Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse

Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
  • HEIGHT: 11–15.2 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Eastern Kentucky
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: Small to medium, attractive, gaited horses known for sure-footedness, stamina, and their ability to carry riders safely and comfortably over extremely rough ground
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Trail riding, all-purpose family horses, small-scale farming

The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse and the Mountain Pleasure Horse were developed by farmers living in the isolated, rough, beautiful hills of eastern Kentucky who kept few written records. The horses have been around for some 160 to 200 years and probably trace back to the Narragansett Pacer and to some of the smooth-gaited horses that came up from Florida to the western Carolinas in the very early days of settlement. They clearly share some ancestry with Tennessee Walkers and other gaited breeds, but no one knows exactly what went into the mix or when. In the early years, most breeding took place among unnamed types and individuals that were selected for their ability to work.

The Kentucky breeds arose to meet the needs of farmers working small, rough areas of land who needed smallish but powerful horses. The farmers also wanted comfortable and sure-footed riding horses. The gait had to be comfortable for the horse as well as for the rider, and the horses had to be naturally sure-footed because of the long distances to be traveled, over mountainous, rocky ground. Because an entire family might share one or two horses, and everybody, including very young children, rode, the horses had to be gentle and tractable. Times were often tough, so horses had to be easy keepers and self-sufficient. Although the people who developed these horses did not have fancy stud farms or keep reliable written records of pedigrees, they knew what they wanted, and they figured out how to achieve it.

Although known for their smooth mid-speed gait, these horses are willing and able to canter.


There are several Mountain Horse registries, and their rules and philosophy differ somewhat. For this reason, a number of the horses are double registered, and some are triple registered.

One difference among registry requirements is height. The founder of the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Association (KMSHA) felt that some of the best gaited horses were short, so the lower size limit for the KMSHA is 11 hands (44 inches) instead of 14.2 (58 inches), as in the other Mountain Horse associations and registries.

KMSHA horses may be any solid color, and they may have white on the face, legs, mane, and tail, including white above the knees and hocks, but white on the body is limited to thirty-six square inches behind the breastbone and under the ends of the rib cage.

There is a separate association for Spotted Mountain Horses.

The Mountain Pleasure Horse Association requires that horses be no smaller than 14.2 hands, and white above the knees and hocks is not permitted.


According to the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Association (founded in 1989):

• More than 11,000 horses are registered.

• Some 600 foals are registered each year.

• Horses are found primarily in areas where there are many trail riders, especially Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Missouri.

According to the Mountain Pleasure Horse Association (founded in 1989):

• About 3500 horses are registered.

• Each year about 170 new foals are registered.

• The breed is most popular in Kentucky but also in Pennsylvania and other states east of the Mississippi. There are several horses in the West, some in Canada, and some in Germany.

Many of the farmers were skilled at animal husbandry and breeding on a small scale. They kept pedigrees in their heads and took their mares to stallions that were known to produce the desired traits, even if the stallions were far away. This careful selection of breeding stock produced a consistent type that has remained strong and durable over the centuries: a small, sturdy, gentle, smooth-gaited, easy-keeping horse.

Breed Characteristics

These horses make excellent family horses and are among the best trail mounts that can be found today for the very same reasons they were prized in Kentucky two hundred years ago. Mountain Horses have three gaits: a trail walk, a single foot or amble, and a canter. They have been tested and proved for generations by hard work in rough country. They always earn acclaim as exceptionally comfortable pleasure mounts with a gentle disposition.


In general, Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses and Mountain Pleasure Horses are small- to medium-sized animals with medium bone and feet appropriate to the size of the horse. They have bold eyes and well-shaped ears. The profile is flat, neither dished nor Roman. The balanced neck is of medium length, breaking at the poll and arching gracefully, giving the horses a naturally proud bearing. The shoulders are well sloped. They have a wide, deep chest and clean legs with good joints. The mane and tail are ample.


The horses may be of any solid color, including bay, black, chestnut/sorrel, roan, gray, cremello, buckskin, palomino, and chocolate. White on the face or lower legs is permitted. White above the knees or the hocks and white body spots are permitted by the KMSHA but not allowed by the MPHA (see box at left).

Good all-around and family horses, Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses have a naturally proud bearing with sloping shoulders and a wide, deep chest. They come in many attractive colors.

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