Early Days

From Saddleseat to Eventing – Part 1

From day 1 in eventing, I have been very aware of my viewpoints, vernacular, and preferences and how they’ve been shaped by my upbringing in the discipline of saddleseat.

It’s even been a point of humor between my friends and I:
“Won’t chains on their front feet help them jump higher?” 
“Eventing horses can jump over giant ducks but are afraid of a little firecracker?” 
“Wow what a fantastic headset!”
I’ve learned enough by now to know how rediculous those sound to most eventing people.

For those who don’t know that much about saddleseat, please allow me to give you a brief introduction. I’m not an expert by any means, but I can get you the overall picture.

The saddleseat riding style evolved alongside the breeding of the American Saddlebred in the America’s old southern plantations in the early 1800s. Horses were expected to work all day in the fields, but also be nice enough to pull the family carriage to church on Sunday. The smooth slow gait and faster rack was developed at this time (man-made gaits, the difference between the two of these is just speed) to have a comfortable ride while still covering plenty of ground.

Today, the saddleseat style of riding is mostly associated with the following breeds: Saddlebreds, Arabians, Morgans, Hackneys, National Show Horses (Saddlebred X Arab), Fresians, Georgian Grandes (Saddlebred X Draft), and the occasional Icelandic.

In terms of forms and functions of this style of riding, it truly is quite different from eventing. Here’s some main differences:

  • High action of the horse’s legs are desirable, both front and rear. Horses are expected to at least trot “level”, meaning their knees raise high enough to draw a line parallel to the ground from the knee to the shoulder.  
  • Head sets are expected of the horse. Head should be high, neck should be rounded, nose tucked in, but not behind the vertical. 
  • Positioning of the rider is as follows: knees close to the saddle, heels down and away from the saddle, posting in an upward (rather than forward) motion, elbows bent and slightly in front of the body, wrists slightly higher than elbow level, head up and chin up, straight back. 
  • For the show ring, the rider’s attire consists of jodhpurs pants, short boots, coat, vest, gloves, and derby (hat). Hair for ladies is done as a bun below the derby. 
  • Judging of saddleseat is similar to all flat classes – the horses that best demonstrate the desired qualities win.

Now, it has been many years since I’ve done any saddleseat equitation, but this photo of myself showing my friend’s lovely mare in 2009 can give you the general idea:

Now, no discussion of saddleseat would be complete without a touch on the controversial training methods. I’m only familiar with them in the Saddlebred show world, not in the other breeds’ saddleseat worlds. 
Firstly, there’s the long hooves. If you look at the picture of Ladybug, you’ll notice her feet are just a tad longer than was we see most of the time in eventing. However, hers were the shortest feet in the class by far. It has become standard practice to have hooves that are several inches (yes, inches) longer than what eventers would consider a proper length. Plates and pads are often added. This helps the horse achieve the higher knee action.
Secondly, there’s their tails. Many saddlebreds and some other breeds or crosses have their tails docked for aesthetic purposes. The tendons are snipped, the tail is bent over, put in a tail set, and then they grow back holding the tail in the bent over position. Though now technically disallowed at ASB shows, some people still “ginger” the horse’s tail as well. This is rubbing ginger paste under the horse’s tail – it is irritating to the horse, so they hold their tails up higher due to the discomfort, and they also act more lively. 
Thirdly, there’s the use of firecrackers, fire extinguishers, plastic bags on the ends of longe whips, and other devices used to get the horse riled up. The desired result is better action and a more excited, hotter horse. This is not used at shows – only during training. 
Fourthly, some put chains or rubber stretchies on the horse’s feet, to help achieve higher action. This is only used in training – it is not allowed at shows. 
Now, it should go without saying, but I feel the need to state that not all trainers employ these methods, and the trainers who do, use them to varying degrees and with different methods. Each person can decide for themselves the methods they feel are okay to use in the training of their horses. 
Well, it’s been a lengthy post. Next time I’ll give you a little more insight as to my switch from saddleseat to eventing, and maybe some side-by-side discipline comparison commentary. Fun!

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