What to Know About the Spotted Saddle Horse

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on January 20, 2023
5 min read

The colorful Spotted Saddle Horse is a gaited horse breed developed in Tennessee. This breed was originally developed as a calm family riding horse for adults and children. Many Spotted Saddle Horses now compete in horse shows and participate in bird dog field trials across the American South. If you’re interested in owning this unique breed, these essential Spotted Saddle Horse facts can help you get started. 

The Spotted Saddle Horse is a light saddle horse that most closely resembles the Tennessee Walking Horse, but it has distinct traits that separate it from other breeds. 

The ideal Spotted Saddle Horse has a refined head, pointed ears, and bright, alert eyes. Its neck is elegant and long, and its shoulders are sloping and powerful. A short back, deep girth, and well-sprung ribs contribute to the horse’s athleticism. It has a sloping croup, muscular hindquarters, and cordy legs. 

Some Spotted Saddle Horses look like their spotted pony ancestors, with thicker heads, heavier legs, and shorter necks. The National Spotted Saddle Horse Association (NSSHA) considers these traits undesirable and is actively working to produce larger horses with finer features. 

This smaller horse stands 14.3 to 16 hands (59 to 64 inches) tall at the withers. It typically weighs 900 to 1,100 pounds.

The Spotted Saddle Horse’s attention-grabbing spotted coat is its defining trait. 

To qualify for registration with the NSSHA, a Spotted Saddle Horse must have spots of white and any other color. These spots must appear above the hock, and at least one spot should be 2 inches or more in diameter. The association doesn’t count facial markings and tall white leg stockings as spots.   

Coat patterns frequently seen in the breed include:

  • Overo: A horse with this pattern may be mostly dark-colored or white. Large, irregular patches of white start on the horse’s belly and travel up the sides. The head is predominately white, while all four legs are usually dark. 
  • Sabino: This pattern resembles roan, a color that appears in other horse breeds, but it’s caused by different genes. A sabino horse has a dark base coat color mixed with white hairs and overo markings, like a white face and spots. 
  • Tobiano: This pattern is the reverse of overo. Distinct white spots start at the horse’s spine and travel down between the ears and tail. The horse’s head is solid-colored and may have small white markings, like a blaze or star. All four legs are typically white below the hocks. Tobiano is a dominant gene, which means that at least one parent must have this coat pattern to produce a tobiano foal. 
  • Tovero: This pattern combines overo and tobiano markings. These horses usually have spots on their chests and flanks. 

Spotted Saddle Horse breeders and owners can perform a color and pattern DNA test to see what color genes their horses carry. For example, six mutations in two genes can cause a splashed white spotting pattern. This information can help breeders decide which horses to breed to produce desired coat patterns.

A registered Spotted Saddle Horse can produce a solid-colored foal. The NSSHA registers these non spotted offspring for identification purposes, but they’re not eligible for show.

The Spotted Saddle Horse performs several inherited gaits, including: 

  • Show walk: The Spotted Saddle Horse is the only breed that inherits this gait. The show walk is a brisk, ground-covering walk that reaches 4 to 8 miles per hour. Each hoof hits the ground separately.
  • Show gait: This intermediate gait is faster than the show walk. The horse can shake or nod its head in rhythm as it moves. Like the show walk, this gait is comfortable and easy to ride. The show gait can reach 10 to 20 miles per hour.
  • Canter: This gait has very collected and smooth movements. The horse moves its legs in a diagonal pattern depending on its lead. On the right lead, the horse moves the left front leg and both hind legs simultaneously and then the right front leg. The right front leg and hind legs move together on the left lead.

Thanks to its gaited horse ancestry, the Spotted Saddle Horse can perform other intermediate gaits like the fox trot, rack, and stepping pace.

This breed is known for its calm and friendly temperament. People of all ages and experience levels can ride this horse, making it a popular family pet and riding lesson horse. Many trail riders also enjoy the Spotted Saddle Horse because of its easygoing nature and flowing gaits. 

The Spotted Saddle Horse has a long history in America. Early Spanish explorers and settlers brought naturally gaited spotted warhorses to the country, and these animals often escaped from ships on the shoreline. Americans also imported other gaited breeds during the pre-Civil War era.

Horse breeders in middle Tennessee combined spotted Spanish American ponies with gaited breeds like the Tennessee Walking Horse. These cross-breedings produced naturally gaited spotted horses with pony-like personalities. 

Later, Spotted Saddle Horse breeders added Standardbreds and Mustangs to the bloodlines. Missouri Fox Trotters and Racking Horses have also been bred with Spotted Saddle Horses to further refine its gaits. 

In 1979, the NSSHA was formed to preserve and promote the breed. Six years later, breed enthusiasts also created the Spotted Saddle Horse Association. Both organizations maintain a Spotted Saddle Horse registry, host shows, and license judges.

In 2004, Tennessee was home to 9,500 Spotted Saddle Horses. The breed has grown recently as more adult riders recognize its value as a pleasure and performance horse.

The Spotted Saddle Horse is an all-purpose breed. Owners show their horses in a range of classes, including: 

  • Age division 
  • Halter 
  • Novice and amateur 
  • Stakes
  • Trail riding 
  • Youth 

This breed is also commonly used as a children’s horse and for field trail events.

The Spotted Saddle Horse is a relatively uncommon gaited horse, but the breed is slowly growing in popularity. The UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory lists no known health issues for this breed, but breeders can conduct an embryo pre-implantation genetic diagnosis test to detect genetic issues. 

Like all horses, the Spotted Saddle Horse should have constant access to clean, fresh water and shelter from the elements. Nutrition requirements vary based on factors like age, exercise, and sex. A 1,000-pound horse that performs no work should eat around 20 to 25 pounds of hay daily and no grain. A horse that works for four or more hours per day requires 15 to 20 pounds of hay and 5 to 10 pounds of grain. Consult your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist to determine your horse’s exact needs. 

This horse’s gentle disposition and comfortable gaits make it an excellent pet for beginning riders, children, and families. If you’re looking for a charming and eye-catching family pet, the Spotted Saddle Horse could be an excellent fit.