Kentucky’s central location meant Spanish horses could easily be brought from the South and Southeast to be crossed with English horses from the East. This genetic combination was the basis of all the gaited breeds developed in the United States, including the American Saddlebred and Tennessee Walking Horse.
Gaited horses are those that naturally have gaits other than, or in addition to, the walk, trot, and canter common to all horses. These gaits may include the rack, single foot, and running walk, which are more comfortable for the rider than the trot. (It is likely that the Spanish horses contributed this characteristic.)
The ancestors of the Rocky Mountain horse were shaped by their early use in the limestone plateau and mountain region of eastern Kentucky. Horses were expected to be adaptable and versatile, easy keepers, rugged, sure-footed, with a willing disposition.
The breed’s name, Rocky Mountain, is used for a specific strain of gaited horses that descended from a stallion brought into eastern Kentucky from the West in the 1890s. Oral histories say that he was of the chocolate color with flaxen mane and tail and had the smooth, lateral four-beat gait. This stallion was bred to mares in a small geographic area creating a unique strain.
One of his offspring, Old Tobe, was considered a foundation sire of the breed and was famous in his local area, just as Man O’War was for Thoroughbreds. Old Tobe was owned by Sam Tuttle, who for many years operated the concession for horseback riding in the Natural Bridge State Park in eastern Kentucky. Tuttle sometimes put timid riders on Tobe because he had smooth gaits and a gentle temperament, rare in stallions. Tobe was also used as a breeding stallion until the age of 37 and is found in the pedigrees of many of today’s Rocky Mountain horses.
The Rocky Mountain Horse Association was formed in 1986 through the efforts of Rea Swan of Lexington, Kentucky. She worked for several years to understand breed history, locate remnants of the breed, and establish a registry to record pedigrees. The popularity of the Rocky Mountain horse has grown quickly as it fits the current market desire for easy riding, gentle, family pleasure horses.
As a landrace breed, the Rocky Mountain is somewhat variable in type. Some horses have very Spanish features while others appear more like larger, modern breeds. Consistent among all variations is a smooth, four-beat gait and a calm, friendly disposition. The horses stand 14.2-16 hands at the withers and weigh 850-1,000 lbs. Most of the solid colors known in horses occur in the breed, including gray and roan, though chocolate of varying shades with a flaxen mane and tail is the most popular. Spotted individuals occur occasionally, but they are not accepted by the registry. The Rocky Mountain is closely related to Mountain Pleasure horses, and many are included in registries for both breeds.
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