Name of breed: Rocky Mountain Horse
Country of origin: USA
Breed origin: Despite its name, the Rocky Mountain Horse didn’t develop in the Rocky Mountains, but in the state of Kentucky in the Appalachian Mountains. A single foundation stallion brought to the area as a colt is the sire of the Rocky Mountain Horse breed. Oral histories state he possessed the preferred chocolate colour and flaxen mane and tail found in the breed today, as well as a four-beat ambling gait. He was bred to local saddle mares, and due to the small area in which he was bred, a local strain of horse originated. One of his descendants, a stallion named Old Tobe, became the more modern father of the Rocky Mountain Horse breed.
The presence of the single-foot gait indicates that the Rocky Mountain Horse is in part descended from the Narragansett Pacer, a breed known for passing its gaited ability onto other breeds. It wasn’t until 1986 that a breed association was formed to increase population numbers and promote the breed. There were only 26 horses registered in the first intake, but since then, there have been over 25,000 horses accepted into the registry and the breed has spread to 47 states and 11 countries.
Distinguishing features: Known for its preferred ‘chocolate’ coat colour and flaxen mane and tail, this is the result of the relatively rare silver dapple gene acting on a black base coat which can be seen in much of the population. It is also a gaited horse, exhibiting a four-beat ambling gait known as the ‘single-foot’. The extra footfalls provide an additional smoothness for a rider because the horse always has at least one foot on the ground, thus minimising the movement of the horse’s top line and removing the bounce of a two-beat gait like a trot. This single-foot gait is also an intermediate speed, meaning that the horse conserves more energy while being able to travel at roughly 11km per hour.
The Rocky Mountain Horse is known for its hardiness and ability to withstand the harsh winter climate of the mountains. It’s also renowned for its wonderful nature and affinity for humans.
Modern day Rocky Mountain Horse: Originally developed as an all-rounder for use on the farms of the Appalachian foothills, where it completed light draft work, worked cattle and was also used for riding, the Rocky Mountain Horse is today used mainly for trail riding and working cattle on ranches. The breed’s gait and gentle disposition make it a popular choice for elderly and disabled riders, and every year in September, the Kentucky Horse Park hosts the International Rocky Mountain Horse Show.
Image credit: Horse Breeds Information & Pictures