A Saddle Seat Division is a division at a horse show which is dedicated to saddle seat riding, a style of riding which is derived from English-style riding. Saddle seat riders use tack and commands similar to those in English-style riding, but their riding style is slightly different, geared to showcase gaited horses specifically. Many people enjoy watching saddle seat competitions because even inexperienced people can enjoy the appearance of gaited horses in the ring.
The goal of a Saddle Seat Division is to highlight horses with showy, distinctive gaits, especially trots with high leg action. The horses shown in saddle seat can vary widely, but they are typically gaited horses, as in horses with gaits beyond the basic walk, trot, and canter; these horses are sometimes known as “action breeds,” in a reference to their showy gaits. The style of riding used by saddle seat riders encourages the horses to have bold, striking gaits which look stunning in combination with the elegant tack worn by the horse and the formal wear donned by the rider.
Saddle seat is always done on the flat, because the focus is gaits, and it is divided into a number of classes which may be further divided by age or skill ranking. Three and five gaited classes are basic classes which showcase specially gaited horses, while plantation classes focus specifically on showy walks. Park, pleasure, and classic divisions promote manners and performance over showy gaits, although the gaits are still important. An equitation class at a Saddle Seat Division emphasizes the connection between horse and rider, with judges keeping an eye on the commands used and the manners of both parties.
A wide variety of action breeds are shown under saddle seat, including Morgans, Tennessee Walking Horses, Icelandics, Saddlebreds, Standardbreds, Arabians, Paso Finos, Missouri Foxtrotters, Andalusians, and Racking Horses. Typically the mane and tail are left free and flowing, with some riders binding up tails in the stables to promote especially long growth. Grooming in a Saddle Seat Division is meticulous, as an elegant appearance is as important as graceful, flowing action in the ring.
Because saddle seat emphasizes showy gaits, horses shown in a Saddle Seat Division are often shod with special equipment to promote high-stepping, beautiful gaits. This has been a topic of controversy at times, as some shoeing equipment historically used in saddle seat is actually rather cruel. Shoes which are designed to deliberately hurt horses are banned in most saddle seat competitions today.