Breed evolution: When early pioneers moved west across the Mississippi River and into the Ozark Mountains, they brought horses of Arabian, Morgan, and Thoroughbred descent with them. Over time, a versatile, smooth-gaited breed developed.
According to the Missouri Fox Trotting Breed Association, the breed has three natural gaits: the flat foot walk; the smooth "fox trot" that gives the breed its name; and the canter, which owners liken to the motion of a rocking horse. No training or special shoes are required for a rider to enjoy these natural gaits.
The fox trot is characterized as a broken gait, that is, while in gait, the horse walks with his front feet, and trots with his hind feet. The back feet shuffle and slide, often stepping into the track made by the front feet. This shuffling, as opposed to the hard-step trot of other breeds, makes the fox trot exceptionally comfortable for the rider.
The Missouri Fox Trotting Breed Association, Inc., headquartered in Ava, Missouri, currently boasts nearly 9,000 members, with 85,000 registered horses; 90 percent are trail riders. The association sponsors trail rides and offers national recognition for trail riders.
Owners tell us: "Missouri Fox Trotters are gentle in the barn and tireless on the trail," says Jim Wood, the MFTBA secretary/treasurer. "With their gliding gait, every ride is a pleasure."
Dale Lawson of Ava, Missouri, is an active member of the MFTBA. "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.
Lawson currently owns a 14.2-hand Fox Trotter gelding named Pepper. "I haven't found anything Pepper can't do," Lawson says. "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."
Nancy Alpert of Sunset Ridge Fox Trotters in Parker, Colorado, says she's "in the business of making dreams come true," by matching clients to Fox Trotter mounts. "I breed and train trail horses, mostly for women who have always wanted a horse," she says. "Fox Trotters are kind, personable horses that fulfill that dream."
One person who's fulfilled her dreams is Peggy Litt, owner of Golden Acres Foxtrotter Ranch Rest N' Ride in Belleview, Florida. "I love my Missouri Fox Trotters!" she exclaims. "After discovering this extremely comfortable, willing, responsive horse with a Golden Retriever demeanor, I was sold. I have fortunately been able to enjoy the horse of my childhood dreams."
Myrna Warfel of Ridin' High Ranch has been riding Missouri Fox Trotters since 1978. "I love their smooth gait and personalities," she says. "We've found them to be such willing students and quick to learn new things."
Cecil and Sonny Huff own and operate Bucks & Spurs Guest Ranch in Ava, Missouri. "This is the world's best breed," says Cecil. "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?"
On the trail: Alpert says Fox Trotters make great mountain horses, in part because their hallmark gait carries them with surefooted ease over rocky or uneven trails. "And they round their backs and know how to use their rear ends," she says. "You can't pull yourself over the Rocky Mountains, but you can push yourself over."
Says Warfel, "We've had our Fox Trotters on trails out West, mostly Montana, and they've performed beyond our expectations. On one trip, we were at a fairly high elevation when we could see a major storm brewing in the distance. We'd started down the mountain when the storm hit full force. There was thunder, lightning, rain, wind, and hail. Although our Trotters weren't fond of any of it, they never missed a beat."
The Trail Rider feature writers Kent and Charlene Krone ride extensively in the United States and western Canada. Their breed of choice: the Missouri Fox Trotter. "We love their smooth ride and fast, ground-covering walk," Kent says. "We've never had any problems going over rocks and rivers, or through mud and bogs. My gelding, Buddy, is the smartest of the 30 horses I've owned and has the most interesting personality."
The Krones purchased the handsome buckskin from MFTHBA Hall of Famer Paul Senteney. They purchased Charlene's horse, Scout, from Montana legend Bill Free; the gelding is by Free's Fox Trotter stallion, Clouds Real McCoy.
The couple has traveled hundreds of miles aboard their Fox Trotters. "One of my favorite memories is of riding across the eerie moonscape of the Badlands of North Dakota," says Kent. "We rode at a fox trot, then a canter, while a group of wild horses paralleled us across a nearby hillside. They raised their heads a bit higher, but they didn't spook or attempt to run away. Farther along the trail, we rode through a buffalo herd."
One unforgettable August night, the couple camped on Montana's Continental Divide. When their campfire died, they stretched out on the ground to watch fireworks above as the summer sky lit up with the Perseid meteor shower.
"After a while, we looked over to see Buddy and Scout laying down in their corral, just 10 feet away," Kent recalls. "We figured they were watching the shooting stars, too. It was a neat feeling. Our horses have given us the greatest experiences of our lives."
Selection savvy: Buy a horse with trail experience. Age doesn't necessarily equate experience: The 6-year-old horse with three years of trail experience will usually be better than the 10-year-old with none.
Test drive the horse on trail: Cross water, and climb hills.
Spend time with the horse on the ground, and get to know his personality. Take a few lessons, and learn to recognize the Fox Trotter's special gaits, and when and how to cue for them.
Consider heading to a riding-vacation destination that offers Fox Trotter mounts, such as Bucks & Spurs Guest Ranch in Ava, Missouri, Golden Acres Foxtrotter Ranch Rest N' Ride in Belleview, Florida, or Meramec Farm in Bourbon, Missouri.
Ready to look for the right horse for you? Go to Equine.com, the premier classifieds site of the Equine Network, to search for the perfect horse!