The Spotted Saddle Horse

Here’s a description of the Spotted Saddle Horse’s most common color patterns.

Tobiano: The tobiano (or “toby”) typically shows white over his back and up his legs; it’s common for two, three, or all four of a tobiano’s legs to be white below his hocks and knees. His head is normally like that of a solid-colored horse, either solid or showing a star, snip, strip, or blaze. His spots are regular and distinct, with clear borders. His mane and tail are usually two colors.

Overo: With the overo, the white originates on the horse’s underside, and rarely crosses his back. He tends to show color on all four legs. There’s typically a lot of white on his head; overos may be bald-faced, apron-faced, or bonnet-faced. Often, one or both eyes will be blue. Where color meets white, the borders are often irregular, and the spots of color may be “bordered” (surrounded by a mixture of colored and white hairs).

Sabino: The sabino has an entirely different white pattern, usually including wide blazes and completely white legs. Some have so much white that color may appear only on his ears and chest (“medicine hat” coloration), or on the dock of the tail. The sabino’s base coat color isn’t solid, but mixed with white hairs-this looks like roaning, but it’s not. He might sport a “roany” white that begins on his belly and reaches up his sides.

Tovero: The tovero horse shows both tobiano and overo characteristics. For example, this horse might have basic tobiano coloring, but with a bald or “apron” face. Or, he might be almost all white, showing base color only on his muzzle, ears, chest, and flanks.

The breed also sports a smooth gait, a high energy level, and stamina. He’s energetic and calm, strong and controlled, friendly and businesslike, all at the same time. Take one out on the trail, and you’ll also have the sheer fun of knowing that everyone else is looking at you and admiring your horse. (One 4-year-old of our acquaintance is sure that SSH stands for “Special Spotty Horse.”) Is this the breed for you? Read on to find out!

Breed Background
If you’ve always assumed the Spotted Saddle Horse is a Tennessee Walking Horse with an exotic paint job, you aren’t far off the mark. Most of the SSH family tree consists of Tennessee Walking Horses. In fact, many SSHs are double-registered as Walking Horses. But other breeds-such as Standardbreds and Missouri Fox Trotters-have also gone into the breed’s pedigree. And the bold colors and patterns are said to go back to Spanish-American spotted horses. (For pattern definitions, see page 34.) Here’s a bit more on the breed.

Expect a smooth ride. Like the Tennessee Walking Horse (see Breed Showcase, July/August ’04), the SSH has a long, easy-moving, ground-covering four-beat gait, and is extremely comfortable to ride. Both breeds move smoothly and easily over terrain. And, since there’s no moment of suspension (when all four feet are off the ground), you’ll experience no bouncing or bumping. SSHs will cover more ground at the walk than most other horses will at the trot. And you can sit easy and just glide on by-no posting necessary. Whether you’re going for a short ride or a very long one, you can relax in your saddle and just let the horse flow over the ground.

Be sure to register. If you acquire an SSH of your own, you’ll want to join at least one of the organizations that register these horses. (For contact information, see page 36.) The oldest registry is the Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association, which is member-owned and membership-driven. To be eligible for registration, a horse must have a white spot above the hocks (excluding the face), a non-trotting gait, and one parent registered with the SSHBEA. To double-register an SSH with the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitor’s Association, both parents must be registered with the TWHBEA. Two other registries are the National Spotted Saddle Horse Association and the American Spotted Horse Association. The NSSHA dates from 1979. It was formed to establish a uniform, naturally gaited saddle horse that performs without mechanical or chemical abuse. The ASHA was formed in 1999 to promote the sound, naturally gaited, Western-style SSH.

Check out the competition. If you enjoy the show arena, don’t miss the World Grand Championship Show held every October in Shelbyville, Tennessee. In the show ring, the SSH is expected to work at three gaits: show walk, show gait, and canter.


American Spotted Horse Association
P.O. Box 36
Manchester, TN 37349
(931) 596-3574

National Spotted Saddle Horse
P.O. Box 898
Murfreesboro, TN 37133-0898
(615) 890-2864

Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders
& Exhibitors Association
P.O. Box 1046
Shelbyville, TN 37162
(931) 684-7496

Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’
and Exhibitors’ Association
P.O. Box 286
Lewisburg, TN 37091
(800) 359-1574; (931) 359-1574

Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH)
6614 Clayton Rd., #105
St. Louis, MO 63117
(800) 651-7993

• Back Yard Walkin’ Training Tips, by Allanna Lea Jackson (Four Craftsmen Publishing, 928/367-2076;

• Care and Training of the Tennessee Walking Horse, by Joe Webb (National Bridle Shop, 800/251-3474; www.national

• Gaits of Gold: Selecting, Fitting, and Training the Naturally Gaited Horse, by Brenda Imus (Gaits of Gold Enterprises; 888/617-8009;

• Heavenly Gaits: The Complete Guide to Gaited Riding Horses, by Brenda Imus (Gaits of Gold Enterprises; 888/617-8009;

• For Your Pleasure (Middle Tennessee State University, available from National Bridle Shop, 800/251-3474;

• Gaits of Gold: Selecting, Fitting, and Training the Naturally Gaited Horse Video, produced by Brenda Imus (Gaits of Gold Enterprises; 888/617-8009;

• A Gathering of Gaits, featuring Elizabeth Graves (

• Heavenly Gaits: The Complete Guide to Gaited Riding Horses Video, produced by Brenda Imus (Gaits of Gold Enterprises; see above)

The four-beat show walk is energetic, long-strided, and ground-covering-like the gait your horse will perform on trail rides.The show gait is a speeded-up version of the show walk, like the running walk of the Walking Horse. The “rocking chair” canter is also similar to that of a natural-gaited Walking Horse-it’s an easy-riding gait with a lot of up-and-down action. You’ll also enjoy the Sport Horse World Grand Championships. Held every November in Shelbyville, this show features trail/pleasure classes and games, as well as team penning, reining, barrel racing, pole bending, working cow horse, and more. SSHs also participate in open gaited-horse competition, competitive trail rides, and endurance riding.

