The Rocky Mountain horse breed actually hails from the Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky, and it was one of the foundations of the family of breeds which developed there. Kentucky was geographically significant, as its central location meant that Spanish horses from the South and Southeast could easily be crossed with English horses from the East. From this genetic combination would come all of the gaited breeds developed in America, including the American Saddlebred and Tennessee Walking Horse.
Gaited horses are those which naturally have gaits other than (or in addition to) the walk, trot, and canter of all horses; they may include the rack, single foot, and running walk, which are more comfortable for the rider than the trot. Spanish horses likely contributed this characteristic to the American breeds.
The Rocky Mountain breed was also shaped by its early uses in the limestone plateau and mountains of eastern Kentucky. Horses were expected to be adaptable and versatile, easy keepers, rugged and sure-footed, willing in disposition. The Rocky Mountain breed reflects the primitive gaited horse type and may be ancestral to modern breeds developed later.
The breed name distinguishes a specific strain of gaited horses that descended from a stallion brought into eastern Kentucky from the West around the turn of the century. The stallion was bred to native mares, and the most famous of the offspring was Old Tobe, considered to be the foundation sire of the breed. 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 put the most timid riders on Tobe, for he had smooth gaits and a gentle temperament. Tobe was also used as a breeding stallion until the age of 37 and figures 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 and locate remnants of the breed and establish a registry to record pedigrees. The Rocky Mountain breed has grown quickly, as it fits the current market for easy riding, gentle family pleasure horses, and now numbers about 10,000.
As a landrace breed, the Rocky Mountain is somewhat variable in type. Some horses have very Spanish features while others appear more like the larger, modern breeds. Consistent among all is a smooth four-beat gait and a calm, friendly disposition. The horses stand 14.2–16 hands (58–64") at the withers and weigh 850–1,000 pounds. 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 the Mountain Pleasure horse and many horses are included in registries of both breeds.
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