What is Saddle Seat?

The information on this page comes directly from Wikipedia and is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate.

Saddle Seat is a style of horseback riding within the category of English riding that is designed to show off the high trotting action of certain horse breeds. The style developed into its modern
form in the United States, and is also popular in Canada and South Africa. To a much lesser
extent, it is ridden with American action horse breeds in Europe and Australia.
The goal of the Saddle Seat riding style is to show off the horse's extravagant gaits, particularly
the trot. All saddle seat riding is done on the flat (this means jumping is not involved). In the
United States, there sometimes is confusion between saddle seat and hunt seat disciplines among
individuals who are neither familiar with different styles of English saddle nor the substantial
differences in rider position and attire between the disciplines.

Show Classes
In the United States, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) creates and maintains the
rules for most breeds shown in saddle seat competition.
Classes under saddle may include:
Three-Gaited: Open to American Saddlebreds, shown at the animated walk, trot, and        
 Five-gaited: Open to American Saddlebreds, shown at the walk, trot, and canter, as well as the
four-beat gaits known as the rack, and slow gait. Speed is an asset in five-gaited classes.
Park: A class designation used in Saddlebred, Arabian and Morgan competition, where horses
are shown at a walk, trot, and canter, judged on their brilliant, high action.
Show Pleasure: An English pleasure class designation used in almost every breed, where good
manners and smooth performance are more important than brilliant action. Most pleasure classes
require horses to show at a true flat walk, trot and canter.
Country Pleasure: This type of pleasure class puts even greater emphasis on manners in the
horse. The horse still has a high-set head position and somewhat animated gait, but animation is
of less importance. Horses show at the true flat walk, trot, and canter, often with extension, and
are required to back. Horses are not allowed to have any padding on their shoes.
Equitation: judges the rider's form and use of aids.

In any competition, classes may be broken down by any of the following criteria:
• Age Divisions: may be divided by age of horse or rider. Horses may be divided into junior
horses, usually age 4 and under, and senior horses, usually age 5 and over. Under the rules of the
USEF, riders can be broken down into age groups as follows: 10 and under, 11-13, 14-17, 18-39
and 40 and over.
• Experience: divided by the experience of the horse or rider. The most common categories are:
Maiden - never having won before in the division, Novice - never having won over 3 classes in
the division, Limit - never having won over 6 classes in the division.

Saddle seat riders use a special saddle not seen in other English riding disciplines. These saddles
have a cut-back pommel, which is set back several inches (usually four) to allow for the higher
withers and neck set of the horse. The saddle has little padding, a very flat seat, and is placed
further back on the horse to allow the extravagant front end movement of the horse. This saddle
also deliberately places the rider slightly "behind the motion," which makes it easier to influence
both the headset of the horse and the animal's gaits.
Due to the cutback pommel, these saddles are usually a few inches longer than other English
saddles. Even a properly balanced saddle seat saddle is quite flat and places the rider in a position
that feels less secure. However, good riders that ride a balanced saddle seat with long stirrups in a
"classical" position (legs balanced under the rider, not sitting too far back on the horse's loins),
are able to properly ride their horses, encouraging the animals to step under themselves and
collect, raising their backs, elevating their necks, and working off their hindquarters.
The saddle seat horse traditionally wears a double bridle (full bridle) in shows, with both a curb
bit and a bradoon (snaffle). A pelham bit is also legal for pleasure classes, though not common.
The double bridle is preferred (and mandatory in most classes) because it allows more fine-tuning
of the horse's head and neck position, though a pelham can be used in a few specialized classes.
The shanks of the curb bit are often longer than those found on the Weymouth style double
bridle used in dressage, often 7 inches in overall length (some breeds have length limits in the
rules). The browband is commonly brightly colored leather or vinyl, red being the most common
color. The cavesson is sometimes plain leather, and sometimes colored to match the browband,
depending on breed and fashion trends in tack.
Junior classes, limited to horses under four or five years old, may allow horses to wear just a
snaffle bit.  Running martingales are also sometimes used in training but not typically in the show
ring.  Saddlebreds shown as two-year olds typically wear a snaffle bridle with a martingale
because of their inexperience in the show ring and young age.

Shoeing and action
High action is prized in the saddle seat horse. Therefore, many horses used in saddle seat are
shod with pads and weighted shoes. Longer toes and heavier shoes enhances the horses natural
movement and encourages it to lift its feet and knees higher, and/or reach them out farther, with
more "snap" and flash. Toe length and shoe weight therefore is an often controversial issue
among saddle seat competitors.
The exact combination of elevation (knee height) and extension (how far out in front the horse
reaches with its feet) is determined to some extent by breed and fashion. However, for the health
of the horse, specialized shoeing should not change the hoof angle to any significant degree.
In Country Pleasure competition for Saddlebreds and flat shod divisions for Tennessee Walkers,
built-up shoes and pads are not allowed, all action must be produced from natural ability and no
more than a weighted shoe. In saddle seat breed competition for Morgans and Arabians, pads
and slightly weighted shoes are allowed, but with strictly-enforced limits on overall toe length and
shoe weight.

This information has come from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saddle_seat

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