Rocky Mountain Horse

  • HEIGHT: 14.2–16 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Eastern Kentucky
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: A naturally gaited horse known for gentleness and versatility; many are a striking chocolate color with white mane and tail
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Pleasure riding, trail and endurance riding, showing, ranch work; well suited to new riders, children, and riders with physical limitations

The Rocky Mountain Horse did not originate in the Rocky Mountains, although the foundation sire, Old Tobe, was said to have been sired by a horse from Colorado. The breed itself is one of the Mountain Pleasure breeds that arose in the rugged rocky hills of eastern Kentucky. This area was significant in the early development of several horse breeds because it was a “mixing pot” where Spanish horses from the South and Southeast were frequently crossed on English horses from the Northeast. It was from this genetic foundation that almost all of the gaited breeds later created in North America originated. Besides Mountain Pleasure Horses, other breeds with origins in the area are the American Saddlebred, the Tennessee Walker, and the Missouri Fox Trotter.

All of the Mountain Pleasure breeds were shaped by two hundred years of work as farm and family horses in the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee, where they were used to plow, work cattle, drive, ride, and pack to town, as well as to babysit the youngest riders. The horses are gentle and easy to get along with. Because their smooth gait is natural, it is unnecessary to train them to perform it. Mountain Horses are sure-footed, easy keepers, quite able to tolerate the winters in the Appalachians with a minimum of shelter.

As an official breed, rather than a type, the Rocky Mountain Horse is a relative newcomer to the Mountain Pleasure group. It differs from the other Mountain Pleasure horses in that there is one foundation sire, Old Tobe, who lived in eastern Kentucky around the end of the nineteenth century. Every horse in the Rocky Mountain breed today must in some way descend from him. Old Tobe belonged to Sam Tuttle, of Spout Springs, Kentucky, who owned the horseback riding concession in the Natural Bridge State Park. This sure-footed, gentle stallion would carry the least experienced riders safely. His gait was perfect, as was his disposition. He sired foals until he was thirty-seven, many of which grew up to be trail horses in the park.

History of the Breed Association

The breed’s organization was haphazard for quite some time, and there was a danger that the horses would fade away, but in 1986 the Rocky Mountain Horse Association was formed to maintain the breed, expand its area of acquaintance, and increase its numbers. Devotees attended large horse fairs and shows all over the country, giving wonderful demonstrations that highlighted the breed’s many attributes. Trail riders took Rockies to many competitions and pleasure rides, where they attracted quite a bit of attention. The association grew quickly. Buyers from most states and several countries have purchased Rockies and continue to spread the word about the breed.

Rockies have bold alert expressions.

Breed Characteristics

The Rocky Mountain Horse is still somewhat variable in type. Some individuals show distinct Spanish features, while others appear more like larger, modern breeds. Each horse has its own speed and natural way of going, traveling from about seven to twenty miles per hour. A horse of this breed must be of good temperament and easy to manage.


The ideal Rocky Mountain Horse is between 14.2 and 16 hands. It has a wide chest, very well-sloped shoulders, bold eyes, and nicely shaped ears.


This breed has unusual, striking color combinations. The body of the Rocky Mountan Horse is always a solid color. The preferred color is chocolate (genetically a form of liver chestnut), with a white mane and tail, but any solid color is accepted. White markings are usually minimal; they may not extend above the knees or hocks. White facial markings are accepted but they must not be excessive.

Characteristic of the breed is a chocolate coat with a flaxen mane and tail.


The Rocky Mountain Horse has a natural gait, which is not enhanced with any aids or devices. The gait is a single-foot, a four-beat gait with no evidence of pacing or trotting. When the horse moves, it produces four distinct hoofbeats of equal rhythm. Rockies do not trot. They are able to canter, but most riders do not request it because they find the single-foot gait so comfortable to ride and so fast.


According to the Rocky Mountain Horse Association (RMHA) (founded in 1986):

• More than 12,000 horses are registered.

• About 1,000 new foals are registered each year.

• The RMHA is one of the few breed associations that require that each horse meet certain conformation and performance standards before competing or being accepted for breeding.

Blue roans occur in the breed.

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