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Predating all the American breeds as well as the importation of Thoroughbreds to this country was the Narragansett Pacer.  It was in evidence in the US as early as 1676, and is regarded as the base upon which all easy gaited horses in America rests. There is much speculation over their exact ancestry.  Some historians believe they derived from the British Hobbies and Galloways, while others believe they were derived from the Spanish Jennet. The truth may never be known, but in addition to being highly prized as smooth gaited saddle horses, they were also widely raced in those areas of the Colonies where religious leaders would allow such "dubious" sport.  It is uncertain just which gaits they actually performed, as in those times all the soft gaits were grouped together under the terms "pace" or "amble."  Exported to the West Indies and Caribbean Islands, these horses mixed with Spanish stock, to form many of today's Paso breeds.

The Narragansett was described as small, commonly sorrel and distinguished by a pacing gait.  They were hardy, sure of foot, and easy moving horses.  They were believed to be the result of carefully selecting and breeding from the best and fastest descendants of the English Pacers, that were found everywhere in the colony of Massachusetts.  The people of Rhode Island were largely made up of refugees from the religious intolerance of the New England colonies.  They loved a good horse race, which was denied them in the other settlements.  When they moved to Rhode Island, they brought their best horses with them. Race courses were established, valuable prizes were offered, and improving the breed became serious business.  The blood of the Narragansett Pacer, therefore, was not different from the blood of the pacers of the other colonies, but the development of his speed by the establishment of the racing industry brought the best and fastest horses to this colony and from them, they built the breed that became famous throughout all the inhabited portions of the Western hemisphere.  The Narragansett Pacer was established as the aristocrat among horses in the colonies.

In the case of the Narragansett horse, there was first a desire for an easy riding and utility horse.  Then came the process of selective breeding to produce and improve this animal. Third, after some years had passed, the horse was converted into a luxury item employed mainly for entertainment.  This pattern was held to in the case of the Tennessee Walking horse as well.  When the Narragansett Pacers were sent back to the mainland, one of the chief areas they were imported to was Virginia and North Carolina which in turn supplied the utility mares brought to Middle Tennessee around 1800.

After the American Revolution, Rhode Island was no longer a frontier settlement, but had grown into a rich and prosperous state.  Mere bridal paths through the woods had developed into broad, smooth highways, and wheeled vehicles had taken the place of the saddle.  Under these changed conditions, the little pacer was no longer desirable or even tolerable as a harness horse, and he was supplanted by a larger and more stylish type of horse that was better suited to the particular kind of work required of him.

Regardless of the reason for its disappearance, the Narragansett Pacer had laid the foundation for the pacing horse in America, and it's influence would carry on where ever pacing horses existed.  The little horse had served its people well.  It was the horse that carried Paul Revere on his famous ride and was the favorite mount of George Washington. 

Since the Narragansett Pacer made significant contributions to the Walking Horse breed, its characteristics are worthy of attention.  By modern standards, the Narragansett Pacer would be classed as a scrub.  It was small: the average height of the Rhode Island horses in 1769 was 14:1 hands, which was a step up from the 1750 average of 13:2.  They were judged even at their time to be "not very handsome, but good", plain in their form and low in their carriage.  They were fleet, hardy and docile, surefooted, but not beautiful, and it is reasonable to suppose that the lack of style and beauty was one of the leading causes of its becoming extinct. 

A further description of the Narragansett Pacer can be found in the 1830 edition of the Edinburgh  Encyclopedia:

Head clean, the neck long, hocks a little crocked.. color generally though not always, bright sorrel... very spirited and carry both head and tail high... where the ground requires it, they have a fine, easy single-footed trot. These circumstances, together with their being very sure-footed, render them the finest saddle horses in the world, as they fatigue neither themselves nor their rider. They pace naturally.. with such swiftness and for so long a continuance as must appear almost incredible to those who have not experienced it. The Narragansett Pacer was able to pace a mile under saddle in slightly over two minutes, and pace three miles in seven minutes.  the Narragansett Pacer

These horses were ideal saddlers for more reasons than speed.  They were noted for ease of motion, which propelled the rider in a straight line without any side-to-side or up-and-down jogging.  Such comfort in the saddle made long trips possible in the sparsely settled colonies.  Fortunately, the blood of the Narragansett Pacer was not lost when the breed vanished from Rhode Island.  It was literally banished to the frontiers of Canada, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee, where in 1901, the bloodlines were still appreciated and preserved for the luxurious saddle gaits which they alone transmitted.  It is not clear whether or not these horses actually performed a true pace, as the terms "pace" and "amble" were then used to denote most any of the soft gaits, including the fox trot, running walk, stepping pace or rack.  Other legends describe these horses covering over a hundred miles in a single day. 

Just prior to the Civil War, the Canadian Pacers were transported to Kentucky and Tennessee.  Although the Narragansett Pacer blood had been mixed with that of the Canadian Pacer, the gaits were still pure, and without a doubt the American Saddlebred, the Standardbred, and the Tennessee Walking Horse owe much of their existence to these noble little Rhode Island horses.

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