The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse

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By Amber Wilson

As settlers moved west into the Ozark Mountains, they needed a surefooted, easy-traveling horse that could perform the varied and often grueling work their way of life demanded. Those requirements included plowing fields, hauling logs, and working cattle in rugged, rocky Ozarks terrain. And when the day’s work was done, that same horse had to serve as the family’s stylish buggy and riding horse.

These settlers from the cities and farms of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia brought with them their most precious possessions, including their best saddle horses. These breeds were largely Arabian, Morgan, and plantation horses from the Deep South. Later, American Saddlebred, TennesseeWalking Horse, and Standardbred blood was added to the stock, resulting in a horse with a more pleasing appearance and disposition.This versatile animal, able to travel great distances at a comfortable, ground-covering gait (five to eight miles an hour), made theMissouri Fox Trotting Horse a favorite of the country doctor, sheriff,  assessor, and stock raiser.

Establishing a Breed Association
In 1948, a group of horse breeders, wishing to preserve the type of horse that had for many years been selectively bred in the Ozarks, incorporated and secured a charter to maintain an accurate studbook. The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association (MFTHBA) kept its registry open and continued to accept horses that could qualify as characteristic foundation stock until 1982.That year, all horses approved under saddle to be registered were required to have at least one parent permanently registered in the MFTHBA. Beginning in 1983, any horse approved under saddle for registration was required to have two registered parents. From then on, the registry’s books were closed. In 2004, the MFTHBA recognized the need for a registry specifically for Missouri Fox Trotting horses between 44 and 56 inches in height. In May of that year, the Missouri Fox Trotting Pony Registry was launched under the auspices of the MFTHBA.

The Famous Fox Trot Gait
The Breed’s signature gait is the Fox Trot.  The fox trot is a broken diagonal gait with a distinctive rhythm that is created by the horse moving its front foot a split second before its opposite rear foot. The horse should be striding with both the front and rear without excessive climbing or knee action in the front legs.  The back feet will exhibit a sliding action with the horse overstepping his track.  The head will be carried slightly elevated with rhythmic motion in time with the movement of the rear feet.  The fox trot is smooth because the horse is in contact with the ground at all times.

The exceptional rhythm of the foxtrotting horse begins at the tip of the nose with the characteristic headshake and continues back through the ripple ofthe tail. The diagonal nature of the gait is also what makes the Missouri Fox Trotter extremely sure-footed.

The Breed Today
Today the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse is described as every person’s pleasure horse because of its gentle disposition and its comfortable ride. The breed is in demand for use in pleasure, show, versatility, trail riding, cross-country, and endurance. Ninety percentof registered Missouri Fox Trotters are owned by people who use them for trail and pleasure riding. They are also popular with endurance riders, hunters, park rangers, and ranchers (many Missouri Fox Trotters have excellent cow sense), and of course, they are an acclaimed show horse, exhibiting great beauty and style in the ring.

The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse is home in all 50 states and many countries around the world.  The MFTHBA continues to record and preserve the integrity of the breed registry. The Association, along with its many affiliate organizations located around the world, promotes the breed through participation in expos, horse shows, trail rides, and other venues.

The MFTHBA hosts two shows each year at its World Headquarters in Ava, Missouri.  Each June, the MFTHBA hosts Spring Show and Three Year Old Futurity, which features the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Youth Association Seminar, Three Year Old Futurity, performance, along with many other activities in and out of the arena.  In 2021, this event will be held June 9-12, 2021.

Over Labor Day week, the Missouri Ozarks become home to the largest Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Celebration in the World.  During the World Show and Celebration, exhibitors and their registered Missouri Fox Trotters compete for the coveted title of MFTHBA World Grand Champion. There is a full week of competition that includes classes in model (halter), performance, versatility (ranch horse, horsemanship, showmanship, western pleasure, etc.), and ranch sorting competitions.Various events outside the arena will be held to highlight the versatility of the State Horse of Missouri.  The 2021 World Show and Celebration will be held September 5-11, 2021

Learn more about the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse, the MFTHBA, and its affiliates at

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