Time Fox Trotters or Modern Day Fox Trotters?
As with any breed since the beginning of mans involvement
with the evolutionary process of horse type distinction, the Missouri Fox Trotter
has changed in appearance, performance, gait and genetics since the original founders
of the breed type first began selective breeding for this fine gait called the
Fox Trot. While there was from the very onset a variance in style of gait, stride
length, and general appearance of those early horses, for the most part they had
in common the correct rhythm, timing, athletic ability, constitution and hardiness.
the course of time, as needs and wishes of those who breed these animals changed,
so did the overall appearance, ability, and style as well as the genetic base
from which the horses spring.
The old time fox trotting horses had a distinctive
way of raveling in gait which left prints in the dirt
showing the hind foot capping the track of the front
foot . Some of the horses would step slightly over
the front print, or some would step on the front print
and slide through. But capping the track was the accepted
way for a fox trotting horse to travel. This mode
is extremely sure footed and balanced though perhaps
not so reaching as a big overstrided horse. In the
early days of the show ring, the horses were expected
to stay true to the gait and capping the tracks was
When the show ring began to take precedent over the need for a good
ranch horse, the daisy clipping easy gait of the old time foxtrotting horse began
to be replaced by a horse with more knee action, some with a good deal more lift
than the old timers had.. When speed at gait became more important than the surefootedness
of the animal, more and more lateral blood was introduced into the breed in order
to stretch stride lengths to maximum rather than having a medium strided horse
who kept it's feet more centered for maximum balance and athletic ability.
foundation old time Fox Trotters were bred primarily from the old time Saddlehorse,
forerunner of todays American Saddlebred. Those horses were well boned,
gentle natured, using horses who just happened to also have the soft gait to their
credit. These horses generally had good heads, willing dispositions, and were
used as general all around horses for family, farm and ranch work. In a time and
region where there were few motorized conveyances, paved road systems, maintained
highways, these ruggedly strong, athletic horses did all manner of work from carrying
youngsters to school, to pulling the family wagon to town or church. The same
horse might be found behind a plow, hay rake, or logging skid at one part of the
day and at another be found herding cows or being roped from. The same animal
was often then used in the evening to take a fellow courting or to town and yet
was fresh and able to go back to his work the following day without harm.
size the old time Foxtrotters were generally medium built horses ranging around
15 hands commonly weighing from 1,000- 1,200 lbs as a rule. There were exceptions
as in any rule, but generally they were medium sized horses with good bone and
sturdy builds. They were unusually hardy and thrived on the changeable often extreme
climactic variances of the Ozark region and for the most part did not receive
benefit of supplemental feeding or the modern day practices of worming or vaccination.
For the most part these were no nonsense, lets get the job done horses.
When the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breeders
Association was founded these were the horses still
known as foxtrotting horses. But in the late 1960s
and into the 1970s and until the book closed,
the registry was still open to any horse who could
prove under saddle before inspectors it could fox
trot. The majority of those who were entered the registry
after 1969 were of Tennessee Walking Horse breeding
and though many of those horses indeed did do a good
fox trot, many of them were actually laterally based
horses who would stepping pace or running walk if
the choice was left up to them. If some of those horses
foxtrotted simply from training there was no distinction
made between them and those who would foxtrot naturally.
And of course those horses who foxtrotted merely from
training were less likely to pass along a natural
fox trot to their get.
Breeders often bred both Tennessee Walking Horses
and Missouri Fox Trotters so the stallions were often
double registered. That way if a foal didnt
do the proper gait for one breed it found a home in
another making it more marketable. Also the stallion
owners could garner stud fees from both breeds which
was a welcome augment to their coffers. There were
also a few double registered Saddlebreds within the
registry, but far and wide the largest group to enter
the registry during the last 13 years of open books
were the Walkers, whereas the horses brought into
the registry during the first 21 years were by a large
In general the Tennessee Walking Horses
who would fox trot would also do a running walk or stepping pace at speed.. Many
of the stallions admitted were quite lateral but would square up and fox trot
if ridden in the right frame. On the other hand, the Saddle horses who fox trotted
more likely racked or went to a square trot at speed.
