We specialize in foundation bred Missouri Foxtrotter


Col J W Bradbury

What kind of horse was the Colonial horse of early America? The Virginia horse? The Kentucky saddle horse? The western cow pony? And what can they possibly have to do with an "ambling rounsey"? Many of today's horse people, both eastern and western, could have some difficulty providing an accurate answer. Breed names such as Morgan, Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse might come to mind. However, the answer does not lie with breed names but rather with a type. All of these Colonial horses were what today would be called  'gaited' horses; i.e., they performed naturally more than the three basic walk, trot, and gallop gaits. But more importantly they also included in their repertoire one or more of the 'soft' gaits, just as did their "fifteen livres" forebears. This is not to say there were no hard gaited horses. Only that they were very much in the minority in early America.

GAITS: All horses are 'gaited' even if they only know dead stop and dead run. However, there are four basic natural rhythms or cadences and systems of leg motion from which all other gaits are derived: walk, trot, pace, and gallop. (How many gaits and what is a true gait as distinguished from a variation or movement are subjects of continuing debate.) The gallop differs from the other three in not being symmetrical on the two sides, so that the gait may be led either on one side or the other. The symmetrical gaits are divided into two categories--diagonal and lateral, depending on which hind leg and fore leg follow in the order of support of the horse. That is, if the movement is from near hind to near fore the gait is lateral; if from near hind to off fore the gait is diagonal. Thus it is the order of footfalls that defines a gait. Using this approach then, the walk and pace and the gaits derived from them are classified as lateral, while the trot and its derivatives are classified as diagonal.
             Without getting into all the possible permutations and combinations of foot-fall patterns or an exact description of each, we would suggest that the following , at least , are recognized gaits. Derived from the pace: amble, running walk, single foot, rack, and stepping pace. Each of these is a form of broken pace in that the two lateral hooves do not strike the ground at approximately the same time as in the true pace. Consequently these are 'soft' gaits comfortable to ride in the saddle. Derived from the gallop: canter and lope. Derived from the walk: flat-footed walk. Derived from the trot: fox trot, the only diagonal 'soft' gait. In this gait the horse trots with his hindquarters and walks with its front, usually capping its tracks. That is, the hind hoof comes down in the track of the front, making for sure-footedness and agility. The rhythm is a broken four beat 1-2-- -3-4, and the speed ranges normally from four to eight miles per hour, and is tiring neither to the horse nor to rider.
             EARLY SOFT GAITS: One of the major difficulties in getting a true picture of early horses and their gaits is the lack of precise terminology. Louis Taylor in his book, The Story Of America's Horses pointed out the problem when he wrote, "The gaits of the early English, Irish, and Colonial horses were the ones we call today the foxtrot, the amble, the running walk, and the rack or single-foot. In those early days, all these gaits were usually called by one name, the pace." Ambler is another term applied to an early-day soft-gaited horse. The Roman saddler was called "ambulatura", while a trotting horse was called "curciator" (tormentor). Thus it is sometimes quite difficult to determine what soft-gait early horses were performing, except that our own experience indicates that on rough ground a horse is unlikely to do a lateral gait, since it is not as sure footed as a diagonal. Thus, if the gait was described as smooth over rough ground, it probably was the diagonal fox trot.
             In the middle ages, knights rode soft-gaited horses known as "Palefrois" in France ('Palfreys' in England) and led their "great horses". Undoubtedly these light horses performed the fox trot, called "traquenard" by the French and "trocha" by the Spanish, as well as the lateral gaits. And, early writings and pictures of the horse and its use indicate soft-gaited horses were popular in Ancient China, Persia, Greece, Rome, and among the Berbers of North Africa. It was the Barb and the Spanish Jennet, along with native English horses, which seem to have had the greatest influence on the first horses to America.
             Before the 17th Century very few horses in Britain, in Europe, or in America were not soft-gaited. A horse that trotted was called a "boneshaker". While in 1600 England it was difficult to find a horse that trotted, by 1700 it was difficult to find one that didn't. Yet strangely, today the English have all but forgotten that the English ambler was once the prevalent horse in Great Britain.
             What happened in this relatively short period to change the coarse of equine history? Two events combined to cause the decline of the soft-gaited horse: the restoration of Charles II to the throne in England, and the improvement of roads and wheeled vehicles on the continent. By 1680, stagecoaches were regularly traveling the roads. Travel by wheeled vehicles became fashionable, and by horseback less necessary.
