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A Change Is In The Air

by Jennifer Styskal

For years we have heard the same mantra: we need to market the Saddlebred to the general public in order to keep our breed from dying out. The pool from which to fish for new owners and exhibitors is slowly drying up. Most feel the breed has become only for the elite and is too far out of the average person’s price range. Others are of the opinion we need to open up the marketability of the Saddlebred.

Anne Stafford wrote a letter that ran in the Jan. 15, 2007 issue of Saddle Horse Report addressing this problem the breed suffers from. Her letter seemed to have served as a wake up call, as subsequent letters and comments have come flooding in, supporting and giving accolades to the problems she had shed some light on and her solutions for those problems.

A group of people in the Southeast have taken Stafford’s letter a step farther. Joyce Webster of B&W Stables, Hartselle, Ala., and Executive Director of the National Academy Championship Finals held in November, has come up with a new project: the Alpha Show division. Following Stafford’s suggestions, Webster has developed this division that will be open to any rider who is just beginning their show career or returning from a 10-year or longer hiatus. Unlike the novice classes, which limits a rider to three blue ribbons, the alpha show division will allow a rider to exhibit up to two years, regardless of ribbons won. After two years, the rider will be required to more up to the more seasoned and competitive amateur and junior exhibitor classes.

“This is a perfect class for the rider stepping out of the academy division, but not quite ready to move into the ‘big league’ classes with experienced riders,” said Webster.

The alpha show class will allow exhibitors of all ages, even those older riders who are just getting back into the saddle, to enjoy a competitive atmosphere without having to worry about a high level of experience or needing a top-dollar horse to win.

“Riders can own or lease their horses. This new venue will benefit both the owner and the trainers, and opens a new avenue to market nice show horses that can take the new rider to the show ring and learn before stepping up to the more seasoned classes,” Webster added.

The division will be patterned after the current junior exhibitor and amateur division, and will include five- and three-gaited, five- and three-gaited pleasure, country pleasure, park, pleasure driving, equitation, western and hunt seat classes. The rules of the alpha show division are as follows:

• Horses to be judged 50 percent on manners and 50 percent performance and quality.
• Any unruly horse will be dismissed at judge’s discretion.
• Three-gaited and park are to be judged at animated walk, trot and canter. Park horse is to be shown with full mane and tail. Three-gaited horse to be shown with roached mane and tail.
• Five-gaited horses are to be shown at animated walk, trot, slow gait, rack and canter and must have full mane and tail.
• Three-gaited horses are to be shown at a flat walk, trot and canter, stand quietly and back up in line up.
• Five-gaited horses are to be shown at a flat walk, trot, slow gait, rack and canter, stand quietly and back in line up.
• Country Pleasure horses are to be shown at a flat walk, trot, extended trot and canter. Stop and stand quietly on rail and back while in line up. Horse are to be flat shod without pads or bands and shown with a full mane and tail.
• Western Country pleasure entries will show in western attire at the flat walk, jog-trot and lope on a loose rein. Horses will be asked to stop and stand quietly on rail and back while in line up. Horse to be shown without pads or bands and shown with a full mane and tail. Horses showing in country pleasure classes cannot cross enter into show pleasure and vice versa with the exception in pleasure equitation.
• Hunter under saddle entries are to be shown in hunt seat attire, flat shod, braided or unbraided mane and tail, at the flat walk, trot, extended trot and hand gallop. To stand and back quietly in the line up.
• Equitation riders are to show at a walk, trot and canter. To be judged on basic positions and motion at gait, aids, skills and showmanship. Demonstrate ability to show mount at best advantage. Individual workouts, etc at discretion of the judge.

These classes can be added to any show, to develop new opportunities for newcomers to show their horses, and could even replace the current novice rider classes. Several shows are already making plans to host these new classes, replacing the novice division with the alpha show class.

“The response from trainers, instructors, new owners and exhibitors has been overwhelming,” Webster said. “We are excited about the positive response from across the country.”

Mid South Spring, Decatur, Ala., Lutheran School Show, Cleveland, Tenn., Tampa Summer Classic, Tampa, Fla., and Betsy Webb’s Summer Classic, Louisville, Ky., have already signed on to host this new division. Owners and trainers can contact show managers to let them know they wish to have these classes held in their area.

In addition to adding these classes at local shows, Webster plans on holding the first Alpha Show National Championship Horse Show in conjunction with the National Academy Championship Finals. Both shows are held in Murfreesboro, Tenn., at the Miller Coliseum. The Alpha Championship Show will be on Friday, Nov. 2, 2007, the night before the start of the Academy Championships.

The UPHA Chapter 8, headed by James and Jackie Hale, is also getting on the bandwagon in creating new show venues. Over the past year, Chapter 8 has held fundraisers and asked for sponsorships to collect money to put on a horse show in 2007.

“We want to have something where people can have fun again,” said Jackie Hale. “We want to have a relaxed, comfortable, yet competitive atmosphere. This is not meant for the veteran exhibitors of the show world.”

This new Chapter 8 Horse Show, a three-day event to be held April 5-7, 2007 in Cleveland, Tenn., will include the first alpha show classes of the season as well as a gaited-no canter class for those who love to slow gait and rack but might not be comfortable cantering. The alpha show division will include country pleasure, show pleasure, three-gaited, five-gaited, driving horse and driving pony classes. To add to the flavor, there is no assigned judge. Instead, the show management will select a “judge” from the each of the barns that attends, either a trainer or experienced amateur to evaluate individual classes.

