Mountain Pleasure horses trace their American roots back to Appalachia. The limestone plateau west of the Appalachian Mountains has long been known as horse country. Horse breeding has been an important economic enterprise and horses were used for riding, agricultural work, and pulling a variety of vehicles. They had to be easy keepers, rugged, sure-footed, and willing. Kentucky was also important because of its central location: Spanish horses from the Southeast and Southwest were often brought there to be crossed with English and European horses from the East.
History suggests that Spanish horses likely contributed the “gaited” characteristic found in many of the breeds developed in this region. Gaited horses are those that have natural gaits other than (or in addition to) the walk, trot, and canter of all horses and may include the rack, single foot, and running walk. These gaits are more comfortable for the rider than the trot.
The Mountain Pleasure horse is a landrace breed that has been relatively unchanged for a century or more; it was once known as the “Old Kentucky Saddler.” They reflect the primitive Appalachian gaited horse type and may be ancestors of modern breeds developed in the region between the late 1800s and early 1900s, including the American Saddlebred and the Tennessee Walking Horse.
As a landrace, the Mountain Pleasure is variable in type, with some horses having distinctively Spanish features and others resembling the larger modern breeds.
Consistent among all types is a smooth four-beat gait that replaces the trot. The horses stand 14.2-15.2 hands (58–62″) at the withers and weigh 850 to 950 lbs. Most of the solid colors known in horses occur in the breed, including gray and roan.
Mountain Pleasure horses are prized for their calm temperament and smooth gait, and the breed is best suited to be a family pleasure horse rather than a high-powered show animal. They are an excellent choice for beginning riders and for people who have back/joint pain and have had to give up riding due to the physical discomfort caused by certain gaits. The most famous Mountain Pleasure horse was Roy Rogers’ original Trigger. Because Trigger did not trot, he was always filmed at a walk or a canter.
The Mountain Pleasure Horse Association was formed in 1989 to conserve and promote the breed in North America. This was the first mountain horse breed association to require blood-typing (and now DNA testing) as proof of parentage for registration. Since then, about 3,000 horses have been registered. The Association aims to maintain the heritage of the breed, with emphasis on its kind disposition and comfortable natural gait. The Mountain Pleasure is closely related to the Rocky Mountain horse and many horses are included in registries of both breeds.
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