Saddlebreds can also be five-gaited, performing not only the walk, trot, and canter, but the slow-gait and rack. The slow gait is a four-beat gait performed in a prancing motion, lifting the legs very high. The rack is a more ground-covering four-beat gait, and is much faster, with the horse snapping their knees and hocks up quickly. Ancestors of the Saddlebred were naturally gaited, and many Saddlebreds today can naturally perform them, and most can learn the additional gaits.
In the 18th century, American colonists crossed the Narragansett Pacer with the Thoroughbred. Known as the American Horse, this cross was used in the Revolutionary War, and made its way into Kentucky. In the 1800s, the breed become known as the Kentucky Saddler. It was used mainly on plantations because of its comfortable, ground-covering gaits, and sure-footed manner. It was developed into a very stylish, fancy horse: beautiful for harness, strong enough for farm work, fast enough for match races. In the 1830s, Morgan and Thoroughbred blood was added to give the more substance and action. This produced the American Saddlebred. The horse gained popularity in the 1840s. The stallion Denmark, born in 1839, became the foundation sire, with over 60% of today's Saddlebreds tracing back to this one horse.
General Robert E. Lee had a Saddlebred named Traveller; Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Stonewall Jackson also rode Saddlebreds. After the American Civil War ended, breeders began promoting the breed as a show horse, breeding for flash and animation, and earning the breed one its nicknames, "The Peacock of the Horse World," considered a term of admiration. One of the most famous Saddlebreds in the horse show world was Wing Commander (1943 – 1969). A six-time World Grand Champion, he became a leading sire of saddlebred show horses.
The Hollywood connection works both ways: actors today who own Saddlebreds include William Shatner, who, reprising his role as James T. Kirk in Star Trek Generations, rode one of his own Saddlebreds during scenes shot with Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) set in the alternative universe of the "Nexus. Another celebrity known for owning Saddlebreds and for his success as a horse show exhibitor is Carson Kressley, star of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Other notable owners and exhibitors of Saddlebreds include the Don Mattingly family (Diamond 5 Farms), Misdee Wrigley Miller (of Wrigley's gum), Michele MacFarlane (Scripps newspapers), Elisabeth Goth (Dow Jones), the Pettry-Fergusson family (Rustoleum), Mary Gaylord McClean (Gaylord Entertainment) and many others.