Saddle Seat Myths and Misconceptions

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!


  1. I was glad to see this article. I began riding saddleseat three years ago and was thrilled to learn that these horses simply move this way naturally and are so animated, but not frightened. I love going to the shows and watching these beautiful horses show off.

  2. AMEN!!!!! U said it. I hate it when people come up to me and they r lyk saddlseat is just posing. It totally isnt. I have been doing saddleseat for 4 years and i love it even tho it is sometimes difficult. I love saddleseat and i love to show saddleseat

  3. I agree somewhat to what has been written, but am not a fan of saddleseat. What I’ve seen at local shows has been far from pleasing and more than frusterating. However I agree with most of Caroles comments, except for the first one. While these horses do have stunning gaits and beautiful movement and carriage, it is exagerated by the weighted shoes. If the shoes weren’t weighted, I would not have so much against the sport. I also do not like the chains around the front legs prior to shows, once again I feel that it makes the carriage much more fake instead of allowing the horse to move the way it will naturally, which as I previously mentioned looks beautiful. We have a horse at our ranch who was used for saddleseat prior to her arriving at the ranch. She had weighted shoes when we first got her and now has normal shoes. She still moves beautifully, but not quite as snappy/high as she did prior.

  4. Thank you so much for the “Secrets To Saddleseat Success” article in the May 2007 issue and for the “Saddleseat Miconceptions” article online. I have been riding saddleseat for two years now and I love it! I used to think that it was abusive to the horses and that they didn’t like it, but now I realize that they really enjoy it, and love to show off! I am very passionate about saddleseat, and I would love to see you saddleseat articles in the future! Thanks again!

  5. I’ve never thought any of that stuff about saddleseat. I don’t compete in it or even really watch to much of it. The only thing I don’t like about saddle seat is the heavy shoes and soring with the wieghts around there fetlocks. I don’t know if they still do alot of other stuff and I know they have different devisions that they do different things for. So why not write an article about that because I’ve never thought the horses were out of control or the people just sat there. And I know there conformation gives them very high action if it didn’t then they wouldn’t show them that way.

  6. Some – but not all, saddleseat riders ARE out of control. Some of these young riders are put on horses they have little control over. Put them in the ring with Hunt seat riders in a mixed English Pleasure class, and I’ve seen some of these riders ram their horse into a slower horse’s behinds just to stop them! Parents need to make SURE they put their child on the horse that right for them – not just the one that always wins the blue ribbons!

  7. Thank you for the saddleseat article. I have a Morgan horse that I ride saddleseat and would never do anything that would hurt her, including soring her feet. I’ve only heard of Tennessee Walkers being sored. It takes practice and skill to ride in a saddleseat saddle because it doesn’t come up around you to hold you in the saddle like a western saddle does. I do agree that in the show ring kids don’t need to ride a horse they cannot control. It puts others in danger. I think the saddleseat discipline is very misunderstood and would like to see more articles on this topic. Thanks again!

  8. wow, thanks so much for clearing that up. i ride saddleseat and people always ask why i can’t control my horse, now i can show this to them, please keep writing about saddleseat so more people can see what a great thing it really is!!

  9. first i would like to say thank you for the article, next though, one of u said that only tennessee walkers were sored, well i ride walkers and that is very rude, i think, to only point out one breed of horse, the horse i ride does not get sored, and 4 those of u that said the horses have heavy shoes on, well U R WRONG! my horse wears normal shoes and still steps up high and showy, we don’t put anything on the horses hooves, also those chains around the fetlocks r not harmful, don’t u know there r rules 2 the weight of them?? they can’t be more than 3 ounces, 3 ounces do u think 3 ounces is “hurting the horse??” so 4 any one that thought any thing i covered here u r stupid, u know what is really abusing the horse?? western, western sores the horses neck so it hangs low 2 the ground, i’ve seen it done. so please don’t think saddleseat is hurting the horse because it takes the most amount of work than anything i have ever seen, saddleseat riders r the best riders. if u aren’t riding sadlleseat don’t try 2 tell me that we r hurting our horses. that just shows me u don’t know anything, so stick 2 ur own riding. IF IT’Z NOT A GAITED HORSE, IT’Z JUST A HORSE!

  10. Lydia you are totally right about if it is not a gaited horse than it is just a horse. I have ridden paints, quarters, and friesians, but none of them add up to the racking horse I lease now. the person I lease from also has a tennessee walker and a spotted saddle horse. she definetley does notsore her horse. People need to learn that anyone can sore their horses. i am sure that sme people that show saddleseat on a stock type horse might be soreing them to give them more action. The horse I ride, Rusty, naturally has a great action and I bet your tennessee walkers do to. Rusty doesn’t even wear shoes and yet he still out shines horses with really heavy shoes. Why put heavy shoes on a saddleseat horse unless you are trying to make thm a saddleseat horse. Thank you so much for writing this article to show that people actually care about our kind of englsh riding. If peope believe that saddleset riding is so bad then they should give a try before they actually start to judge us. Besides gaited horses aren’t allowed to ride in huntseat because we are to different for the “regular” horse. Please keep writing about saddleseat so then we do not go unoticed. Thanx!!!!!!!1

  11. I would like to say thank for this comment and I told you so to all the people out there that thought all of this was through. I’ve been riding saddle seat for nine years and when I showed a picture of my friend showing one of the horses at the barn I ride at to my friend for jumps she thought it looked horrible. She thought the horse was freaking out and the movement was unnatural and angered me a little.

  12. well lydia of northville MI
    understand this your horse may lift its legs up higher but not even close to my horses. Understand that she was just saying that Saddlebreds just different from most other horses in the world.
    And get this i’ll put you on my horse and see how long it takes for you to fall off maybe then you’ll understand that you don’t know anything when it comes to saddlebreds or saddle seat.
    Now shut it
    so many people have said that saddle seat is easy or that the horse does all the work. hearing it from someone else who owns a horse makes me so MAD!

  13. This and the other related articles were quite enlightening. There’s no doubt that the ASB is beautiful in motion. A discomfort I’ve always had about saddleseat equitation has to do with posting to the trot; many riders sit in a pronounced “chair seat” (altho’ the article on equitation said there should be a straight line from shoulder to hip to heel), and it *looks* as if they are pulling themselves up by the reins when posting. Somehow I can’t see how they can not do so when sitting so far behind their own legs! Also, it appears that some riders do not or cannot post in rhythm with their horse; they bump up and down apparently at random, even sometimes bumping down in the saddle twice per stride. And in the canter, they don’t “polish the saddle”, but again, bump down at every stride, something that could be very uncomfortable for the horse. Perhaps these problems are because I have happened to see rather inept riders, and not the truly skilled ones.

  14. Lydia….the TWHs are generally the only horses that are sored. Obviously not all Walkers are sored, but just because yours isn’t does not mean others aren’t. Obviously terr has been plenty of proof that somewhere–way
    too many of them–ARE sored for anyone to deny it.
    As for other breeds being sored–no, they are not. You obviously do not know it but if you sore a diagonal gained horse you will not be able to show him–because a trotting horse will show up as lame if he is sored. Soring doesn’t work on a trotting the same way it does on the big lick horse!

  15. Good comments on ASBs. Most, btw, would never
    Tolerate the rider “pulling up to post by reins” and
    Good SS riders don’t do that.
    I know TWHs are sored– I’ve seen them fall when
    The products are removed and when show vets try to
    Touch their legs.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!


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