Cecil Huff grew up riding and showing Missouri Fox Trotters. Years later, at a small, local Fox Trotter show, he met his future wife, Sonny.
"Today, our daughter says that her mother fell in love with my horse, not me!" Huff says with a hearty chuckle. "And why not? This is the world's best breed: They have the smoothest ride you could want, they're athletic, pleasant to look at, surefooted, and they're great on the trail. Why in the world would you want any other horse?"
For the past 15 years, the couple have owned and operated the Bucks and Spurs Guest Ranch in Ava, Missouri, 700 picturesque acres of diverse trail-riding opportunities. They boast two miles of trails fronting Big Beaver Creek, as well as a variety of peaceful meadows and challenging mountains that satisfy riders of all skill levels and ambitions.
"We're also riding distance to Mark Twain National Forest and the Ozark Trail," Huff adds. "Guests come from all over the U.S. and Europe to enjoy our Fox Trotters."
Today, an increasing number of trail riders are discovering the hardy breed that originated in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, where their naturally smooth gaits, stamina, and sweet nature have made them local favorites for nearly two centuries.
"Missouri Fox Trotters are gentle in the barn and tireless on the trail," says Jim Wood, the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association secretary/treasurer. "With their gliding gait, every ride is a pleasure."
The MFTBA, headquartered in Ava, Missouri, currently has approximately 9,000 members, with 85,000 horses registered.
"Over 90 percent of our members are trail riders," says Wood, himself a lifelong Fox Trotter owner. "Every year at our national show, we organize trail rides that depart from the show grounds, in an effort to give folks a taste of trail experience on a Fox Trotter. And of course, we sponsor trail rides and reward avid trail riders with national recognition and prizes."
One active trail-riding member of the MFTBA is Dale Lawson of Ava, Missouri. "I've been involved with Fox Trotters for the past 19 years, including breeding, training, showing, and lots and lots of trail riding," he says. "I've documented more than 1,200 miles on organized trail rides in each of the past two years.
"One aspect of the Missouri Fox Trotter that has remained unheralded is its speed in normal gait and over rough terrain," he notes. "The speed is subtle; you don't notice it until you ride with other horse breeds, which have difficulty keeping up with you while going along the trail, even at a walk. If I'm fox trotting, most other breeds are running."
Lawson currently owns a 14.2-hand Fox Trotter gelding named Pepper. "Pepper is a copper sorrel with a wide chest and will overstride more than a foot," he says. "He's compact and well-muscled, but at the same time quick-footed. He wears no shoes.
"I haven't found anything Pepper can't do," Lawson continues. "He's placed first in a performance class at the world championship show. He works cattle and pulls logs. And he's a trail horse deluxe. He can go all day, day after day, and is always willing. He may be tired, but if I touch my finger to his neck, he'll break into that ground-eating fox trot."