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, and fast enough for match races. In the 1830s, Morgan and Thoroughbred blood was added to give the breed 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.
Many film and television horses of the Golden Age of Hollywood were also Saddlebreds, including the horses selected to portray Mr. Ed, Flicka and one of the horses used in National Velvet. Saddlebreds played themselves in the film classic Gone with the Wind, and many early action movies, like the original Zorro.