A Life Spent with Saddlebreds

One of Amanda's favorite homebreds, THF Flight Commander. (Photo by Amanda Allen)

Celebrating the American Saddlebred!!  This month on YourDressage, we are celebrating the graceful American Saddlebred and Saddlebred crosses of all kinds.

Dressage riders who choose Saddlebreds as their mounts are eligible for Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as the American Saddlebred Horse and Breeders Association is a Participating Organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share about what makes these horses so special.  Here, a lifelong horsewoman shares why Saddlebreds have a special place in her heart and in her breeding program. 

By Amanda Allen

My adventures with Saddlebreds began in 1995. My family had purchased the Saddlebred stallion Flight Time Gold. He was magnificent. Platinum mane and tail, so much sheen he shimmered in the sun, a partial blue eye, a blaze, and two high whites in the back. He was like a horse out of a fairy tale. My family wanted to breed Saddlebreds for sport, mainly dressage, three-day eventing, and driving. He was the key to building those dreams.

Flight Time Gold. (Photo by Mike West)

I was pretty young in 1995 and green as green could be, but I was thrown in full force to learn about breeding from the literal ground up. Flight was pretty unmanageable when we first got him, for breeding anyway, and I remember he was worked with extensively for the entire season so he could be managed and kind to mares. He bred multiple Warmblood mares, Arabians, and Thoroughbreds.

Our first foal crop came in 1996, and we were blown away by how beautiful all the foals were; lots of chrome, lots of size, bone, and substance. There wasn’t a baby produced that wasn’t impressive. That year, I learned about raising babies, getting them ready for inspection, performing at inspection, and all that comes with paperwork for papers, etc. I was on cloud nine, and all the babies were just so incredibly amateur friendly, and gorgeous (this is key for later on).

As the years went by, we acquired Saddlebred mares, and it was my job as the young rider to put time on the mares and any babies coming up in age. I rode quite a few mares who had come from Saddleseat barns, and I learned a lot about patience, allowing them to find their balance, and encouraging them to stretch their top lines forward and down, which was not what they had initially done in their riding careers. Some horses were easier than others, and some were like riding noodles, or rubber bands. You had to allow all the components to come together; it was humbling and some days frustrating, but what kept me coming back was how willing these horses were to learn and adapt. An important lesson I learned is no matter what, when in doubt or fear, horses always revert back to their initial training, so I had to be ready to suddenly have a giant neck and head in my space, and to always reassure and ask again for that forward stretch while engaging the hind leg to rebalance and carry on.

Flight Time Gold. (Photo by Mike West)

As the years went by, I rode a National Showhorse/Shire cross named Mr. Peanut. He was hard mouthed and stubborn, but by far one of the most wonderful horses I ever had the pleasure of riding. We did it all: driving, riding, jumping, we even attempted western…it was not pretty, but we did it. He was willing, capable, and very athletic, and I loved him dearly.

Because we had so many horses, once I got a horse to walk, trot, canter, halt, and canter from a walk under saddle, those horses were either sold or put into our lesson program, and it was my job to go pick a horse out of the field to start again.

A horse I remember well was a Flight Time Gold baby named T.H.F. Taxi Dancer – she was half Arab, and she was the love of my life at that time. Just a plain Jane chestnut with a star, but I started working with her from the very beginning and she was so willing. She got her name because her mother would be in the ring packing a student, and she would stand with whomever was teaching and pivot around them watching her mother go around and around, and she never left the center. Her personality is exactly what you want in an ammy friendly mount. I started her – I had an audience that day and I was nervous – I had spent hours doing “join up” work with her, and I could get her to do anything with body language, but this would be my first time throwing my leg over. She took it so well, and it wasn’t long before she was a favorite riding horse. She soon found a home with one of the farm’s students. That was a painful goodbye for me, but, as always, there were more horses to ride.

At one point, I went to Spokane to ride with the Relational Riding Academy. Michelle Binder (now Michelle Binder Zolezzi) had an awesome Saddlebred gelding named Rio I often rode in lessons. I remember he taught me a lot about just letting them come round, not rushing the work, and balancing. He wasn’t the easiest horse, but he certainly had loads of try. At one point, he offered passage in one of my lessons, and we were all blown away as he passaged his way around the arena. I was all smiles.

I came home after a long time at the academy, and my family had purchased the tallest, longest mare I had ever seen. Built like a tube worm is the best way to describe her. I was asked to ride her, and “put her together.” When I sat down into the saddle, her head came straight up in the air, and everyone looked at me like ‘Wow, did you learn nothing?’ I took a deep breath and took my pogo stick around the ring, by the second lap she was stretching into the contact, really sitting down and driving and coming up underneath my seat and filling it out. I was so impressed with how much try she had. It wasn’t long before she was fully incorporated into the lesson program. She was so accepting of all types of riders, and so forgiving – she was perfect lesson horse material.