Shopping Tips
Sold on the breed? As you start to shop, look for a horse that’s sound, well-built, healthy, happy, and friendly. Also look for solid, hard, round hooves (many SSHs never need shoes), a good weight (not too fat or too thin), and a healthy shine. Here are some more shopping tips.

Ask questions. When you “see spots” on your next trail ride, flag the rider down and ask questions! Riders love to talk about their horses. You’ll end up with the name, address, and phone number of the person who sold or bred the horse your new friend is riding-and you may even get directions to the farm.

Visit farms. Some breeders produce horses primarily for trail riding, games, or the show ring. If you want an outstanding trail horse, visit breeders who specialize in producing sound, sane, surefooted horses that can travel up and down rocky trails all day long, all week long. Chances are, this horse will also be able to shine in the show ring on Saturday.

Don’t be dazzled. Don’t be blinded by a flamboyant coat. When you see a horse that you like, visualize him without the splashy color. Imagine him covered with brown mud from head to toe, and look again. When you’ve checked the horse’s conformation, gaits, hoof quality, and friendly demeanor off your list, it’ll be time to admire the horse’s coat.

Observe his disposition. Look closely when the handler catches, halters, grooms, tacks up, and rides the horse. If the horse is calm, cooperative, and kind throughout the process, put him on your list of “possibles.”

Go for a test ride. If the horse stands quietly for mounting and dismounting, has nice gaits, moves easily and well, responds promptly to the rider, and seems able to do everything you’re planning to do with him, move him up to your list of “probables.” Then test ride him yourself.

Check out his gaits. SSHs usually come equipped with extra gaits. In addition to the walk, intermediate gait, and canter, your new horse may have a foxtrot, a rack, a singlefoot, all of the above, or more. You’ll enjoy discovering your new horse’s “gears.”

Get a vet check. If you like the way the horse looks and behaves and moves, and your ride leaves you liking it even more, then all you’ll need to do is arrange for a vet check-and then a bank check!

Tack, Riding, & Care Tips
You’ve bought an SSH-now what? Here are some get-started tips.

Find a well-fitting bridle. Your SSH is likely to need a full-size bridle and a longer browband than one made for a stock-horse breed. If you ride in English tack, you’ll also need extra-long reins-60 inches rather than 54 inches.

Find the right saddle. Like the Walking Horse, your SSH will likely have a wide back and wide, sloping, loose-moving shoulders. Look for a saddle that’s wide, or even extra-wide, in the tree. Keep it back behind his shoulders-his smooth, fast, gliding action requires freedom of shoulder movement. If your saddle sits too near (or on top of) his shoulders, it’ll restrict that freedom and cause your horse’s naturally long stride to become short and choppy. If you ride Western, look for a saddle specifically designed for trail riding; better still, look for trail saddles designed for gaited horses (see “Trail Saddles & Tack,” Special Report, on page 62). If you ride English, you can ride in a dressage saddle, eventing saddle, or an all-purpose saddle-but not a show-jumping saddle.

Jumping saddles aren’t meant to be sat in for even a relatively short trail ride; they’re designed so that riders with short stirrups can get into a jumping position. Also, this saddle’s forward flaps will tend to interfere with your horse’s shoulders.

Adjust your riding style. If you normally ride Walking Horses, you’ll already be familiar with the SSH’s smooth gaits, long strides, and vigorous head-nodding at the walk. However, if you’re used to riding stock horses, you’ll have to get used to a lot more movement behind, under, and in front of the saddle. Before your first trail ride, take a few turns around a round pen or arena. Sit tall in the saddle, relax, breathe deeply, and let your back and hips move with the horse’s movement.

Stay calm on trail. If you’re not used to riding a big-moving horse, the power, reach, and speed can make you nervous-and make your back sore until your muscles adjust. The nervousness won’t last, because your SSH will be a kind, friendly, calm trail mount. By the end of your first ride, you’ll understand that your horse’s energy and length of stride don’t indicate excitement or agitation, and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the ride. And your back will be fine if you make the change gradually. Go on a few short rides before that all-day or all-weekend trail ride.

Find a good farrier. Try to find a farrier who understands how to trim a horse in accordance with its natural balance and the growth patterns of its hooves. If your new horse needs shoes, your farrier will be able to use simple shoes that will protect your horse’s hooves from wear without changing his natural, swinging gait. Good farriers will shoe a horse only when he needs shoes for protection, traction, or therapy-and they don’t try to use shoes to modify a horse’s gait.

Get out the green. If you’ve been riding solid-color horses or horses without a lot of chrome, you’re going to find out about something new called “manure stains.” To remove them, stock up on Cowboy Magic Green Spot Remover (available from CHARMAR Land and Cattle Company, 800/755-6844; 714/237-1140; 

Ready to look for the right horse for you? Go to, the premier classifieds site of the Equine Network, to search for the perfect horse!

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