the rocky mountain horse
The birth of an American legend...
In North America there have been two breeds of feral horse. The more common are the Mustangs, with storied herds found West of the Mississippi. But it was the feral herds of Appalachia that propelled man west, with roots dating back as far as the colonial period.
“A Nation heads west…”
In 1775 Daniel Boone began guiding newly prospective settlers West through the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky, as it was the only passage across the Appalachians between Tennessee and Pennsylvania. It is estimated that 6 horses arrived to the Gap for every person traveling down the newly finished Wilderness Road. Numbers of these horses would form a feral herd, and begin to roam the plateau.
Locals have long since referred to these wild herds as “Mountain Horses” with records of their domestication dating back as far as 1770. Stories of these horses were passed down from generation to generation, comprising a majority of the breed’s deeply American history.
“A legend is born…”
You’re probably wondering by now how a horse with no ties west of the Mississippi became known as the Rocky Mountain Horse. Some argue that the breed has roots with the pacing Mustang, but a more likely account is told by storied breeder Sam Tuttle:
It all started when a gaited mare of Spanish lineage was acquired after a man swam out to Bird Island (off the coast of Virginia) to catch her up. This mare was likely part of an island herd, as island-herding was a sure way of containing larger herds in an otherwise rugged country. Unbeknownst to her captor, the mare was in foal.
The man soon rode west on a journey to the Rocky Mountains, likely in search of fortune during the great Gold Rush. During the ride to Colorado by way of the Oregon Trail, the mare gave birth to a foal destined to become “The Rocky Mountain Stud Colt of 1890”. After the gold boom collapsed, the man headed east and settled in Kentucky along with the stud colt. That same colt would go on to become the founder of the Rocky Mountain breed, And the American legend was born.
The Rocky Mountain Horse Association can trace their lineage to a 3rd generation descendant of the fabled colt named Tobe. Tobe was owned by Sam Tuttle, a highly prominent foundation breeder of Rocky Mountain Horses in the foothills of eastern Kentucky in the early 1900s.
As the foundation stallion of all registered Rocky Mountain horses, Tobe bred many Appalachian saddle mares from 1945 well into the 1970’s, passing away at age 37 in 1979.
Tobe was a beautiful chocolate stallion with a flaxen mane and tail. He passed on his perfect four-beat gait, willing disposition, and iconic mane to his offspring.
“A relatively young breed, the Rocky Mountain Horse Association has over 12,000 registered horses…”
Officially established in 1986, Rocky Mountain horses (affectionately referred to as “Rockies”) are naturally gaited horses. This means, in addition to the same basic gaits demonstrated by non-gaited breeds, such as the walk, trot, canter and gallop, gaited horses possess a naturally inherited ability to perform an even, four-beat gait.
This incredibly smooth, ambling gait creates a motion for the rider that is more forward and backward, rather than up and down like the trot of non-gaited breeds. The four-beat gait occurs naturally and does not require any training aids or action devices (chains, soring, or built up shoes.)
The gait itself is also exceptionally efficient as the horse moves with minimal ground clearance through minimal knee and hock action. This enables the horse to conserve energy and travel long distances without tiring – an attribute widely desired in the sport of endurance riding, where gaited horses have shown increased popularity.
“The Rocky Mountain Horse today…”
Today Rocky Mountain horses are used for cattle work, trail riding, and pleasure riding. They are ridden both English and Western and are generally easy keepers. Their amiable personalities and athletic natures make this American breed a desired companion.
“A striking appearance…”
While any solid color is accepted in the RMHA registry, the trademark color is a dark brown color known as "chocolate," with a flaxen mane and tail. This coloration is the result of a relatively rare silver dappling gene acting on a black coat. There must be no white markings above the horse's knee or hock, except for minimal white facial markings. "Bald faced" horses are not accepted.
The chest of a Rocky Mountain Horse should be broad, with a space between the forelegs. They have a sloping shoulder, with an ideal angle of 45 degrees, and a gracefully arched neck that is medium in length and set on an angle to allow for natural carriage with a break at the poll. The breed has medium sized bones and feet, and stands 14.2 - 16 hands tall.
“A truly American breed…”
Storied in origin and lineage, the Rocky Mountain Horse continues to solidify a position as a breed for cattlemen and pleasure riders alike. Striking, athletic, and an amiable companion, it’s easy to see why this American breed is continuing to rise in popularity.