With the introduction of the Walking horse blood
the general appearance and handiness of the Fox Trotters
began to change as well. One of the most noticeable
changes was in the shape and size of the head. Many
old time breeders rejected the Walking Horse blood
because they did not like the coarser bigger heads
of the Walkers. Some also claimed those earlier Walkers
were slighter built and less able to do the work required
than were the earlier Saddle Horses.
Conformation, bone structure, head
and neck set, and gait timing changed. Stride length lengthened but with that
came less distinctive timing of the fox trot. That chunk of meat and two
potatoes beat began to sound more and more like a broken trot,with less
pause between set down of the pairs. Contrary to that some fox trots became very
closely akin to the stepping pace, longer strided and loose but much less square.
During this same time frame the Tennessee Walking
Horse itself went through a similar change within
its own registry. Where it had once been a fairly
square gaited horse performing a square running walk
naturally, it became a more lateral type horse who
performed the running walk at less than a 50/50 ratio.
It became a much leaner, slimmer, taller horse designed
for speed and stride length and show rather than the
compact general purpose type of the old Plantation
Horse from which it sprang.
Eventually problems began to arise in both breeds
from high percentages of foals being born pacing or
doing lateral gaits rather than being born with clear
cut soft gait. Besides that, many of the newer generation
became hotter natured, less adaptable and less athletic
in a general sense while at the same time they became
taller, leaner animals with more speed and a good
deal of overstride. In other words they were actually
more of a sub group to the original type of horse.
Today, as in many other breeds there are those who
prefer to preserve the original type of Missouri Fox Trotter. Those who more closely
emulate the foundation horses of the breed, while others choose to continue to
develop the type which has been labeled by many as the show ring type.
Both types have their merits and uses. Both types have followings who think
that type superior over the other.
It is our contention that there
need not be a competition between the two types as to which is superior. It is
rather like comparing apples with oranges. Both are good for their own purpose,
but just dont try baking an apple pie using an orange. We feel both types
should be recognized and appreciated for their own characteristics. However, it
is also our desire to illustrate and call to the attention of prospective buyers
and/or breeders that there ARE these distinctions. Without this distinction being
recognized and type breeding maintained to preserve both types the two will completely
merge. If that should happen what was known as the fox trot gait will become a
thing of the past. It will cease to exist because lateral gait will overtake the
In a study conducted by several different colleges,
it was found that if a pacing stallion is bred only
to pacing mares, they will produce less than 1% trotting
foals. However, if a trotting stallion ( Standardbred)
is bred only to trotting mares (Standardbred) they
will produce between 25 to 35% pacing foals. Since
the original Saddlehorse stock used to develop the
Missouri Fox Trotter stems strongly from the exact
same root stock as the Standardbred it would stand
to reason then, that this sort of breeding results
could be expected in Missouri Fox Trotter as well.
Then if you carry that further along, to where a pacing
bred stallion is bred to a trotting bred mare that
mating would have a much higher chance of producing
a lateral gaited foal than a square one. Therefore,
within a few short generations the square fox trot
would be simply eradicated from the gene pool.
How unfair it is to breed an animal who is genetically
programmed to do one thing, then expect it to do another
that is foreign to its genetic make up. We feel
it is a disservice to the animal and owner alike to
breed a horse genetically programmed to perform a
lateral gait, then through strict training, use of
harsh mechanical aides and oft-times cruel
equipment force that same animal to conform to a motion
and gait not natural to it. We prefer instead to attempt
to breed horses who are born naturally performing
the desired gait, continue to perform that gait throughout
its lifetime barring interference from man,
. A horse that will naturally gravitate
to the use of this fine, sure-footed easy gait on
its own when put to saddle and that any person
novice or experienced can ride without fear of loosing
its gait. We also prefer to preserve the natural
athletic ability of a general all around using type
There are small pockets of this old type breeding
still within the breed and we have made it our mission
to seek out breeding stock from such. Horses who have
been bred for generations to be fox-trotting horses
who use their bodies efficiently, have coordination
and proper wiring to be a natural athlete
as well as a smooth ride.
