More than a century and a half ago, the urgent need for a sure-footed, easy-traveling horse was recognized by the settlers and pioneers of the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. These horses were depended upon to do whatever was needed around the homestead, from plowing, hauling logs and working cattle to also serving as a stylish buggy or riding horse for the family.
As people migrated west from the hills and plantations of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, they brought with them their finest possessions, including their best saddle stock. The breeds of this stock were largely Arabian, Morgan, and plantation horses from the deep South. Later, American Saddlebred, Tennessee Walking Horse and Standardbred bloodlines were added to give the Fox Trotting Horse a more pleasing appearance and disposition.
The ability to travel long distances at a comfortable speed of five to eight miles an hour made the Fox Trotting horse a favorite of the country doctor, sheriff, assessor and stock raiser.
The Gaits of the Missouri Fox Trotter
Although the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse is capable of doing many different gaits, there are three distinct gaits:
The Flat Foot Walk
A true flat foot walk is a four-beat gait in which each foot is picked up and set down in an even cadence. The rear end movement should be smooth and close to the ground without any snap or pop. Each stride should reach forward and slide in as it sets down, over striding the track of the front foot. The head shake is in time with the rear feet and should be smooth. The tail should sit still and flow.
The foxtrot is a broken diagonal gait with a distinctive rhythm that is created by a horse moving its front foot a split second before its opposite rear foot. The foxtrot is a smooth gait because the horse is in contact with the ground at all times. A horse that is foxtrotting correctly will never have more than two feet off the ground at any given time. On both the front and back ends, the horse will set one foot down as it picks the other foot up, and for a moment both feet will be touching the ground. The tail should reflect the rhythm of the motion.
The canter is a broken, three-beat gait, and should be performed with collection. The horse should be relaxed and under control, should not crossfire, and should be in the correct lead. In the canter the outside rear foot hits the ground first, the inside rear and the outside front feet hit the ground simultaneously and the inside front foot hits last. This produces the broken three-beat cadence. Because of the rocking motion of the canter, the saddle should move smoothly without surging and bouncing. This rocking chair canter allows the horse to have a showy head movement as the head is used as a counter balance to the broken gait. The head will reach its highest point when the outside rear foot hits the ground, and its lowest point when the inside front foot hits the ground. The horse gathers itself on the off-beat and takes another step. The speed of the canter should be near that of the flat foot walk.
The Breed Today
The Missouri Fox Trotter stands out for its versatility. Today it is rapidly gaining popularity throughout the United States, Europe and the Middle East.
Best known for its comfortable ride, Fox Trotters are loved as trail horses. Ninety percent of registered Fox Trotters are used for pleasure riding and trail riding. In 2011 three Missouri Fox Trotters were among the American Competitive Trail Horse Association's 100 finalists in the America's Favorite Trail Horsetelevised competition, the most of any gaited breeds competing.
The Missouri Fox Trotter is also recognized for its beauty, style, and success in the show ring. A Missouri Fox Trotter was named The Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH) Horse of the Year in both 2009 and 2010. Fox Trotters were named the Sport Horse Overall Hi-Point Grand Champion Stallion and Reserve Hi-Point Grand Champion Stallion at the 2010 Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (SSHBEA) World Championship Show.
Field trials, pleasure driving, handicapped riding programs, police mounts, ranch mounts, and forest ranger work are just a few of the activities in which Fox Trotters excel. The ability of Fox Trotters to work cattle is also gaining recognition as Fox Trotters begin to win Versatility Ranch Horse events in which they compete against traditional stock horse breeds. They are also finding their niche in the endurance world at all levels, including the Tevis Cup. Four Missouri Fox Trotters have won the North American Trail Riding Conference (NATRC) President's Cup, its highest honor, and two Fox Trotters are in the NATRC Hall of Fame.
Missouri Fox Trotters are also recognized for their docile temperament and easy trainability. These traits make them an excellent choice for beginning riders or as an all-around family horse.
Of all the gaited breeds, the Fox Trotter tends to have the stockiest build and excels in cattle and ranch work. The foxtrot gait is four beat diagonal gait. This diagonal base, rather than a lateral one, combined with the blockier- type body style, contributes to its high degree of proficiency in navigating treacherous terrain.
Unlike many of the gaited breeds, the Fox Trotter is not a high-stepping horse, but rather an extremely sure-footed horse. Even the individuals who make their mark in the show ring are selected in part for their flat knee action and lack of an elevated front end.
Interestingly, the foxtrot gait has a similar feel as a trot -- just smoothed out quite a bit. The foxtrot is difficult to describe, yet impossible to forget once you’ve experienced it. The foxtrot is a gait that is easy on both the horse and the rider, which is one reason so many horses remain completely sound and serviceable into their late twenties.
Used by hunters and National Forest Service rangers for its endurance and surefootedness in rugged terrain, by ranchers for its versatility and intelligence, and on Hollywood movie sets for its gentle nature, the Fox Trotter has quickly earned its reputation as a horse for all situations.
In 2002, the Missouri Fox Trotter was named the official state horse of Missouri.
The Missouri Fox Trotter is generally a thrifty animal, who thrives on quality forage and often requires nothing else. Health issues are few, and many are regularly ridden barefoot in all types of terrain, thanks to their proportionate-sized, good hard feet.
For additional information contact:
Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association
PO Box 1027
Ava, MO 65608