Missouri Fox Trotting Horse


An intelligent head with a deep, strong body typifies the Missouri Fox Trotter. Daniel Johnson

Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association, Inc.

P.O. Box 1027

Ava, Missouri 65608


The Fox Trotting Horse is America’s favorite trail riding horse. It is known for its smooth, surefooted ride that is a pleasure for anyone, from young to old, who loves to ride. Its ground-covering gait, called the fox trot, has made it a favorite mount for hunters, forest rangers, and others who travel a lot in the country by horse. Its endurance and surefootedness in rugged terrain is appreciated by ranchers, and its gentle nature and rocking-chair canter can make any Hollywood actor look like a pro. The beauty and classic style of its movement is appreciated in parades and in the show ring.

The Missouri Fox Trotter is naturally gaited. No special shoeing or training is required to make it perform the smooth, flatfoot walk, foxtrot, or rocking-chair canter. Due to its melting-pot background, it may also perform a variety of other smooth saddle gaits.

Its good disposition and trainability are among its many desirable characteristics. It is often described as a horse for all generations because of its gentle attitude, making it easy to handle, easy to train, and easy to ride. It is one of the most versatile and best loved of all the horse breeds, with the intelligence, heart, and stamina to attempt any task asked of it. Its versatility and conformation provide the horse with the ability to pull a surrey, work cattle, or travel endless miles, all performed with true fox trot rhythm and style.

The fox trot is an easy, fluid, four-beat gait that basically is diagonal like the trot, but the horse appears to walk with its front legs and trot with its hind legs. Due to the back feet’s sliding action, rather than the hard step of other breeds, the rider experiences little jarring action and is quite comfortable to sit for long periods of time without posting or standing in the saddle.

As pleasure riding continues its rise in popularity, so does the Missouri Fox Trotter. Approximately 90 percent of registered Missouri Fox Trotting Horses are used for family pleasure riding. There is a saying that “to ride one is to own one.”

In 2002, the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse received the Missouri State’s highest honor when it was officially declared to be the state horse.


The breed developed more than a century and a half ago, when pioneers migrated from the hills and plantations of Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Arkansas, and Virginia. They brought their finest possessions, including their best saddle stock, which was largely Arabian, Morgan, and plantation horses from the deep South. Some bloodlines today can still be traced to horses of these states.

Those that settled in the Ozarks found an urgent need for a smooth, quick, easy-traveling horse that was surefooted enough to handle the rocky, hazardous terrain. Horses that were laterally gaited—running walk, pace, stepping pace, or rack—were all very smooth to ride, but the Ozark horsemen found they could not perform their gaits as well under rough riding conditions as the saddle horses that could perform a foxtrot gait.

Thus Ozark horsemen developed the ultimate surefooted, smooth-riding saddle horse by crossing the laterally gaited breeds, such as the American Saddlebred, Standardbred, and Tennessee Walking Horse, with good hard-trotting breeds from that era, such as the Morgan, Thoroughbred, and Arabian horse breeds. Famous families used for foundation stock have been known throughout the Ozarks, and even to this day, the names of Copper Bottom, Diamond, Brimmer, Red Buck, Chief, Steel Dust, Cold Deck, and many others are recognized as foundation stock by fellow U.S. horse breeders and associations.

These efforts resulted in an extremely comfortable, intelligent, and beautiful horse that was hardy enough for the cattle rancher, yet stylish enough to go to town with pride. The ability to travel long distances at a comfortable speed of 5 to 8 miles per hour made it a favorite of the country doctor, sheriff, assessor, and stock raiser. It proved to be capable, adaptable, and dependable for its surefootedness in that mountainous region. It also had the ability to do whatever was needed around the homestead, from plowing to hauling or working cattle, and yet could double as a stylish buggy horse. Old timers called it a people horse because it was gentle, loving, and willing to please. It was known as Missouri’s Fox Trotter horse, which eventually became the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse.

Trail Athletes

Due to its stamina, surefootedness, and smooth ground-covering gaits, the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse has also become very popular with field trail competitors and long distance trail riders. It has taken a firm hold as a consistent winner across the nation in the sport of competitive trail riding through the North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC). The majority of top NATRC competitive horses have historically been Arabians and Half Arabians. Within the last decade, however, the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse has gained in popularity. The Rocky Mountain and Midwest sanctioned rides consistently find Missouri Fox Trotters placing in the top six within the Open, Competitive Pleasure, and Novice divisions.


The Missouri Fox Trotter appears to walk in front and trot in the rear. Daniel Johnson

Rock’n EZ Ruby, a six-year-old Missouri Fox Trotting mare, won the title of Grand Champion Horse of the 2002 NATRC Championship Challenge Ride. This is a two-day, eight-mile competitive ride. To qualify for the challenge, horse and rider teams must have won a national championship, logged one thousand competitive trail miles, or finished in the top six in their respective NATRC region. The scoring is based on the horse’s conditioning, soundness, manners, trail sense, and ability.

Ruby had only been ridden in Open (most advanced division) for two years, and she won a national championship each year. In her first year as a four-year-old, she won sweepstakes on her first ride and another Fox Trotting gelding won third place at the Championship Challenge. Ruby’s rider states, “Our Fox Trotters have spoiled us. They are tough competitors, but not tough on us after so many miles in the saddle.”

Ruby joins top Missouri Fox Trotting NATRC horse, Hickory’s Country Gold, a sorrel stallion, as the only Missouri Fox Trotters to win the Grand Champion Championship Challenge title. Hickory’s Country Gold is the only NATRC horse to be named grand, national, sweepstakes, and Championship Challenge champion, as well as having been voted as a NATRC Hall of Fame horse.

