Moyle Horse

Moyle Horse
  • HEIGHT: 14.3–15.2
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: Frontal bosses, or horns, on some individuals; tremendous endurance
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Endurance rides, trail riding, and ranch work

One of North America’s most remarkable breeds is not a horse with a registry and a member association. They are the product of diligent breeding over many generations on one Idaho ranch. The nucleus of breeding horses on that ranch has a long history that encompasses generations of horsemen from the same family, the Mormon migration west, and a fortuitous accident.

Porter Rockwell (1813–1878), a bodyguard for both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, had a strong interest in horses and seemed to regard it as his obligation to acquire and develop the very best for use by members of the Mormon faith. Throughout history, high-quality horses have always endowed their owners not only with prestige but also with a decided tactical advantage in any sort of conflict. Rockwell intended to exploit that advantage to its fullest extent.

He acquired the best local horses available, and he imported and later bred special horses to be owned and used only by Mormons. The original horses he bought were imported from overseas. The Mormons jealously guarded their good horses, refusing to sell or trade any breedable horse to anyone outside the faith. The horses were recognized throughout the West for their extraordinary endurance.

The forelegs of Moyles are far forward on the rib cage, and the back is relatively long.

Moyles are long horses, which allows for tremendous length of stride and for excess heat to radiate easily from the body.

For a brief period in 1856, the Mormons had a contract to carry mail from Salt Lake City to Missouri. They ran their own pony express route during this period, and it may be presumed that they selected mounts from their own herds of fast, tough horses. Deteriorating relationships between the Mormons and the U.S. government caused the Mormons to lose the mail contract shortly after the service had begun. Not many years later, the short-lived but more famous Pony Express, which ran only from 1860 to 1861, somehow managed to buy at least a few of the Mormon pony express horses. Purchase documents indicate that a Mr. Kimball was paid $250 per head for Mormon horses at a time when $25 would have bought the best horse available. Quite possibly this was Hiram Kimball, who originally held the Mormon mail contract.

At some point during the era of Porter Rockwell and the Mormon migration, a rancher named Chris Hansen seized a rare opportunity. He happened to live near a route that was traveled one day by a Mormon messenger carrying an urgent message. The mare the messenger was riding began to stagger after twenty-eight miles at a full gallop. This amazed the messenger, because he had run this horse much farther than that on many occasions with no problems. Realizing he was soon going to be on foot, the desperate messenger stopped at the Hansen ranch and asked to borrow a horse, promising to return it and pick up the mare at a later date.

Hansen recognized the opportunity to acquire one of the special horses, so he refused to loan a horse. He insisted on a trade. By that time in the discussion the mare was lying down gasping, and the messenger reasonably thought she was about to die, so a trade seemed like a good idea. He violated the rule never to sell or trade one of the special horses, collected a gelding, and went on his way.

It was almost immediately apparent to Hansen that the mare was extremely winded because she was heavy in foal. She recovered from the long gallop, and in about a month she produced a filly, which was given to Chris Hansen’s sixteen-year-old daughter. About two years later, this girl married into the Moyle family. One of her sons was Rex Moyle, who later developed the present-day Moyle Horses. The filly became an excellent broodmare, producing sixteen foals, the foundation stock for the Moyle family ranch horses.

This line of horses is distinctive in several ways. One of their truly unusual characteristics is a pair of little bony knobs above the eyes, larger in some horses than in others. Although everybody calls them horns, these knobs are skin-covered bony protuberances, much like very small versions of the horns on a giraffe. The formal name for them is frontal bosses. These “horned” horses were also known for incredible endurance. The Moyles used them primarily as working ranch horses. On most ranches in that area, a cowboy would typically have a string of eight to ten horses. On the Moyle ranch, cowboys had one horse and were often able to outwork anybody in the neighborhood.

