Breed evolution: In the 1930s, Montanan Tom Eaton began combining the bloodlines of the Tennessee Walking Horse, Morgan Horse, American Saddlebred, Thoroughbred, and Hamiltonian in a search for "the perfect horse." By the early 1970s, his breeding resulted in an eye-catching, ground-covering chestnut stallion.
The stallion, named Montana Travler (A1), walked at a brisk eight miles per hour, with a giant eight-inch-plus overstep. He trained easily, and, when bred, sired offspring of exceptional quality. This success motivated Eaton to found the Montana Travler Horse Association in 1979, writing, "Justin Morgan established a breed from one outstanding stallion. The Montana Travler is the result of not only a great stallion, but selective breeding over a period of many years."
The Montana Travler has great heart depth, stamina, an excellent topline, sound conformation, strong feet, and a willing temperament. Travlers are narrow, but deep-chested, which enhances endurance. Because they were bred to travel mountain trails, pack, and cut and work cattle, the breed is surefooted and brave.
The registry is open: A colt with one registered parent may be inspected to earn official registration. To be registered, a horse must be 3 years old, presented under saddle to three directors, inspected, and approved. At inspection, he must display the conformation, gaits, and disposition characteristic of the Montana Travler. In the summer of 2005, a new provision ensured that colts with two official parents are assured official status.
Since its founding in 1979, the Montana Travler Horse Association has registered 568 horses in the United States. In 1989, the Montana Travler was the official Montana Centennial horse.
Owners tell us: The ground-covering, eight-mile-per-hour walk is the breed's hallmark. Mark Bloomquist, MTHA secretary/treas-urer, says the horses' strong hips are key. "And their back stays completely flat while you eat up the ground," he adds. "It's a super-smooth ride."
On the trail: Bloomquist lives in Gardiner, Montana, just north of the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Even though his father was friends with Tom Eaton, who developed the Montana Travler, Bloomquist tried other breeds. Then he met a Montana Travler on the trail.
"I was riding 23 miles into a beautiful spot called Carpenter Lake and, by chance, rode about 15 miles with a man astride a Montana Travler," Bloomquist says. "I had to trot and lope my horse just to keep up with his walk; you can imagine that caught my attention. Later, I had the opportunity to ride his horse, and that was it. I decided to get a Montana Travler for myself!"
Today, Bloomquist owns 12 purebred horses. "I ride rocky trails, and these horses don't stumble; they're very surefooted, and they stay sound. The downside? Turning down all the offers to buy them. I can't bear to sell my Montana Travlers."