CA Renegades Major Go aka Max. (Photo by Tami Cuellar)

My timeline may be off a bit, but I had just come back from driving carriages in Alaska for a carriage company, and it was my senior year. My family had purchased a 6-year-old Saddlebred stallion named CA Renegades Major Go. He almost looked cobby; he was 16hh, this gorgeous deep red color, and I loved him instantly. I convinced my family to let me purchase him. I paid $1,000 cash and worked off the other $1,000 which was the most I had ever spent on anything at the time. He was a bit of a nipper, and his former owner was not forthcoming on his training. I was under the impression he had at least been started when I hopped on him in the arena. We didn’t have any steering, but we managed to go around at the walk, trot, and canter. His former owner happened to be there and when I pulled up to the gate, he was in hysterics and slapped me on my leg, commending me on riding him. He laughed and said, “I have never ridden that horse a day in my life.” Max, as I later called him (I just couldn’t have a Renegade in my barn), never once offered to do anything naughty. I did all his training, and later had him gelded so I could take him to the fair to compete in my final year in 4-H. He was incredible: we did trail, showmanship, and all the English classes, including jumping. We made it to state in jumping and headed down to Salem to compete. I, unfortunately, chickened out at the first jump and Max was like, “If you don’t want to go over that I certainly am not.” I fell off, embarrassing myself, but not every show is perfect and those are the opportunities you go back to the drawing board and learn from. I still loved him, and one bad show wasn’t going to change that.

We moved to Spokane to go back to Relational Riding Academy. I rode Max usually around 9 times a week. We helped a friend with her gallop training 3 times a week, had dressage lessons Tuesday and Thursday, cross country jumped on Fridays, had stadium lessons on Saturdays, fit in trail rides a couple times a week, and any chance I got, I was on Max. He never protested, he was my best friend, and he helped me through some truly trying times in my life without question. If a student needed a safe horse to ride, I always offered him because he was a great confidence booster and loved having a job.

Max really solidified my love for the Saddlebred. He embodied everything they stand for and had more heart than any horse I had ever worked with.  I knew what he was thinking, and he knew what I was thinking. We were synced.

We were asked to participate in Ride the West where we demonstrated dressage. I was having the best ride of our life in the warmup ring, and then the mounted shooters went in and all that went out the door. We entered the ring and his nostrils flared, he was nervous and tense, but he did all that I asked, including his lateral work. I was so proud of him. We got quite the applause, and I just couldn’t have been more proud of him: for me he was perfect.

Superfine Image aka Sophie. (Photo by Amanda Allen)

I moved back home to the family farm where I rode the new mare Superfine Image, aka Sophie. She was hot and sensitive with this trot where she would just sit down and launch. She had so much swing; it was just amazing. I loved to canter her, but she got so hot in the canter that we often didn’t do it because that is all we would do. I spent a long time working with her, and I started to bond with her much like I had with Max. She was sold, purchased back, and then sold to a client of mine. I had the privilege of purchasing her from my client 3 years later, and she foaled some of my very best foals. She also produced a Flight Time Gold baby, THF Flight Commander, who is always in the top 2 at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Dressage Championships. Last I heard, he was cruising through Fourth Level and well-loved by his owner.

THF Flight Commander. (Photo by Amanda Allen)

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many other Saddlebreds throughout the years and it solidified that this is a breed I want for my own breeding program. I left the family farm and started my own breeding business called Warmbloods Maximus. I mainly breed Saddlebred crosses, but occasionally I produce a purebred to give back to the breed.

I once spoke with Charlene Summers, and she sat me down and said, “Amanda, you can breed Olympic horses or ammy friendly horses, choose what you want to produce, but I’ll tell you this, you won’t sell as many Olympic horses as amateur friendly horses.” That did it for me; I decided I wanted to produce beautiful, athletic, amatuer friendly horses for the average rider to be able to do anything they wanted with them, though I mostly try to produce dressage and/or driving horses.

I now have a big Tomcat mare that I’ll take to the breeding shed next year, and I am on the hunt for a farm in Kentucky (Saddlebred country) so I can start to acquire more Saddlebred mares. I will continue to cross them, while trying to produce at least one purebred each year to give back to the breed.

The Big Muddy. (Photo by Amy Lemke)

I also just recently purchased a Saddlebred colt named The Big Muddy. I lost Max about 3 years ago, and his death still haunts me, I didn’t have time to mourn him unfortunately, and when I saw Big Muddy, a deep red colt, with a crooked blaze and a single white sock, it’s as if Max was telling me it’s time – it’s time to love one again. My only goal with Muddy is to just develop a bond again, to have that connection I had all those years ago, and to just ride (or drive). Muddy will arrive in Kentucky the first of October, and I am anxiously awaiting a new relationship with yet another one of these wonderful horses. I also am very excited to restart my breeding program. Nothing quite fills me with as much joy as producing foals. I am partial to my Saddlebreds and Saddlebred crosses, and I hope to continue to introduce them into the sporthorse world – they are so versatile, so willing, and they have hearts of gold. They are truly a dream horse, and I encourage you to seek one out and try them for yourself. Don’t be put off by Saddleseat training; think of it like bringing on an OTTB straight from the track. They may need a little extra work, but they are so worth it in the end. I hope this has inspired a few of you to check out this breed, and I truly hope to see more and more in the barns, packing willing students in all genres of riding. I know you’ll see me with them always, and I am always happy to help if anyone has questions about retraining this breed. You know your mission, so go forth, they are everywhere!

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