Dilution and Revitalization

An unfortunate political event for the Mormon horse bloodlines occurred around 1900, when Utah passed a law that made it a felony to keep a stallion that was not a registered purebred. As a result, the lines of horses Rockwell had so carefully and successfully bred were crossed only on registered breeds and ultimately nearly bred away. By the 1930s they were few and far between, and the line of ranch horses that had come from the original mare had been diluted to almost nothing. The strain of horses first bred by Porter Rockwell had almost disappeared after his death.

Recognizing that they needed to revitalize the ranch breeding stock, and knowing that the stock had come from Mormon lines, Rex Moyle went to the mountains near Salt Lake where the Mormons of Rockwell’s era had grazed some of their best horses. He looked at hundreds of captured Mustangs and found a few mares that resembled the type that his family had long used. He took these back to the ranch and bred them carefully to build up the herd. To avoid excessive inbreeding, he made some outcrosses to a Cleveland Bay stallion. He continued to produce horses of excellent endurance, many of which exhibited the strange bony knobs on their head.

A frontal boss, or “horn,” can just be seen above this horse’s right eye.


Two other horse breeds in the world (as well as a smattering of incidental reports about individual horses) are known to have “horns.” All the horned horses seem also to be noted for extraordinary endurance.

One of these breeds is actually a strain, possibly the purest strain, of Andalusians, those that were bred by Carthusian monks in Spain beginning around 1400 CE. The monks’ herd of Andalusians was dispersed in 1835. They were said to have been sold to carefully selected Andalusian breeders, but the time frame for this dispersal puts it just slightly ahead of Porter Rockwell’s horse-breeding efforts. Possibly these “selected” Andalusian breeders sold some of these horses or their offspring. Genetic tests done on Moyle horses in 1990 show that they do carry markers in common with Andalusians, so perhaps there is kinship with the Carthusian horses.

The other “horned breed” is the ancient Datong of China, known as the Dragon Horse. Only royalty could own these horses; commoners were forbidden to have them. They were alleged to have incredible endurance. There is some speculation that a genetic chain runs from China’s ancient Dragon Horses through Asia, then to the Carthusian Andalusians, on to the Mormon horses, and finally to the Moyles. If this long, winding chain exists, it remains unproven.

Excelling in Endurance

In the 1960s the Moyles began to compete in endurance rides. One of their first competitive horses was an eleven-year-old mare, which they broke to ride in August. She was taken on an 83-mile ride that Labor Day by a twelve-year-old Moyle son and won the ride. The other Moyle entrant came in sixth.


No breed association or registry exists at this time.

In 1962, a Moyle Horse was entered in the grueling 100-mile Tevis Cup and finished sixth. In 1964, the family took three horses to the Tevis Cup, two of which were unconditioned for endurance riding but had been used consistently for ranch work. The third had just been broken to ride about two months before the competition. Because of extreme heat, the Tevis Cup was so difficult that year that half the entrants failed to finish, but the Moyles finished second, third, and fourth.

One of the Moyles’ horses, Sweet Pea, was hauled 3,000 miles to Pennsylvania a week after the Tevis Cup. Less than a month later, she won the Vermont 100-mile trail ride. A week after that she was grand champion in all divisions of a 50-mile, seven-hour contest in Maryland. During all of this she managed to gain condition on good hay and less than three quarts of grain a day.

In 1983, Marge Moyle won the best-condition award on a five-day, 250-mile ride with her horse Hawk, who was then fifteen years old. Hawk completed more than 5,000 competitive endurance miles in five years and is in the Endurance Horse Hall of Fame.

Breed Characteristics

In addition to the peculiar “horns,” Moyle Horses have unusual freedom of movement in the shoulder. The foreleg is placed extremely far forward on the rib cage. The back has long muscles, well suited for carrying a saddle. The hindquarters are long and elastic. All muscling is long and smooth. The skin is thin but tough and covered with a dense coat.

The feet are large, wide at the heel, and very tough. The walking stride of the Moyle is exceptionally long. Many of the horses do not have chestnuts. The liver and the spleen of the Moyle are said to be nearly twice the size of those of other horse breeds. This would greatly enhance their ability for both sustained effort and quick recovery.

Leave a Comment