With the future of the Saddlebred breed riding, literally, in the hands of new owners and exhibitors, trainers and instructors are beginning to realize that it is time for thinking outside of the box. As Anne Stafford said in her letter, “No matter how wonderful the horse or how expensive he is, if there is no base to this pyramid it will soon be non-existent.”

(Editor’s note: For the convenience of our readers, Anne Stafford’s letter has been reprinted below as well as new comments regarding the issues she has raised.)

To All American Saddlebred Horse Enthusiasts:

I am writing this letter to anyone who has an interest in the American Saddlebred horse. I believe we need to address a problem that as a breeder I feel is long overdue. We are raising a wonderful animal, yet we are continuing to promote two misconceptions: one is that they are only for the wealthy, the other is that they are crazy and hard to ride.

We can start to change these two misconceptions with some serious thought to what makes other breeds fly where we have failed. It is not the horse but the promotion. Perhaps we are asking some horses to do something they are incapable of doing thus they become labeled as unruly, hard to ride or just no count.

We enjoy saying our horses are the aristocrats of the horse world, but soon it will make no difference if no one is breeding, riding or wanting to show them.

No one has any trouble selling a superstar but superstars are in the eyes of the beholder. We want to raise great horses but we must be able to sell ALL that we raise profitably. We no longer have a market for the medium-priced horse because we have no place to show them. We have absolutely NO entry level classes for the riders who are getting into the horse business after the age of 10.

When the pleasure division was developed it created a place for a nice horse that was not a stake horse. The country pleasure division added to that and now the academy division has made a place for some of these horses. All of theses divisions have flourished to the point that the pleasure division is so competitive it has lost its purpose for the beginning rider.

I think it is time for us to realize people do not continue to breed and raise American Saddlebred horses because they cannot market them. As professional horsemen, riding instructors, breeders and owners, I would like to see all of us encourage a new division or two. One division I suggest is novice rider classes in any division. This will give the entry-level rider an opportunity to compete and win. Another division I suggest is non-canter classes. The third division is a gaited division. I truly believe that this would in time be as big as our pleasure division. It should be a performance class for the American Saddlebred horse shown only at the slow gait and rack.


Imagine how many people who could learn to love to ride an American Saddlebred horse if that was what they wanted to do. Take away the negatives and the errors. Everyone knows that showing is fun and a learning experience, but it is a lot more fun when you are WINNING!


When an adult wants to learn to ride or considers getting back into the horse business after being away from it for some years, it is almost impossible to compete in the classes that are offered. Think of the options we would have to offer with these classes in place. Why don’t we learn from other breed disciplines how to market our horse?

Think how this could impact the industry for the horse trainer, owner, breeder and exhibitor. Think how this could impact the small shows. For this to work the UPHA and ASHA will have to endorse the idea. Horse show managers as well as individuals, will have to be supportive of it. If this is not in your plan, don’t do it, but don’t knock it because it will eventually filter down or up to you. If we can draw people into the breed and help them enjoy competing they WILL buy a better one. Call the classes and divisions first year novice rider, first and/or second year green or whatever. We must encourage people to get into the American Saddlebred industry.

The “big money” programs are super but we need to encourage our grassroots. This would help everyone in the business now and assure some future for the breed. No matter how wonderful the horse or how expensive he is, if there is no base to this pyramid it will soon be non-existent.

Anne Neil Stafford

Dear Editor,

I was very pleased to read Anne Stafford’s letter with regard to additional novice divisions at current shows. I am one of those people who have been away from horses and Saddlebreds for some 16 years. Back when I had my last Saddlebred it was such fun to show in the pleasure division. You could take one horse and show in country pleasure, western pleasure, driving, combination and be competitive. When deciding to return to my love of riding and showing horses after such a long hiatus, I was shocked not only by the prices of Saddlebreds but the fact that in today’s ring you usually choose one division to compete in and purchase a horse for that division.

I decided to come back to riding and work towards showing in the western division. I went to several shows to observe the latest trends as far as tack, clothes and horses. This division has changed a great deal especially as far as clothing and tack. I resigned myself to the fact of purchasing a new saddle, bridle and breast collar, a new custom outfit and trying to find a good horse. At 58, I wasn’t necessarily looking for a young horse as I had not ridden in so long, however a seasoned horse or older horse was completely out of my price range. Luckily for me I have a very supportive and enthusiastic team at Country Meadow Farm. Dale Arnston and Julie Wroble found a three-year-old that could be trained for the western division.

I was a little hesitant about buying such a young horse, however with the expertise of my trainers it has worked out. The problem I now face is I am coming back as a novice after being away for so long and at 58, I have to ride in a western pleasure division that has no novice rider class even though there are novice classes for Saddle Seat riders. Also there is no age break down so I have to ride against very young riders who surely have a lot more stamina than I do at my age. I would love to see more classes in not only my age division but in the novice division. I have a lot of friends who at one time or another rode and showed horses and would love to return to the sport but are intimidated at the thought or riding against more seasoned riders and horses. I love the Saddlebred breed (even though I was a long time dressage rider before purchasing my first Saddlebred). I love their ability to relate to their owners, the fact that most of them love their people and love to be handled and hugged and most of all their personality. I look forward to my first season back in the show ring, or course I am apprehensive but I will do my best. Again, kudos to Anne Stafford for bringing this situation to light. 
Millie Crowley
Lemont, IL

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