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A Horse,
of Course

with Don Blazer

A Horse of Course

I'm not a gaited-horse man.
I don't know if there is a difference between a running walk and a singlefoot. (I suspect the difference is only in the name.)
But I do know Missouri Fox Trotters fox-trot, and it sure isn't a trot or jog. It's a special thing they do.

Gwen Smith of Glendale, Arizona, has a farm in Missouri where she breeds Fox-Trotters. She has a farm in Arizona where she sells Fox-Trotters mostly as pleasure trail horses. Having a whole lot of young horses, she sent some two-year-olds to me to be saddle trained.

The first one she sent was a cute buckskin filly. She certainly had the conformational look described in the association rule book. She is just over 14 hands with a short, strong back, and a deep body, well-ribbed. Her flank is full as is her chest. From what I have seen, most Fox Trotters have fairly heavy necks, yet still in proportion to their body. The neck is carried slightly high which means the head is elevated, a position desirable when the horse is fox trotting. (While fox trotting, the head should have a distinct bob.)

Fox Trotter fanciers, like everyone else hooked on a breed, are positive all their horses have great dispositions and love people. No argument; all of Gwen's horses have some ground manners, so progress is usually swift. Now the fox trot is described in the official rule book as "basically a diagonal gait." For me, there is no "basically." It is either a diagonal gait, or it is not. The rule book doesn't say the gait is a 4-beat diagonal gait, but the association promotes the fox trot as "a unique, easy and fluid 4-beat diagonal gait."

The rule book says, "The horse will perform this gait by walking in front and trotting behind with reach in each stride."

I have trouble here. Since it is a "diagonal" gait, the hind foot coming forward behind a grounded forefoot can only go to the forefoot. This is a trot, so there is no over-striding, thus, "reach" is limited. The rule book then says, "he may disfigure or overstep his track." This might be possible for the first stride or two, but can't continue or the horse's body would have to s t r e t c h like elastic.

The rule book says the fox trotting horse is not a high stepping horse, but extremely sure-footed one; and, because of the sliding action of the rear feet, rather than the hard step of other breeds, the rider experiences little jarring action." When you are riding one, the feel is somewhat of a "shuffling" from behind.

Sometimes fox trotters pace (moving both legs on the same side) in a 4-beat rhythmic gait. Gwen says this is not desirable for the fox trotter. It is pretty comfortable to ride, however.

When riding, I have difficulty discerning a true fox trot from the not-so- desirable four-beat pace. I can say that Gwen's horses are naturals. It is easy to get the horses to fox trot by squeezing them forward and establishing a slight contact with the bit. When the fox trotters are doing the fox trot it is smooth and much quicker than a walk or a western jog. It is not as fast as a good English trot.

Watching more experienced riders on more advanced horses, I have noticed the horse's head is elevated and not usually at the vertical. The rider most often uses a curb bit and maintains contact with the horse's mouth. The rider generally has his feet slightly forward of the girth.

Besides the fox trot, the horses have two other natural gaits. The flat foot walk, which is supposed to be long and easy going, and the "rocking horse" canter.

I approve and applaud the fact no special shoeing or training is supposedly required to get these horses to perform. The ones I am riding are doing their thing naturally.

The Missouri Fox Trotting horse was developed primarily from saddle and light harness horses coming to the Ozarks from Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. In the early 1800s pioneers wanted a horse that was sure-footed, easy to ride, but could also work on the farm plowing, hauling logs or working cattle. In addition they wanted their horse to double as a "go to town" buggy horse or family riding horse. In 1948 a Breed Association was formed for this "horse of all talents." In 1958 the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association was reorganized and reincorporated, and is now located in Ava, MO.

More than 50,000 horses have since been recorded by the association.
Don Blazer
Visit Don Blazer's Web Site

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"A Horse, Of Course"
Monthly Column
by Don Blazer

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