Three-Gaited and Five-Gaited Saddlebreds

The three-gaited and five-gaited divisions at American Saddlebred shows feature two different types of this flashy breed.

Three-Gaited Saddlebred
Three-Gaited American Saddlebred

In the American Saddlebred show ring, the ultimate honor is to win the open three-gaited or five-gaited championship. Like the park division, horses in these classes display extreme animation and showcase the pinnacle of saddle seat type.

“The three-gaited horse should be the epitome of beauty, grace and elegance,” explains Betsy Webb, an American Saddlebred trainer and riding instructor in Louisville, Ky. Manes are roached to emphasize the horses’ elegantly arched necks. Horses in these classes do not have to perform a true four-beat walk, but the trot and canter must be collected and elevated. Excessive speed is considered a fault.

Five-Gaited Saddlebred
Five-Gaited American Saddlebred

While the three-gaited horse displays the refined and elegant side of the Saddlebred, the five-gaited division is all about power.

“Five-gaited horses are heavier-bodied and have more bone,” says Webb. “But at the same time, we want a beautiful horse, not a coarse one.”

Horses in the open five-gaited division perform the slow gait and rack in addition to the walk, trot and canter. These smooth four-beat gaits are performed with high knee and hock action, and the rack should be fast, without losing collection. The ability to perform these gaits is a genetic trait that not every Saddlebred possesses. Some horses are born with the ability to perform a four-beat gait that must be perfected in training.

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This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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Leslie Potter is a graduate of William Woods University where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Equestrian Science with a concentration in saddle seat riding and a minor in Journalism/Mass Communications. She is currently a writer and photographer in Lexington, KY.Potter worked as a barn manager and riding instructor and was a freelance reporter and photographer for the Horsemen's Yankee Pedlar and Saddle Horse Report before moving to Lexington to join Horse Illustrated as Web Editor from 2008 to 2019. Her current equestrian pursuits include being a grown-up lesson kid at an eventing barn and trail riding with her senior Morgan gelding, Snoopy.


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