The Rocky Mountain Horse originates from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky, and has been enchanting riders for decades with its easy temperament and soothing gait. But it’s not simply the gentle nature and smooth riding of the Rocky Mountain horse that has made it famous. The breed’s ability to withstand harsh winters and lead long, productive lives as farm hands has made it a favorite amongst both farmers and families alike.
The exact origin of the Rocky Mountain Horse is cloaked in oral history.
Around the year 1890, a horse said to be from the Rocky Mountain region of the United States appeared in eastern Kentucky. This horse is often considered to be the father of the Rocky Mountain Horse breed. The horse was known for its easy gait and ability to work long, arduous hours on little sustenance. The horse became a favorite amongst the farmers of the foothills because of its ability to perform rugged tasks with ease. But it was also popular amongst families for its tranquil personality and comfortable gait.
The Rocky Mountain Horse was a local treasure for the inhabitants of eastern Kentucky. For decades the horse continued to be a local breed and the predominantly poor farmers in the foothills saw no reason to establish a formal association. As the rest of the country began to modernize with paved highways and powerful automobiles, the horse continued to be an integral function of Appalachian life.
But one citizen of Kentucky began to establish an informal breed of Rocky Mountain Horses. Sam Tuttle of Spout Springs began to nurture these horses for a horseback riding business he started in Natural Bridge State Park. Sam Tuttle solidified the reputation of the breed by providing the public with a chance to experience the smooth gait and tranquil disposition of the breed.
In 1986, a group of owners interested in the preservation of the breed got together to form the Rocky Mountain Horse Association (RMHA). The owners simply wanted to preserve the wonderful traits of the breed that generations of riders had come to appreciate. The RMHA also established a registry of Rocky Mountain Horses and the particular characteristics necessary to the development of the breed.
The RMHA has created a list of necessary characteristics that a horse must possess in order to be registered as a Rocky Mountain Horse. The horse must be at least 14.2 to 16 hands in height with a 45-degree chest. The horse must also have bold eyes and well-shaped ears. All Rocky Mountain Horses must also use a four beat gait, meaning the horse produces four distinct hoof beats with equal rhythm. This four beat gait must be natural and should not require training or unnatural devices. Lastly, the horse must be of solid color (minor facial markings are acceptable) and have the tranquil temperament associated with the Rocky Mountain Horse breed.
The Rocky Mountain Horse breed also has subdivisions of horses, one such breed is the Spotted Rocky Mountain Horse. The Spotted Rocky Mountain Horse must have the same characteristics as the Rocky Mountain Horse, but instead of being a solid color, the horse will be covered with white patches. The Spotted horse also comes in four designs: Tobiano, Overo, Sabino and Tovero. The Spotted Rocky Mountain Horse Association is a subdivision of the RMHA and upholds the same level of standards and breed characteristics.
The Rocky Mountain Horse is a symbol of the hard American work ethic and durability that has helped define and shape our country. But the horse also possesses a personality that has endeared it to riders for generations.