10 Facts About Rocky Mountain Horses

Posted by Erin McDade
Rocky Mountain Horse looks into the distance
Wikimedia Commons

Rocky Mountain horses are gorgeous breeds, but did you know these facts about them?

Rocky Mountain Horses originated from the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky. They have a four-beat ambling gait instead of a trot (similar to the American Saddlebred's five-gait) and are easily trained due to their even temperament and amiable nature.

1. They Are Not From the Rocky Mountains

Despite its name, the Rocky Mountain Horse (RMH) is a breed that was intentionally developed in eastern Kentucky's Appalachian Mountains. Half of all Rocky Mountain Horses still live in Kentucky today; between registered and non-registered, there are approximately 20,000 horses with 10,000 living in Kentucky.

2. They Have a Unique Coat

Many Rocky Mountain Horses have similar coloring; a chocolatey brown with flaxen mane and tail. This is due to an above-average occurrence of the uncommon silver dapple gene in the breed. Only 2.5% of the breed is Palomino, and most are primarily a solid color. Additionally, to be registered, a horse must have minimal white markings, and leg markings must not rise above the knee.

3. They Are Curious and Intelligent

Rocky Mountain Horses are also naturally curious, constantly watching their owners and trying to be part of the activities on hand. Due in part to this natural curiosity, RMHs are highly intelligent. They absorb information quickly and retain information for extensive lengths, often remembering commands and training immediately after very little refreshing.

4. They Don't Trot

The Rocking Mountain Horse is a gaited breed; they exhibit a natural ambling gait, called the single-foot, which replaces the trot. The extra footfalls provide additional smoothness to a rider because it always has at least one foot on the ground. This makes RMHs a perfect candidate for riding as a pleasure horse, elderly riders, or people physically uncomfortable with other, more bouncy gaits. Only thirty different horse breeds are gaited and able to perform a four-beat ambling gait; another American horse breed with this ability is the Tennessee Walking Horse.

5. They Stop When Startled

Most horses tend to bolt when spooked, but according to Ron Hatcher, a breeder of Rocky Mountain Horses at his Rebel Ridge Farm, Rocky Mountain Horses react differently; "My experience," he says, "is that when startled, they stop rather than bolt."

6. The Majority of The Breed Can Be Traced Back To a Single Horse

Nearly all modern registered members of the Rocky Mountain Horse breed can trace their bloodline back to the foundation stallion Old Tobe. He was owned by Sam Tuttle, who ran the trail riding concession at Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky. Old Tobe had a gentle temperament and ambling gait and was used as a trail horse for inexperienced trail riders. Many of his offspring inherited his four-beat gait and easy disposition, and he sired foals until he was 34 years old. When the Rocky Mountain Horse Association was formed in 1986, Old Tobe and five of his sons were named "foundation sires."

7. They Have a High Risk for Health Conditions

The same genetics that gives Rocky Mountain Horses their flaxen coats are also responsible for a distinctive disease that targets the breed. RMHs have the highest risk of any breed for multiple congenital ocular anomalies (MCOA), a disease that affects the development of some ocular tissues and can result in some mildly compromised vision.

8. It Is a Young Breed

The breed was intentionally established beginning around the 1900s, and The Rocky Mountain Horse Association (RMHA) wasn't established until 1986. The RMH is currently listed on a "Watch" status by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy as the estimated global population is lower than 15,000. Due to this, the goal of the RMHA and is to preserve the breed standards; the only horses allowed to be registered the offspring of registered RMHs who also meet the additional physical qualifications.

9. They Are Excellent Jumpers

Due to their curious nature and even temperament, Rocky Mountain Horses are very easy to train. They are not easily spooked when things go wrong and are willing to make repeated attempts to get it right. Once they have been properly trained, they can clear 4-foot jumps easily. This makes them excellent candidates for show jumping in horse shows and competing in cross-country courses.

10. They Are Multitalented

Rocky Mountain Horses are also extremely versatile; traditional RMHs in the early 1900s worked on Kentucky farms where they were required to pull a cart or carriage and work the farm and ride under a saddle. The modern RHM is just as multitalented, though instead, they are used as trail horses and jumpers. Their versatility makes them especially good in equestrian events such as cross-country courses and endurance riding.

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10 Facts About Rocky Mountain Horses