There are countless ancient written works that go into great detail about the horses of specific areas and times all down through the annals of time. Among these written texts there are specific similarities that hold consistently true through more than 10 centuries. One of these reported facts is that in all areas of the world, the small gaited stocks were the fastest and most agile horses of all the various types of horse from the beginning of domestication.

Time and time again reports explain that the gaited horses were smaller than those who trotted or galloped only. They were fleet of foot and quick and agile as eels. Because of this, the gaited horses were prized above all others. That they had the added value of a smooth ride was incidental when compared to their athletic ability, superior speed and stamina.

It was the bold little gaited stocks that became the fierce hit and run horses for military skirmishes. It was the gaited stocks that founded some of the most prized racing stocks of the world. It was the gaited stock that became the most revered and highly priced horses of the world through countless centuries.

In more recent centuries, it was also the gaited stock that lent it's ability to create such breeds as the English Thoroughbred, the American Thoroughbred, the Quarter Horse and many other well known breeds.

It was the speed of the gaited stock that helped develop sprinting speed as well as medium range speed to the racing stocks of many countries including the Thoroughbred. It was the Turk, not the true Arabian that contributed the long range speed. Many Turks were also gaited.

After the colonization of America, it was the little gaited stock that first populated the new country. By that time in history the gaited stock had fallen out of favor in Europe because they were very small and not suitable for pulling heavy coaches which had become popular with the advent of road systems.

The new, developing country had no roads but had dire need of hearty, strong, horses to help in the development of the region. Gaited horses routinely traveled sixty to eighty miles in a day to deliver messages or products from one settlement to another. They traveled in virgin country using deer trails or breaking trail themselves.

Once settlements became towns and a productive society developed, it was the gaited horses that also became the sporting racers used for entertainment and competition. The fleet, little gaited horses performed feats that would be hard to duplicate with modern day horses! In fact on their crude racing courses they carried fully grown men of up to 165 pounds at racing times only a few scant seconds off todays track records for racing Thoroughbreds who run on conditioned tracks. Todays horses are generally two full hands taller than the ancient gaited racers and carry light weight tack and jockeys!

These smallish, stout, horses were used for herding cattle, sheep, tilling the soil, dragging logs to clear the land. They were used to carry the mail from township to township and they were prized as military steeds with quick agility and speed. They pulled wagons and carriages and were used to pack heavy loads across rugged, virgin territory as well as along trade routes.

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century it was the gaited Irish Hobby's shipped into Virginia that founded the Quarter Miler racing horses. The Irish Hobby had been bred for more than a thousand years as a sprinting racer in Ireland. It was the Quarter Milers that eventually mingled with Spanish stock that formed the foundation for America's Quarter Horse.

It was the mares of the gaited stocks of Scottish Galloway and Irish Hobby crossed on the "oriental" stallions of Turk, Barb and minimal additions of Arabian that formed the English Thoroughbred. In all accounts of races for more than a century in Britain there was never a record of a Scottish Galloway being outrun by an Oriental horse. Such was their speed.

As America grew and prospered breeds were coined from the original stocks brought over from Europe. Some Hobby and Galloway blood was mingled to form the Narragansett Pacer. The gaited blood of Narragansett as well as some direct Hobby and Galloway went into the development of the Morgan and later the American Saddlebred which originally was largely made up of gaited Thoroughbreds.

In the early 1800's when inland America was being settled, the gaited stocks came with the pioneers as part of their prized possessions. These horses again were smallish in stature as a rule but very docile and willing workers. They were nimble and sure footed and had remarkable bottom. It was these horses that eventually formed the plantation horses of the inland regions of the south and the early Foxtrotting horses of the Ozarks.

With the advent of horse registries beginning in the late 1800's, specific families of gaited stock as well as other types began to standardize and became isolated from outside influence.

In the Ozarks the Foxtrotter was formed and can be traced back to approximately 1820. This group of horses was formed largely from the old Saddlehorse and Morgan horses. The two types mixed into one. The foxtrot gait was found to be exceptionally functional for the rigors of the rugged terrain of the Ozarks. The early Foxtrotters again were put to use as general purpose horses. They pulled the buggies and wagons, helped til the land, drag logs, pulled stumps, and worked cows and hogs in the open ranges and forests of some of the roughest terrain in the country. Because they were sure footed Foxtrottes were used by the mail carriers, doctors and visiting preachers. Their easy, ground eating, efficient gait enabled them to travel farther than other horses in a day without tiring while at the same time keeping their rider comfortable.

Foxtrotters were used to pull hay rigs, till the soil and pull the huge cotton wagons to the gins having to traverse extremely grueling hills and roads that were not much more than rutted tracks.

On cattle ranches that worked with Quarter Horses or other non-gaited stocks, it was not unusual for a ranch hand to use up two to four horses per day because the grueling work was so exhausting in the steep hilled areas. The same type of work was conducted on Foxtrotting horses but the ranch hand used the same horse all day long. Beyond that, the same horse was still fresh enough at the end of the day to carry his rider to town for an evening.

These horses were tough, athletic, remarkably able and willing work partners. They were not used kindly in many instances and few if any were doted upon or fed to advantage. These horses stayed sound, worked hard, and lived long. Their gentle nature made them trustworthy family horses as well. Children rode them to school and church. Women drove them to market and to church. It was not uncommon for women and children to use stallions without worry, so amenable were the horses.

