way. Take the time to learn before accusing or making assumptions.

sam    middlefield, OH

3/16/2014 10:37:34 AM

I always told my saddleseat kids....If u can ride this, you can ride anything. It just won't be as much fun.
The hunter and western riders could never manage a saddlebred....but we could ride their horses successfully.

Diane    Lincoln, NE

3/16/2014 9:53:24 AM

It is almost funny to read the negative comments because they come from people who have little or no knowledge of riding Saddleseat. Watch an inexperienced rider with any breed and you will see faults in their riding skills. It is more obvious in riding a Saddlebred because it takes more skill to rise out of the saddle to the trot without using your hands, and the high action at many gaits can make it much harder to sit than other breeds. It can be done, but it is harder. It's not like riding a quarter horse. The drive from the hocks throws the rider up which can be a blessing at the trot and difficult at the canter, either a help or a hindrance. I do get tired of many people commenting as if their few experiences should be taken as knowledge. Until you have ridden for many years in a discipline you can rarely understand what goes into it unless you are a very experienced horse person.

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