- HEIGHT: 14–16 hands
- PLACE OF ORIGIN: Ozark Mountains of Missouri
- SPECIAL QUALITIES: A gaited breed known for its rhythmic diagonal gait called the fox trot
- BEST SUITED FOR: Ranch work, trail riding, forest service work, handicapped riding programs, team penning, and showing
The Ozark Mountains of Missouri are low and largely forest covered, but they are also rugged and rock-strewn. During America’s westward migration, the first settlers to arrive in the Ozarks came from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia, and they brought with them the types of saddle horses that were popular in those areas. They preferred smooth-gaited horses with a calm disposition that could be used to pull plows or to ride. Because of the difficult, rocky terrain, sure-footed horses were essential.
Even before Missouri became a state in 1821, it was clear that the horses best suited for the Ozarks were those that had a natural, easy fox trot, a rhythmic diagonal smooth gait with alternating three-hoof, two-hoof support and a reaching step in front rather than high action. On a relatively even surface, a fox trotter can be observed sliding its hind feet forward, giving the rider an extremely smooth ride. The gait allows a horse to be exceptionally sure-footed, even in rough going. It is a comfortable gait for the horses to perform, one they are able to maintain for long distances.
Although known best for their intermediate-speed gait called the fox trot, these horses are versatile and athletic. They make excellent ranch horses.
Fox Trotters come in a wide array of attractive colors.
Breeders quickly began selecting for horses with this ability, and the horses became extremely popular in the region.
When cars and tractors replaced most working horses, the Missouri Fox Trotters survived because they continued to be the choice of Missouri’s many cattlemen. Not only were they comfortable to ride, but they also were good working ranch horses.
In 1948, a breed organization was founded to preserve the type of horse that had long been held in such high esteem in the Ozarks. The Missouri Fox Trotter studbook remained open until 1982, selecting horses that had the fox trot gait along with other specifically designated traits. The first such animals were admitted as “characteristic” foundation stock. Since 1982, all horses admitted to the registry must have a sire and a dam that are registered Missouri Fox Trotters.
Smooth-gaited horses were favorites in the old West, and they are still popular there today.
The breed has gained wide fame, especially among trail riders, because the horses are easy to get along with, comfortable to ride, and able to carry weight. They also have excellent stamina and are well suited to work in mountainous regions. For these same reasons, they are used by the U.S. Forest Service and many other organizations that need comfortable, easygoing, reliable horses. There is also a fairly large show circuit for Fox Trotters. Fox-trotting mules (a Fox Trotter mare x donkey sire) are widely used in the West for trail riding and for carrying hunters into the mountains for elk hunts.
Because they are inclined to be gentle as well as comfortable to ride, Fox Trotters make an excellent choice for families with children, for handicapped riding programs, and for adults with limited riding experience or with bad backs or knees. They are excellent ranch horses.
Fox Trotters stand 14 to 16 hands. The head is well proportioned, with a straight profile. The eyes are large, the ears pointed. The neck is well formed and of medium length. The withers are pronounced. The back is short and straight, with a rounded and muscular croup. The tail set is fairly high. The chest is broad and deep, the shoulders sloped and muscular.
The legs are muscular and sturdy, with good joints and clearly defined tendons. The hooves are well formed and proportional to the size of the horse.
Missouri Fox Trotters may be either solid or pinto and they may be bay, black, roan, brown, buckskin, chestnut, gray, palomino, sorrel, white, cremello, perlino, or champagne. White face markings and white on the lower legs are common.
Fox Trotters are soundly built. They do not require exotic shoeing in order to perform the gait. There are many palominos and champagne-colored horses in the breed.
In addition to the fox trot, the horses perform a smooth, flat-footed walk and a nice canter. When working, the Missouri Fox Trotter travels gracefully, with the head and tail slightly elevated. The head nods slightly, giving the horse a look of relaxation in movement. Fox Trotters are not high-stepping horses, but they are known to be exceptionally sure-footed.
BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES
According to the Missouri Fox Trotter Horse Breeders Association (founded in 1948):
• It has registered about 83,000 horses.
• Each year, 8,500 horses are registered.
• Fox Trotters may be found in almost every state, as well as in Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France.