Breed History 1900's

The 20th Century

In Kentucky, an unusual colt of predominantly trotting blood, with a dash of Denmark, was foaled in 1900. Bourbon King was sold as a weanling to Allie G. Jones and became a sensation as a five gaited show stallion, winning the grand championship at the old Louisville Horse Show as a three-year-old. Living to the age of 30, Bourbon King was the great progenitor of the Chief family.

In 1917, the Kentucky State Fair offered the first $10,000 five-gaited stake and claimed to be the World's Championship. There had been no bona fide world's champion since the demise of the old St. Louis Fair around the turn of the century. The American Horse Shows Association was founded the same year, with a large number of Saddlebred people deeply involved. Through the 1920s, horse shows continued to evolve, with format and rules becoming more standardized.

Shows varied across the nation, from the high society affairs of New York and Los Angeles, to the great state fairs of the South and Midwest, to the county fairs which were more athletic contests than society functions. Agriculture was still the mainstay of America, and most Americans understood and appreciated the athleticism and splendor of the animals. Individual stars such as CHChief Of Longview, CHSweetheart On Parade and CHRoxie Highland caught the public's imagination.

CHWing Commander with Earl Teater.

CHRoxie Highland, with Mary Fiers up.

Famous black horseman Tom Bass, on Belle Beach.
World War II put a damper on recreational activity, but in the second half of the 1940s, horse show excitement revived with such stars as CHOak Hill Chief and six-time World's Grand ChampionCHWing Commander. Hundreds of horse trainers plied their trade, particularly in rural areas. Mexico, Missouri, once home to the historic black horseman Tom Bass and now headquarters for trainers John Hook, Art Simmons and a host of others, had a legitimate claim to the title "Saddle Horse Capital of the World."
Most horse shows featured all breeds, often beginning with a jumping class, then offering Hackneys, roadsters and parade horses between the traditional Saddlebred competitions. Spurred by singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, parade classes were hugely popular and attracted many young men to horse shows.

The Great Five-Gaited World's Grand Championship of 1933: CHBelle Le Rose with Carl Pedigo won, CHSweetheart On Parade with Lonnie Hayden was second and CHKing's Genius with Chester Caldwell placed third.

CHThe Lemon Drop Kid with Jay Utz.
In the 1950s, new stars emerged on the scene, led by the exciting five gaited mareCHLady Carrigan and the flamboyant fine harness star CHThe Lemon Drop Kid, the only Saddlebred ever to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated.
An event of note occurred in 1957 when a group of Saddlebred enthusiasts met to form the American Saddlebred Pleasure Horse Association, giving stature to English pleasure classes, which had long been a mainstay of the show circuit. This had a tremendous impact on the Saddlebred world over the years, and today the pleasure divisions rival all others in numbers.

Then in 1959, Charles and Helen Crabtree opened their stable in Simpsonville, Kentucky. Success attracted success and there are now many Saddlebred operations in Shelby County, which lays claim to being the "Saddle Horse Capital of the World."

The Dixiana Trophy

Denmark's Daydream, with Lee Roby.

Society Rex as a yearling in 1938. He later acheived fame as a breeding stallion.

In the 1960s, Saddlebred enthusiasts mourned the loss of the spectacular five-gaited contenders CHDenmark's Daydream and CHBroadlands Captain Denmark, but cheered when their rival CHMy-My racked up six World's Grand Championships, equaling CHWing Commander's Louisville record. CHBellisima was the name to know in three-gaited, while the fine harness division was led by CHColonel Boyle and CHDuke Of Daylight. At mid-decade, the Saddlebred community received a setback when the Kentucky State Fair moved from its customary September schedule to August. The change sparked conflict with other shows, which were hurt when exhibitors preferred to show for World's Championships. The introduction of the breed show (events limited to only one breed of horse) put further pressure on traditional horse shows.

CHImperator, Don Harris up.

CHSky Watch with Michele Macfarlane.

Despite gasoline shortages and increased competition for the recreational dollar, the Saddlebred world flourished in the 1970s and 1980s. The World's Grand Champion mares CHTashi Ling and CHLa La Success set the standard in fine harness, while CHFinisterre's Gift Of Love amassed an enviable record in three-gaited competition, and Five- Gaited World's Grand Champion CHWill Shriver embarked on a history-making breeding career. The over-the-top 1980s saw the legendary rivalry of World's Grand Champions CHSky Watch and CHImperator in five gaited, and the five-year reign of CHSultan's Starina in three-gaited.

The 1990s opened with Don Stafford and Carol Greenwell's proposal to the combined conventions of ASHA and the United Professional Horsemen's Association in Nashville, Tennessee, that riding programs be emphasized and supported across the nation, laying the groundwork for new generations of Saddlebred enthusiasts. Youth has since become a big part of the Saddlebred world, with impressive increases in academy equitation, ASHA Youth Clubs and expanded junior exhibitor competition, along with innovations such as the World Cup and the ASHA Youth Driving Challenge.

Outside the traditional saddle seat show arena, American Saddlebreds have been successful in most equine disciplines, from cow horses to jumpers, dressage to carriage horses. If conditioned and trained properly, they are capable of almost any task they are asked to perform, and they do it with style.

American Saddlebreds have a long and proud history, from the battlefield at Gettysburg to the bright lights of Madison Square Garden and a tremendous legacy of service in between. The creation of man and nature in concert, the American Saddlebred is truly "The Horse America Made."

Photo credits for this page (top to bottom): CHWing Commander by John R. Horst, Roxie Highland from painting by George Ford Morris; Belle Beach by George Ford Morris; Five-Gaited World's Grand Championship by Louisville Courier Journal; CHThe Lemon Drop Kid by Sargent; CHDenmark's Daydream by Sargent; Society Rex by Rounds; CHSky Watch by Sari Levin; CHImperator by Sargent.

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