A Rocky Mountain Horse always stands out in a crowd because of his distinctive coat color. He's the one with the rich, dappled chocolate coat and beautiful flaxen mane and tail. But he's not just a pretty face, the Rocky Mountain Horse is a sturdy, sure-footed horse that can work cattle one day, and participate in a fun 4-H show the next. The Rocky Mountain breed is a fairly new one. The breed association was only formed in 1986, but since then more than 6000 horses have been registered.
Like many American breeds, the Rocky Mountain Horse probably is related to Spanish horses that were imported to the USA by conquistadors, Spanish explorers. Many of the Spanish horses were gaited, and the Rocky Mountain Horse is gaited, too.
Most Rocky Mountain can be traced back to one very talented stallion, Old Tobe. Old Tobe belonged to a man named Sam Tuttle who lived in Spout Springs, a small town in eastern Kentucky. In the early 1900s, Mr. Tuttle had a string of horses that he used for taking guests on trail rides in Natural Bridge State Park. His horses were a hardy bunch, used to carrying inexperienced riders up and down the rocky hills of Kentucky. Old Tobe was Mr. Tuttle's prize stallion. Even though he was a breeding stallion, Old Tobe was gentle and well behaved. Mr. Tuttle could count on Old Tobe to look after even the greenest riders.
Mr. Tuttle bred Old Tobe to his own band of mares, and after a while other horse owners brought their mares to him, too. Old Tobe was still being ridden and fathering foals at the grand old age of 37.
His offspring inherited his gentle temperament and his smooth, gliding gait. They turned out to be versatile, too. Old Tobe's descendents could be seen plowing fields, working cattle, pulling buggies and being ridden bareback by kids up and down the rugged foothills of the Appalachians. And because they had such a smooth gait, they could be ridden long distances without the rider getting too tired.
The Rocky Mountain Horse has a lateral gait (also called racking) instead of a trot. This means that you can hear or count four distinct hoof beats when he moves forward, just like at the walk. This is a natural gait-the Rocky Mountain Horse doesn't have to be taught how to do it. Nor does the gait require artificial aids like chains or built-up shoes. Each horse has his own natural speed, but most can travel 7-20 miles per hour while doing this gait. In order to be registered with the breed association, a Rocky Mountain Horse has to meet four characteristics:
1. The horse must be of medium height, standing 14.2-16hh, have a wide chest, sloping 45 degrees at the shoulder, bold eyes and well-shaped ears.
2. The horse must have a natural, ambling four-beat gait.
3. The horse must have a good temperament and be easy to manage.
4. The horse has to have a solid body color. Facial markings are acceptable as long as they aren't excessive. There may not be any white above the knee or hock.
The International Rocky Mountain Horse Show is held at the famous Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, on the third weekend in September every year. It's the largest gathering of Rocky Mountain Horses in the world. If you attend this show, you can talk to many trainers and breeders, watch Rocky Mountain Horses in action in a variety of classes and take a test ride on one if you want.
Check out the Rocky Mountain Horse Web site.
For more information, contact: TheRocky Mountain Horse Association, P.O. Box 286, Paris. KY 40362-0286. Tel: (859) 987-9285.