The Missouri Fox Trotter is best known for its unique gait, known as the fox trot, in which the horse appears to walk with its front legs and trot with its hind. Because the hind end has a sliding motion rather than a two-beat trot, the gait is incredibly easy to sit. It is accompanied by an up and down head nodding. The horses, unlike many other gaited breeds, do not have high-stepping action, but rather a very smooth, comfortable ride. The fox trot can be maintained for great stretches of time, reaching speeds up to 10 mph. The Fox Trotter also performs the flat-footed walk and the regular canter.
The Missouri Fox Trotter is also known for its stamina and soundness. The horses have a willing and gentle disposition, and are very surefooted. They are generally medium-height, between 14.2 and 16.2 hands. They come in all colors.
Well-configured horses have an elevated neck, head, and tail carriage, sloping shoulders, a short back with a rounded croup, and a slender body with a deep chest. They should have muscular and powerful hindquarters and legs.
History of the Missouri Fox Trotter
In the early 19th century, when pioneers came to the rugged foothills of Missouri from Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky, they soon realized that a horse with a natural lateral gait would be ideal for the rocky and forested land. Farmers selectively bred for the gliding fox trot by blending American Saddle Horses, Standardbreds, and Tennessee Walkers with the Morgan, Thoroughbred and Arabian. An early breeding policy was to use horses that had reached fast running speeds.
Influential stallions include Brimmer, a Thoroughbred, Old Skip, a Morgan/Thoroughbred cross, and the two American Saddlebred stallions, Chief and Cotham Dare.
The settlers used the horses for working cattle ranches and for transportation of local officials, such as the sheriff and local doctor. In the early 20th century, the Fox Trotter survived because ranchers found it to be irreplaceable.
The breed association was formed in 1948, and was recognized in 1958 as the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breeders' Association (MFTHBA). In 1982, all horses were required to have at least one parent registered with the MFTHBA to be registered themselves. This changed in 1983, when both parents were required to be registered in order for the foal to be registered, and the stud book was thus closed.
The Missouri Fox Trotter today
Today, the breed is still popular in Missouri, as well as elsewhere. There are over 52,000 registered foxtrotting horses in the USA, Canada, Austria, and Germany. They are very popular with forest rangers and pleasure riders.
These horses are typically shown in western-style performance classes, versatility (Western and English Pleasure, jumping, ranch, driving) classes, and halter classes. Many are used for pleasure and trail riding. Their disposition is even and very gentle, and they are very versatile, which is why the breed is now being used for long-distance competitive trail riding. They are also increasingly used in the sport of driving.
When shown, horses are not allowed to have any artificial devices to accentuate their action, such as heavy shoes or chains around the fetlock. They have a natural tail set, and, unlike the American Saddlebred, are not allowed to be nicked. They are judged on their fox trot (50%), flatfooted walk (25%), and canter (25%) in the performance classes.