The Rocky Mountain Horse
The Rocky Mountain Horse was developed in the state of Kentucky. Despite its name, it originated not in the Rocky Mountains, but instead in the Appalachian Mountains. A foundation stallion, brought from the western United States to eastern Kentucky around 1890, began the Rocky Mountain type in the late 19th century. In the mid-20th century, a stallion named Old Tobe, was used to develop the modern type; today most Rocky Mountain Horses trace back to this stallion. He was purchased by Sam Tuttle of Spout Springs, Kentucky from a traveler who had picked up the young colt while passing through the Ozark Mountains on his route eastward from the Rocky Mountain region, yet interestingly the breed was named after the Rocky Mtns. Many believe that Old Tobe was a descendent of two of the horses that were also foundation sires in the MFT & TWH horse breeds: Old Fox and Ted, although Old Tobe was not registered and his factual origin is in question... Some believe he was a Standardbred, some claim he was a Saddlebred...and there are other theories. We may never know his actual pedigree and origins, but nevertheless, he was a magnificent animal who produced amazing offspring, that were true to form both in appearance and gait. In 1986, the Rocky Mountain Horse Association was formed and initially there were only 26 horses in the first batch of registrations. Since then, the association has, over the life of the registry, registered over 17,000 horses as of 2009, and the breed has spread to 47 states and 11 countries.
The breed is known for its preferred "chocolate" coat color and flaxen mane and tail, the result of the relatively rare silver dapple gene acting on a black coat, seen in much of the population. It also exhibits a four-beat broken or ambling gait known as the "single-foot", which in other breeds has names like tolt, largo, Indian shuffle, rack, and with small deviations is very similar to the running walk and fox trot gaits. These various gaits are somewhat different, but all feel much the same to the rider when the horses are doing them correctly, as they provide a smooth ride without the up and down motion of "non-gaited" horses. The Rocky Mountain Horse was originally developed as a multi-purpose riding, driving and light draft horse, today it is used mainly for trail riding and working cattle.
Rocky Mountain Horses stand between 14.2 and 16 hands high. Any solid color is accepted by the registry, but a dark brown color called "chocolate" with a pale, "flaxen" mane and tail is preferred. Although uncommon, this gene has been found in over a dozen breeds, including the Rocky Mountain Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, Missouri Foxtrotting Horse, and others. They all can trace their lineage to many of the same ancestors with the genes for their color and their nice traveling gaits. Minimal white markings are accepted by the registry, although leg markings may not extend above the knee. The physical characteristics are somewhat variable, due to the disparate breeds that created the Rocky Mountain Horse. The Rocky Mountain Horse is known by enthusiasts for its hardiness and ability to withstand winters in the mountains. It is also praised for its good nature and love for people.
Rocky Mountain Horses have the highest risk of any breed for the genetic ocular syndrome multiple congenital ocular anomalies (MCOA), originally called equine anterior segment dysgenesis (ASD). MCOA is characterized by the abnormal development of some ocular tissues, which causes compromised vision, although generally of a mild form; the disease is non-progressive. Genetic studies have shown that the disorder may be tied to the silver dapple gene, as most horses diagnosed with MCOA carry the gene. In my experience with RMH horses this is not a big worry as long as you buy one that shows no symptoms of the disease, as it does not get worse as they age like some diseases do.
The Rocky Mountain Horse is a wonderful animal! I have had many of them at my gaited horse clinics around the country and, like all breeds of horses, there are some that are better than others. The top quality Rocky Mountain Horses are extremely beautiful, gentle, smooth riding, athletic, and simply a pure joy to ride and work with, due to their good nature, high intelligence, stunning beauty, and comfortable ride.
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