The original Saddlehorse base for the Missouri
Foxtrotter stems from Ancient Thoroughbred, Morgan,
Canadian Pacer directly. Indirectly they were influenced
by the Narragansett Pacer which went extinct nearly
100 years before the Saddlehorse Registry was formed.
The biggest base of this type of horse were square
travelers that were modified by pacing stock.
The Tennessee Walking Horse was coined from Standardbred,
Canadian Pacer, and some Morgan but was formed from
in the majority from direct pacing pacing stocks.
The Tennessee Walking Horse stemmed from horses bred
Pacing horses use their hind ends differently
than trotting horses in that in pacers the hind leg
sweeps forward with little hock action and achieves
a longer stride which allows for overstride. It would
be difficult for such a structure to square up and
shorten enough to perform a correct, capping stride,
Trot based horses use far more hock action which
allows for a different timing at the foxtrot and also
sets the horse up better for the capping track style
of Foxtrot which is the athletic, well-balanced gait
for which the breed was originally formed.
Beyond that, the square bred horses are far more
likely to breed true because the pace genes within
them are much more diluted by trot base than are those
of Tennessee Walking Horse breeding. That means the
trend to gravitate toward pace between generations
is less likely with the Saddlehorse original type
of Foxtrotter than it will be in the Tennessee Walking
horse cross outs.
Unfortunately when the influx of Tennessee Walking
Horse blood was allowed into the breed after 1969,
no one kept track of where that blood went and how
drastically it began to dilute the original base of
Saddlehorse blood. By 2000 the large majority of Missouri
Foxtrotters carried more than 1/2 Tennessee Walking
Horse blood while at the same time it became nearly
impossible to locate any living horses that did not
stem in part from Tennessee Walkers. That is a direct
contrast to the original base for the breed.
Today their are countless owners of Missouri Foxtrotters
who have no idea in the world they are actually riding
a Tennessee Walking Horse. At the same time it becomes
more and more difficult to locate ANY horses of pure
foundation breeding within the registry. What a pity.
We feel that if someone does not preserve the
original type horses, eventually the entire breed
will become so lateral that the only way you will
ever see a fox trot is on a horse trained by a professional,
ridden by a professional who can hold it in that gait,
rather than by the common pleasure rider.
Pace is stronger than trot. It has little to do
with what an individual horse does...it has to do
with genetics and at some point genetics will win
out. The only way to balance the genes for a natural
foxtrot gait is to protect the trot base of the original
type Foxtrotters. Once diluted out of the breed, that
trot base cannot be replaced or bred back in without
crossing out to a trotting style horse.
The only thing that has slowed the gravitation
toward pace in this breed that has not been present
in other gaited breeds, was the strong trot base of
the original horses. That slowed process will, however,
change with each generation as the trot base becomes
more and more diluted by pace.
Along with that gravitation comes a change in
utility of the type itself. The original horses were
multi-purpose individuals who were able to work as
stock horses or ranch stock and stay balanced and
sure footed on the most difficult of terrain. The
Tennessee Walking Horse was developed for a totally
different purpose which included faster traveling
in far less rigorous conditions. They were not primarily
developed to be stock horse types, nor to be as athletic
and sure footed as the original Foxtrotters.
That does not mean one type is good and the other
bad...it simply means they were designed to different
What a pity it will be, however, if the original
type of horse for which the MFTHBA was developed to
preserve and promote became extinct only to be replaced
by a type that already exists within a different registry.
It seems that is more in keeping with reinventing
Copyright Dyan Westvang ~ All Rights Reserved~ No portion of this article may
be reprinted or distributed electronically or by other means without the written
consent of the author. Foxvangen Farm