It was not until the very early 1900's that people lost sight of the fact that it was the gaited stocks of the world who were the prime athletes of many centuries. It was those same gaited stocks that were the root of what we think of today as the supreme stock horse. Today most people think gaited horses can do nothing but go along a trail. While it is true not all gaited horses of today can perform as athletes, that phenomenon is a case of modern selective breeding rather than a direct result of the ability to gait. In fact many Quarter Horses still crop out with gait.

In 1948 a breed registry was formed. It was about this time that a small amount of Tennessee Walking Horse blood began to mix with the original type of Foxtrotting horse. The advantage to this was the horses began to have longer strides and to some degree more bone and bigger joints. The big disadvantage was the horses also began to shift from being a very diagonally based, athletic horses to one that was looser in gait. Some actually began to shift toward lateral motion.

About this time the show rings of gaited stock began to really swing toward huge strides and much more speed than in former eras. The more stride length a horse achieves the closer to pace it becomes and the farther way from centered, athletic balance it becomes.

By 1969 the Tennessee Walking Horse made up approximately 30% of the Missouri Foxtrotter Registry. By1980 that percentage increased to become more than half. Today it is nearly impossible to find a Missouri Foxtrotter that does not carry some Tennessee Walking Horse blood and a good percentage of the Missouri Foxtrotters are more than half Tennessee Walking Horse by blood.

The original foxtrot gait is distinguished by the horse capping its front tracks with its hind feet tracks and sliding through. The hind feet slide into their stride which acts as an additional shock absorber making the gait extremely smooth. By capping the track the horse leaves only one set of tracks…the same way a fox travels. This also allows for a specific sure footedness because footing that is safe for the front feet is likely safe for the hind.

The influx of Tennessee Walking Horse blood and the advent of the show ring drive for that prized "big lick" stride, began to shift the style of motion of the foxtrot to a less precise foxtrot gait. The horses no longer capped their tracks as the stride and overstride increased. While the horses gained speed at gait they frequently sacrificed the agility and balance of a working type horse to achieve it.

Because the very nature of registries closes in the gene pool, the trend toward more lateral action and less working athleticism among the overly long strided horses is likely to compound as generations pass along unless considerable care is taken to prevent this shift. The longer the stride length the closer to pace the gait tends to become until a point is reached where the pace crops out and overtakes the gait. At that point the foxtrot ceases to exist and the general purpose athletic ability of the horse deteriorates.

In 2006 a group of serious minded individuals, Missouri Foxtrotter breeders all, recognized the need to preserve a nucleus of the original, general purpose, athletic type of Missouri Foxtrotting horse. The Foundation Foxtrotter Heritage Association formed to preserve the original style Foxtrotter. To do this, pedigrees were analyzed and a balance of genetic contributors was identified. A cap was put on the amount of Tennessee Walking Horse blood allowed within the new group and horses taken into the Foundation group had to have verifiable pedigrees linking them to original foundation Foxtrotters of Saddlehorse and Morgan blood.

This project is ongoing and will eventually produce a standardized group very like the original foundation stock of Missouri Foxtrotting Horse. The Foundation Foxtrotter Heritage Association's goal is to produce horses with extremely surefooted action, smooth, natural foxtrot, and superb working athletic ability. The desire is to produce horses that will not only foxtrot naturally but will do so by choice rather than having to be trained to perform the appropriate gait or require the use of gimmicks or training aides to do so.

The Foundation Foxtrotter Heritage Association formed to protect, promote and produce this extremely versatile horse. The group was not formed to replace the Missouri Foxtrotter Horse Breed Association, but rather to augment and contribute to that organization. It is a sub group designed for the betterment and preservation of the original type with the goal to produce and record naturally gaited, well conformed, naturally athletic horses that exemplify the qualities of their ancestors.

While the Foundation Foxtrotter Heritage Association does not discriminate against any particular bloodline, the registry disallows an over abundance of Tennessee Walking Horse blood within it's registry. All Foundation registered Foxtrotters will carry no more than half TWH blood which allows for a somewhat longer stride and the benefits of the TWH blood without allowing that blood to become the dominant factor of the group. Foundation Foxtrotters concentrate on the athletic and naturally agile ability of the horse coupled with the true and natural foxtrot gait.

Modern Foundation Foxtrotters may overstep their footprints by a small margin but will not have the large overstride that is desired by many show ring enthusiasts. To be a true athlete a horse needs to have it's legs remain fairly close to the center of balance and the core of the body mass. In this way it can quickly round it's frame for fast changes of direction or speed. It must be flexible and able to move it's legs while staying in balance as would any good working horse. This is a bit different from the typical big lick horses in that they are frequently less collected and out of frame for the quicker type of action.

Efficiency in motion is another area of concentration for the Foundation Foxtrotter Heritage Association horses. A horse that uses it's body efficiently will be less likely to tire in motion. Such efficiency translates to more endurance. This will open the realm of service for these horses to such sports as field trials, competitive and timed trail events as well as endurance riding.

It is not the intent of the Foundation Foxtrotter Heritage Association to belittle the ability of the show horses or big lick style horses, but rather to distinguish the differences between the abilities and types. Many show bred horses make excellent trail horses but are less likely to be as sure footed or agile in rough terrain. For more moderate trails they often travel very pleasingly.

For people who like to do more than trail ride or show, the Foundation Foxtrotter offers a sort of unique balance between athletic ability and superb gait which produces an extremely functional horse that is very smooth to ride.

 

 

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