              During his exile in France, the King had become attracted to the sport of horse racing, and to Arabian horses and their crosses used as racehorses. Upon returning to England, he directed the Duke of Norfolk to help establish a line of racehorses. The Royal Mares were selected from native imported stock, and Oriental stallions were imported to found a new breed … the Thoroughbred. Whether these foundation sires were all Arabians, or also included Barb and Turk is moot. However since the thoroughbred horse over the years has shown little inclination toward the soft gaits, it appears whatever Barb blood he may have started with was bred out. In contrast, the Spanish horses with a predominance of Barb blood tended to retain the natural soft gaits.
             EASTERN HORSES: As the royal family adopted the "Sport of Kings" it suddenly became fashionable to raise and race Thoroughbreds, and "déclassé" to ride soft-gaited horses. However, in New England and Virginia, breeders continued to raise soft-gaited horses. Among the most famous of these breeds was the Naragansett Pacer, which was exported from Rhode Island in large number to the West Indies (to be crossed with Spanish horses), and to Virginia where they were mated with the Virginia horse.
              There are early accounts of Naragansetts covering 50-60 miles a day easily, "and being of great power and endurance, they could perform a journey of 100 miles in a single day without injury to themselves or rider." Although called 'pacers', as was the custom, the description by riders of the gait in which they traveled clearly was the diagonal fox trot, rather than a form of the lateral broken pace. This was the first breed of horse developed in the America and the only one that has completely disappeared.
             Although the thoroughbred was first introduced in the colonies in the 1750's, the preference remained in the south for soft-gaited horses, which became known as "plantation horses". And as in the early days of hunting in England, soft-gaited horses were used to follow the hounds until the half -thoroughbred became popular for this sport. Virginians bred the best of their plantation horses to perpetuate the soft gaits (fox trot, single foot and running walk) as natural gaits. And it was largely the Virginia horse that provided the basis for the early horses of Tennessee and Kentucky.
             According to Major General William Harding Carter, who began his military service during the Civil War, the Southerner, "who regarded rising to the trot as a heathenish invention of the English", rode "a saddle horse which meant a gaited horse capable of taking him on a long journey, especially in the hot season, with a minimum of discomfort". He further points out that, "Confederate cavalrymen were required to furnish their own horses, but very few used Thoroughbreds, the vast majority being gaited saddlers, and the balance hunters." the ability of the horsemen of J.E.B. Stuart, Forrest Wheeler, Morgan and other Southern cavalry generals to raid around Union armies, General Carter maintained, was because of easy riding saddlers, not thoroughbreds as is frequently stated.
             The gaits of the saddle horses, or as they were later called, Kentucky Saddlers, or just Saddlers, are not attributable to the thoroughbred, although thoroughbreds were crossed on the colonial and plantation horses to increase their size. Morgans, Standardbreds and others were also used to improve the breeds that have evolved. The American Saddle horse breed traces directly to a Thoroughbred, Denmark, who was mated to a naturally soft gaited mare who produced Gaines Denmark. The best qualities of gait, performance, and confirmation of both dam and sire were reproduced in the colt.
              From these early soft gaited saddlers evolved American breed registries, each striving to concentrate on one or more of the soft gaits: The American Saddlebred Horse Association, established in 1891 in Louisville, Kentucky; the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders Association of America, established in 1936 in Lewisburg, Tennessee; and the Missouri and American Fox Trotting Horse Breed Associations, established respectively in 1948 in Ava, Missouri and in 1970 in Marshfield, Missouri. With related ancestries, it is common for horses of these breeds to perform soft gaits other than their most noted one: rack, running walk, or fox trot. Whereas the first two tend to be flashy show and road gaits, the fox trot can be used as a working gait in rough country as well.
             WESTERN HORSES: While east of the Mississippi River the soft gaits of the English Ambler, Palfrey, Hobby and others were consciously preserved in new American strains and breeds, in the west the natural soft gaited horse was perpetuated in quite a different way. Records indicate that Cortez and other Spanish explorers brought Jennets and Barbs to establish large horse breeding ranches. Many became foundation stock for the large numbers of mustangs, which spread throughout the plains, deserts and mountains. Legend and fact have attributed many qualities of smooth gait and endurance to these "wild horses".
             The Nez Perce Indians, who developed a breeding program to produce spotted horses, also sought to maintain the natural fox trot gait in these horses. Fredrick Remmington, writing 1900 about the early west, noted, among other things, that the mustang was a natural fox trotter. In
Horses of the Plains he wrote, "the fox trot, which is the habitual gait of all plainsmen, cowboys, and Indians, is easily cultivated in him, and his light supple frame accommodates itself naturally to the motion'. Evidence that today's mustang, still retains this fox trot gait is present in the experience of Floyd Roberson of Castle Rock, Colorado. He spent a number of years among Indians and their mustangs in Montana and Canada, and discovered all of the horses fox trotted. He even brought some mustang mares back to breed to his registered Fox Trotter stallion. He calls the mustang, "a natural horse doing the natural gait".
