Submitted by: Crystal A. Eikanger
The Missouri Fox Trotter is a breed of naturally gaited horse from the Ozarks that is most famous for its fox trotting gait of walking with its front feet while trotting with its back feet in a broken, yet gliding motion. Trail riders are rapidly discovering what U.S. Forest Rangers have known for years — Missouri Fox Trotters have no equal when it comes to an easy, sure-footed ride on hazardous or mountainous terrain. They are especially common in their native Missouri, but have world-wide appeal. Missouri Fox Trotters are very versatile horses found in a wide variety of disciplines, including jumping, pleasure and equitation. These horses are historically tied to the grazing cattle industry of the Ozarks and continue to be used on working ranches and farms. In 2002, the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse became the Official State Horse of Missouri.
The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse was developed in the rugged Ozark hills during the 19th century out of a desire to have a sure-footed, smooth-gaited horse that could travel long distances through this mountainous region quickly. They also needed the ability to do whatever was needed such as plowing, hauling logs and working cattle; yet be able to double as a stylish buggy horse or riding horse.
Their pedigrees can be traced to the horses of early settlers coming to the Ozarks from neighboring states of Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee and Arkansas. Bloodlines from several other gaited horses, such as the American Saddle Horses and the Tennessee Walkers along with the American Quarter Horse are in their ancestry. It soon became apparent that horses with the, broken, sliding gait were the most useful in the rocky hills, and selective breeding for the fox trot gait began. Later the horses became known as Missouri Fox Trotters, though other names have been used such as Missouri Fox Trotting Horse or simply, Fox Trotter.
A breed association was formed in 1948 by fifteen men who were concerned with preserving this unique breed before it was irretrievably lost and maintaining an accurate stud book. Much progress was made, but in 1955 the Secretary’s home burned and with it the stud book and all the records they had. In 1958, the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association (MFTHBA) was reorganized and reincorporated as a stockholder company. In 1973 the corporation was changed from a stockholding company to a membership organization. It became a “closed book” registry in 1983 and foals have to have both parents registered in the MFTHBA. This is designed to preserve the breed standard and history of this American horse. Currently, over 90,000 horses have been placed in the Official Record with more than 42,283 registered Missouri Fox Trotters living in the United States and Canada.
In May of 2004, MFTHBA Board of Directors recognized the need to specifically register and record Fox Trotting horses that were between 44″ and 56″, and The Missouri Fox Trotting Pony Registry (MFTPR) was created as a part of the MFTHBA. No further information is available at this time on what the ancestry of these smaller Fox Trotters may have been.
The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse comes in a wide range of colors; and. generally stands between 14 and 16 hands in height, with a pony version between 11 and 14 hands. Individuals may average 900 to 1200 pounds. The neck should be graceful with a neat, clean, symmetrically shaped head of medium length; pointed ears; large, bright, wide-set eyes; and a tapered muzzle with large nostrils. The back should be reasonably short and strong, the body deep and the ribs well-sprung. The foot should be well made, strong and in proper proportion to the size of the horse. Good conformation permits their special gaits to be performed in the proper manner.
Unlike a lot of gaited horses, the Missouri Fox Trotter is not a showy horse with high-stepping flashy gaits, but rather a steady, dependable, sure-footed animal which often nods its head in time with the pleasant gait. The head and tail are slightly elevated and the rhythmic beat of the hooves along with the nodding action of the head give the appearance of relaxation and poise. The movement is smooth and consistent with no noticeable up and down motion. No special shoeing or training is required for these 3 natural born gaits.
The breed’s signature Fox Trot is a broken diagonal gait performed by walking in front and trotting behind, with reach in each stride. The rhythm begins at the tip of the nose with a characteristic headshake and continues back through the ripple of the tail. There is no excessive animation, nor exaggerated knee motion but the back feet have a sliding action resulting from the horse breaking at the hocks. The front hoof of the diagonal pair strikes the ground just before the rear hoof, and one front hoof is on the ground at all times in the correct fox trot. The head is slightly elevated with a rhythmic motion matching the rear foot movement. The raised tail emphasizes the rhythm naturally. The gait is extremely comfortable and surefooted, and the horse can maintain it for long periods of time with little fatigue.
The Flat Foot Walk is a rapid flat, four beat gait performed in a square, stylish manner. It is distinctly different from the fox trot which has a broken rhythm. A correctly performed flat foot walk has the sound of an equal four beat cadence produced by the hooves. The head shake is more animated than in the fox trot and it gives a smooth ride.
The Canter is a three beat gait and is performed in a straight, collected manner with head and tail slightly raised. The three-beat gait is has a rocking, or rolling, motion, starting from the outside rear foot, to the inside rear-outside front landing together, and then to the inside front foot. The head is at its lowest point when the inside front foot is on the ground. It is not fast moving gait, and the horse should appear relaxed.
Missouri Fox Trotters make excellent mounts for children and beginning riders because of their friendly, quiet, gentle dispositions and willingness to please. A person who is inexperienced with horses can ride a Missouri Fox Trotter with confidence since these horses are quite attuned to their riders and the smooth gait makes them easier to ride than the hard-trotting gait of a standard horse.
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