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Horse Breeds

Breed Portrait: Missouri Fox Trotter

Horse breeds reflect the land where they were developed, and the Missouri Fox Trotter is no exception. Native to the Ozark Mountains, which traverse the states of Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas, the Missouri Fox Trotter is a hardy, sure-footed horse that can handle the roughest trails and the harshest mountain environments. As a bonus to its hardy constitution, the Missouri Fox Trotter has a smooth, four-beat gait that can comfortably support a rider for many miles.

Photo by Mark J. Barrett/Adobe Stock



The Missouri Fox Trotter is a culmination of the breeds Southern settlers brought to the Ozarks with them in the early 1800s. Arabians, Morgans, Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walkers and Standardbreds all accompanied the farmers that settled in these mountains. They used their horses to clear forests, sort livestock, and work the fields they planted on the plateaus common in the Ozarks.



These same horses carried them from place to place and pulled their buggies on the weekend. By the end of the 19th century, a gaited horse unique to these mountains had developed from the original breeds and was being selectively bred. Thus, the Missouri Fox Trotter was born.

Developed in a mountain environment, Fox Trotters can handle the roughest trails. Photo courtesy Valley Springs Foxtrotters

By the 1940s, motorized vehicles had eliminated the need for horses to work farms and provide transportation around the U.S., and the Ozarks were no exception. But the Missouri Fox Trotter was a beloved breed that had become well known throughout the area, and in 1948, the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association (MFTHBA) was formed to help preserve them. In 2002, the breed was named the state horse of Missouri, making it an official state symbol.

In 2004, the MFTHBA created a separate registry for Missouri Fox Trotters who stand between 11 and 13.3 hands, known as Missouri Fox Trotter Ponies.

Missouri Fox Trotter Breed Characteristics

The Missouri Fox Trotter is a short-backed, graceful horse prized for its three natural gaits: the flat-footed walk, the fox trot and the canter.

Known for being relaxed and for enjoying human company, the breed makes for a great companion and unflappable trail horse. Photo courtesy MFTHBA

The flat-footed walk is a four-beat gait characterized by each foot lifting and setting down an in even cadence. With each stride, the back foot reaches forward and slides in as it sets down. The gait is smooth to sit and helps preserve the rider’s energy over the miles.

The breed is best known for its second fastest gait, a broken diagonal gait called the fox trot. The gait has a distinctive rhythm created by the horse moving its front foot a split second before its opposite rear foot. At least one of the horse’s feet is in contact with the ground at all times, with sometimes two feet in contact, giving it smoothness and stability over uneven ground. Fox Trotters can travel as fast as 10 mph in this gait.

The canter is a broken, three-beat gait in the Missouri Fox Trotter, and should be performed as an athletic lope or a collected rocking-chair canter.

In addition to its smooth gaits, the Missouri Fox Trotter is celebrated for its gentle and willing temperament. Known for being relaxed and for enjoying human company, they make great companions and unflappable trail horses.

Fox Trotters are known for their unflappable nature and smooth ride on the trails that preserves the rider’s energy over the miles. Photo courtesy MFTHBA

Versatility

It’s no surprise given its history and characteristics that the Missouri Fox Trotter’s most popular job is as a trail horse. Its smooth gait and quiet disposition make it a natural.
But the breed also makes a great and versatile competition horse. They participate in a variety of events, such as endurance riding, competitive trail, obstacle challenges, performance (gait competition), model (halter), showmanship, horsemanship, reining, English pleasure, speed events and ranch horse competitions.

Fox Trotters compete in a variety of events, including showmanship. Photo courtesy MFTHBA

Ranch sorting was most recently added to MFTHBA shows in 2017, and the association now offers World Champion titles in this discipline, which is becoming very popular for the breed. In fact, the MFTHBA recently launched a lifetime achievement program that recognizes achievements in 16 different categories, including ranch sorting. The breed’s cow sense should come as no surprise, since the Missouri Fox Trotter was also used to work cattle in the Ozarks where it was developed.

Ranch sorting was most recently added to MFTHBA shows in 2017, and the association now offers World Champion titles in this discipline, which is becoming very popular for the breed. Photo courtesy MFTHBA

Every year, the MFTHBA sponsors the Missouri Fox Trotter World Show and Celebration in Ava, Mo., home of MFTHBA headquarters. The show includes a variety of classes and competitions, including trail ride events outside the arena, designed to highlight the versatility of the breed.

Missouri Fox Trotters are found in all 50 states and a number of countries around the world. The European Missouri Foxtrotting Association registers the breed in the European Union, and sponsors shows and other events for the breed.

The breed’s cow sense should come as no surprise, since the Missouri Fox Trotter was used to work cattle in the Ozarks where it was developed. Photo courtesy MFTHBA

In the U.S., 104,425 MFTs have been registered since the MFTHBA registry started. The breed is continuing the grow in popularity as horse lovers everywhere discover its endearing traits.

Missouri Fox Trotter Fast Facts

Height: 14 to 16 hands for horses

Color: All horse colors. Pinto markings permitted.

Overall Appearance: Proud carriage with a graceful neck and well-proportioned head. Back is short and strong. Overall look of substance and grace.

Association: Missouri Fox Trotting Breed Association

This article about the Missouri Fox Trotter appeared in the May 2023 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Audrey Pavia

Audrey Pavia is a freelance writer and the author of Horses for Dummies. She lives in Norco, Calif., with her two registered Spanish Mustangs, Milagro and Rio.

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