Another competitor is the Missouri Fox Trotting gelding, Charger’s Rampage, of Kentucky. He also is a top NATRC national contender with national championship and national sweepstakes champion titles.


In the 1940s there was a scramble to abandon saddle horses for automobiles as the main means of transportation. Hoping to preserve the true, all-American Fox Trotting Horse that had been selectively bred for such a long time, a group of interested horse breeders founded an organization in 1948 that eventually became known as the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association (MFTHBA).

The association kept its registry open and accepted horses that could qualify as characteristic foundation stock until1982, when it required horses to have at least one parent that was permanently registered. Beginning in 1983, the association closed its books so that any horse approved for registration had to have both parents permanently registered.

The organization has enjoyed more consistent growth in recent years, as the reputation of the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse has become better established. Since 1996, MFTHBA has doubled its numbers of horses registered to almost ninety-four thousand. There are horses registered in Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Israel, Switzerland, Scotland, and the United Kingdom, and there are two affiliate organizations in Germany and Austria.

MFTHBA has hundreds of classes at its annual spring and fall shows. World Grand and Reserve Champions have been crowned since 1960. The annual show lasts one full week in September, when the best of the best from across the nation come to compete, trail ride, and visit with fellow Fox Trotting enthusiasts.


Horses applying for registration must have DNA parentage verification and have both its parents registered.

Size: The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse should stand 14 to 16 hands in height.

Color: All colors are recognized, except for appaloosa coat patterns.

Conformation: The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse should be of good conformation and be able to carry weight. The animal should stand well on its feet and be erect, wide awake, and alert.

The horse should have a neat, clean, intelligently shaped head, pointed ears that are well-shaped, good, large, bright eyes, and a tapered muzzle.

The neck should be graceful, in proportion to length of body, and well-joined to the body.

The back should be reasonably short and strong; the body is deep and well-ribbed. The flank should be full, and the chest deep and full. The shoulders should be properly sloped at a 45- to 50-degree angle and well-muscled.


The Missouri Fox Trotter’s head has large eyes and tapers to a fine muzzle. Daniel Johnson

The legs should be muscular and well-tapered. The foot should be well-made, strong, and in proper proportion to the size of the horse.

Gait: The Fox Trotting Horse is not a high-stepping horse, but an extremely surefooted one. The head and tail are slightly elevated, giving the animal a graceful carriage. The rhythmic beat of the hooves and the nodding action of the head give the animal an appearance of relaxation and poise.

Horses are judged on balance, conformation, structure, feet, legs, gait, and conditioning.

Flat foot walk: The walk should be a long and easygoing, flat, four-beat gait performed in a square, stylish manner. The horse reaches in each stride (front and rear) while overstriding the front track. This gait is done with rhythmic motion in time with the feet, and the head and tail should also indicate the natural rhythm.

Fox trot: This is basically a diagonal gait. The horse will perform the fox trot by walking in front and trotting behind, with reach in each stride (front and rear). It may overstep its track, provided it travels straight on all four legs and does a true fox trot. The back feet must exhibit a sliding action in order to keep beat to the gait. Due to the sliding action of the rear feet, rather than the hard step of other breeds, the rider experiences little jarring and is quite comfortable in the saddle for long periods of time.


Missouri Fox Trotters have various colors. They aren’t high stepping, but are surefooted. Daniel Johnson

The horse carries its head slightly elevated, with it having as much rhythmic head motion as possible. This head motion should always be in time with the movement of the feet, and the ears should be relaxed. The tail is carried naturally elevated and should be in rhythm to the foxtrot beat. The natural rhythm of the horse starts at the tip of the nose and goes back to the tip of the tail in one continuous motion.

The ideal characteristics of the fox trot are for the animal to travel with animation, style, and true fox trot rhythm. The horse is to travel in a collected manner.

The head should nod, the ears should indicate the step, and the tail should be part of the rhythm. The step should be springy, consistent, and smooth. The up and down motion should not be noticeable, but rather it should display a smooth, gliding gait without swinging. Swinging out of the legs, or paddling, is an undesirable trait in the Fox Trotter.

Canter: The canter should be performed in a straight, collected manner with the head and tail slightly elevated. It is often referred to as the rocking-chair canter because it feels like sitting in a rocking chair. The horse should travel with a rolling motion while on the correct lead both front and rear. Excessive pumping of the horse by the rider will be penalized by lowering the horse’s placing when being judged.

Judging: When judging, 40 percent shall be allowed for the fox trot gait, 20 percent for the flat foot walk, 20 percent for the canter, 10 percent for conformation, and 10 percent for equitation/horsemanship. The exception to this rule are two- and three-year-old horses and four-year-old amateur horses, which will be judged 50 percent for the fox trot, 25 percent for flat foot walk, 15 percent for conformation, and 10 percent for equitation/horsemanship.

Horses shown must be serviceably sound, and judges shall disqualify any horse with evidence of broken wind or blemishes that judges might deem disqualifying. No special shoeing or training is required for the horses to perform their gaits.

Fox Trotting Horses are shown in a browband type bridle with or without a caveson. Colored browbands and show ribbons for a strip of mane and the forelock are popular show accessories. Horses are shown in western saddles with a horn. No cruel or inhumane bits or other devices are permitted.

Judges shall also disqualify any horse shown with any artificial appliances, such as tie downs, set tails, false tails, switches, or braces. Also any horse having raw or bleeding sores around the coronet or legs are disqualified. The MFTHBA adheres to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Horse Protection Act and implements all necessary regulations at affiliated horse shows to ensure the safety of the horses.

Credits: Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association, Inc., and Stacy Bowman, MFTHBA promotional committee member

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