             Recently we had the pleasure of interviewing one of the last of a fast disappearing breed--the old time cowboy, disdainful of the pick-up mounted well-housed citified version seen today. He began his ranching career on his father's 125,000 acre ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico following service in WW I. The foreman rode Fox Trotting Horses, as did the cowboys on long trail rides. In his words, a Fox Trotting Horse called RED ANT was "the best all-around horse" he ever owned. He came from a strain of cow horses in Colorado called "STEELDUSTS" and was particularly good at cutting out cows with their calves. He was also a good roping horse and a favorite hunting horse, since he was not in the least afraid of gunfire. He would stand with dropped reins while a deer or elk was shot, then cheerfully pack the meat to camp. Forty mile rides in an eight hour day were not unusual, and occasionally over sixty miles might be covered in ten or twelve hours. He said he once timed RED ANT crossing a twelve-mile long pasture at a fox trot. It took exactly two hours.
             THE FOX TROTTER: Today as a recognized breed with over 16,000 registered horses, the Fox Trotter is becoming increasingly better known as a horse of considerable versatility. The sure-footed comfortable gait, stamina and gentleness, which have been bred into the Fox Trotter, gained the attention of the U.S. Forest Service several years ago. Now there are possibly 700 or more Fox Trotters in government service providing mounts for the rangers on wilderness patrol, working cattle, taking big game counts and fighting forest fires.
             Registered Fox Trotters are also increasingly found on Western ranches. In the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming, the Stock Growers Association uses them almost exclusively. Accounts from New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and California indicate extensive use of Fox Trotters for packing into the high country. Explaining his preference, one new Mexico packer said, "Packing with Fox Trotters, we normally make substantially better time than those who use conventional three-gaited stock horses and mules. But the main advantage is the comfort of the ride when you spend eight or more hours in the saddle." Farther West, in California, Fox Trotters are used not only in these traditional western pursuits, but are shown extensively throughout the state. The California Fox Trotter Association Parade Group has won the State Parade Championship for the past three years.
             Fox Trotters are frequently seen in Hollywood movies and TV commercials. Several McDonald's commercials have featured the breed and the recent TV film "Wild Times" utilized Fox Trotters.
             In the West and elsewhere, Fox Trotters have become increasingly popular in the sport of competitive trail riding. In 1964 Larry Rossi of El Toro, California, with his registered Fox Trotter, Warrior's Merry Lady, was the national Sweepstakes winner of NATRC. In 1972, the late Frank Howe, one of the founders of NATRC, completed the 100-mile Tevis Cup endurance ride on his Fox Trotter, HIGH PEAK RED. In 1979 Linda Larsen, on her Fox Trotter LEVI'S BLISS, also completed the same ride. Among the registered Fox Trotters that were NATRC Competition during 1979 was FOX HILL OZARK SUNRISE, who was designated an NATRC National Champion. The beautiful eleven-year-old palomino mare is owned by Karl and Helen Stone of Sunland, California and was ridden to the championship by Hope Kyriss.
             However, registered Fox Trotters are not found exclusively in the West, South and Border States. They are found in every state and several foreign countries. There are also a number in the Midwest. The New England Fox Trotter Association reports increasing numbers in that area, where they are quite popular on Martha's Vineyard. In the East, they are ridden in hunts, shown in sidesaddle, English equitation, Western pleasure, trail and Fox Totting classes. There, as well as in the rest of the country, they are used in hunting dog field trials.
             If, after reading this far and learning (to coin a cliché) all you wanted to know and more about the origins of the soft gaited horse known as the Fox Trotter, you may be interested in hearing about CAP-A-LOT BABY, a registered Foxtrotter, grand daughter of a World Champion Fox Trotter stallion and is owned by Jeannie Crawford of Marshfield, Mo. Jeannie successfully showed the mare for four years in Fox Trotting gait classes before starting her jumping at the age of six. Now they are seldom out of the money in hunter-jumper classes in addition to winning in Fox Trotter shows and giving sidesaddle, jumping demonstration, even though both are relative novices over fences.
             In Colorado another registered Fox Trotter is not a novice, having campaigned from coast to coast for a number of years. OLD GOLD is a twenty-two year old sixteen hand Fox Trotter gelding owned and usually ridden by Jeanne Bates, now of Pueblo, Colorado. In following the hounds in hunts from New York, to Kansas, to California and now with the Rivers Divide Hunt in Colorado, OLD GOLD has jumped every type of fence, covered every type of terrain. But as Jeanne says, his smooth fox trot was sure pleasure to sit returning from the hunt when the three gaited riders were posting with muscle tired legs. In California he moved into the heat, earned 4th in the California Dressage Society. Through all of this OLD GOLD has remained a favorite trail horse of his owner and is looking forward to years more of pleasure.


Burton Foxtrotters

4597 U S 62 E, Beaver Dam, KY 42320