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The Rocky Mountain Horse

Text by Deborah Ann Buchan

The Rocky Mountain Horse breed originated in the late 1800s in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky in the United States. The breed was sure-footed, easy-gaited and the mount of choice for anyone travelling long distances. The same horses were used to plough, herd cattle and to pull the buggy to church on Sunday.

These gaited horses received no special care and had to withstand the harsh winters of Eastern Kentucky with minimal shelter. The more fortunate animals were fed rough silage, but many had to exist on whatever they could find and often ate the bark off trees. Only the horses who survived both the extreme conditions and daily work lived to reproduce.

A rocky mountain horse

The Rocky Mountain Horse Association (RMHA) credits a gaited, chocolate-coloured stallion with a flaxen mane and tail, brought from the Rocky Mountain region to the Appalachian Mountain region in Kentucky in around 1890, as the foundation stallion for the breed. Known as the ‘Rocky-Mountain Horse’, he was bred to the local Appalachian saddle mares in a relatively small geographical area and a strong genetic line was established.

The RMHA was established in 1986 and holds a patent from the US Patent Office. It is one of the few American breed registries that require mares and stallions to pass a rigorous inspection before being registered as breeding animals. All animals must demonstrate a gentle temperament in addition to proper conformation and colour.

The breed has a natural, smooth, ambling gait that feels as if the horse is gliding forwards. The horse moves out with a lateral gait with four distinct hoof beats that produce a cadence of near equal rhythm. The gait is initiated with the hind-leg; the length of stride for both hind and fore-leg is approximately equal; and the feet are moved with minimal ground clearance, knee and hock action. Because the gait does not waste energy in motion, the horses are able to travel long distances with minimal effort.

The Rocky Mountain Horse must be no less than 14.2 hands (147.3cm) and no more than 16.0 hands (162.6cm) tall. The horse must have a solid body colour with no white above the knee or hock except on the face where modest amounts of white markings are acceptable.

Rocky Mountain Horses are prized by their owners and only limited numbers of animals ever go up for sale.