Generations of Kentuckians have stories to tell about their smooth gaited, good dispositioned, hard working, sure-footed, reliable mountain horses. They were work horses that willingly plowed the rugged foothills of the Appalachians and yet proudly carried their owners to town with their smooth, four beat gait that ate up the miles. Fancy barns and stalls were not necessary. Because of its cold blooded nature, it tolerated the winters with a minimum of shelter.
The Rocky Mountain Horse Association’s (RMHA) rendition of the history of the breed states there was a gaited colt brought from the Rocky Mountain region of the United States to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky around 1890. He was referred to as “the Rocky Mountain Horse” by the local Kentucky people because of the area of the country from which he had come. He is the horse credited for the start of the Rocky Mountain Horse breed.
Little is known about this foundation stallion, but oral history indicated he was chocolate-colored with flaxen mane and tail, and he possessed a superior gait. The stallion was bred to the local Appalachian saddle mares in a relatively small geographical area and the basic characteristics of a strong genetic line continued. This prized line of horses increased in numbers as years went by, and these are the horses known today as Rocky Mountain Horses.
The distinctive, easy riding gait is difficult to describe, but once you’ve experienced it, you won’t settle for anything else. The horse does not trot; it absorbs the bounce of a gait in its ankles, rather than passing that bounce along to the rider.
The breed’s definition of this gait is “an evenly spaced, four beat lateral gait with moderate forward speed and extension, without exaggerated knee and hock action.”
The gait is natural. It is bred into these horses and one of the joys of breeders of Rocky Mountain Horses is to see a young foal “hitting a lick” as it keeps up with its mother’s long strides.
As a rider gets to know his or her mountain horse, they will find the horse can be ridden at varying speeds while maintaining the same smooth, comfortable gait. And there’s nothing quite like the “pick-a-pock-a” sound of a Rocky Mountain Horse gaiting down a blacktop road.
Today, Rocky Mountain Horses are being used as a pleasure horses, for trail, competitive or endurance riding, and for show. These horses have a lot of natural endurance, they are sure-footed on rough ground and, because of their gait, they require a minimum of effort by both horse and rider so that together they can cover a greater distance with less tiring.
Rocky Mountain Horses are great for all types of riders. They could be of special interest to seniors who want a reliable horse, people with neck and back injuries who want a smooth, gaited horse, and novice riders who want a gentle, dependable horse.
To learn more about Rocky Mountain Horses visit the official website of the Rocky Mountain Horse Association.