missouri-fox-trotting-horseThe Easy Riding Versatile Breed Developed in the Ozarks

The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse was developed in the rugged Ozark hills during the 19th century by settlers who needed easy riding, durable mounts that could travel long distances at a sure-footed, ground consuming gait.

Missouri achieved statehood in 1821 and the pioneers who poured across the Mississippi River and settled in the Ozarks came largely from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. Naturally they brought along saddle horses popular in those areas. It soon became apparent that horse able to perform the easy, broken gait called the Fox Trot were the most useful in the rocky, forest covered hills of the Ozarks and selective breeding for the Fox Trot gait began.

Easy gaited stock imported to our nation’s shores during the Colonial era left their genetic imprint on the Fox Trotting Horses of the Ozarks, the American Saddle Horses of Kentucky, and the Walking Horses of Tennessee. Some 19th century standouts such as the Canadian born stallion, Tom Hal, made sizable contributions to the easy gaited horses of all three regions.

The distinguished characteristic of the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse is the Fox Trot gait; the horse walks with the front feet and trots with the hind feet. This extremely sure footed gait gives the rider little jar since the hind feet slide into place. The Fox Trot is a rhythm gait and the horse can maintain it for long periods of time with little fatigue. The Missouri Fox Trotter also performs a rapid flat foot walk and a delightful canter.

Fox Trotters became the using horse of the Ozarks. They were the favorite mounts of cattlemen, country doctors, sheriffs, and tax assessors before improved roads and cars appeared on the scene.

Missouri ranks number two in the nation in cow-calf operations and Missouri Fox Trotting Horses are historically tied to the grazing cattle industry of the Ozarks. When automobiles made horses almost obsolete in the everyday lives of most Ozarkians, Missouri Fox Trotting Horses survived largely because the cattlemen of the region continued to use and breed them. Old Fox, one of the breed’s most influential sires, was a chestnut stallion that spent his adult life trailing cattle in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas early in this century.

Stamina, soundness, and gentle disposition were serious considerations in the breeding of Fox Trotting Horses by pioneer families in the Ozarks.

Missouri Fox Trotters make excellent mounts for children and beginning riders because of their quiet dispositions and willingness to please. Their smooth gaits eliminate the "bouncing" that inexperienced riders suffer when riding hard trotting breeds.

The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association was founded in 1948 at Ava, Missouri by fifteen men concerned with preserving this unique breed. After a number of horses were registered in the Douglas County area, a fire destroyed the secretary’s home along with the stud book and records.

Increasing interest in Missouri Fox Trotters as show and pleasure horses brought about a reorganization of the breed association in 1958. Today there are more an 42,283 registered Missouri Fox Trotters located in the United States and Canada.

Trail riders across the nation who participated in treks through mountain ranges are rapidly discovering what U.S. Forest Rangers have known for years; Missouri Fox Trotters have no equal when it comes to delivering an easy, sure-footed, willing ride on hazardous terrain.

The breed’s national headquarters and Hall of Fame are located on a beautiful 67 acres showground nestled in the hills just outside of Ava, Missouri. The breed association annually hosts a Three Year Old Futurity Show in June and the six-day Celebration Show in the Fall. The Celebration, which crowns the champions of the breed, has been an exciting annual event since 1959.

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Characteristics of the Fox Trotting Horse

The Missouri Fox Trot gait is basically a diagonal gait. The horse will perform this gait by walking in front and trotting behind with reach in each stride He may disfigure or overstep his track, provided he travels straight on all four legs and does a true Fox Trot. The Fox Trotting Horse is not a high stepping horse, but an extremely sure-footed one; and, because of the sliding action of the rear feet, rather than the hard step of other breeds, the rider experiences little jarring action and is quite comfortable in the saddle for long periods a time. The head and tail are slightly elevated, giving the animal a graceful carriage; and the rhythmic beat of the hooves, along with the nodding action of the head, give the animal an appearance of relaxation and poise. The ideal characteristics of the Fox Trot shall be that the animal will travel with animation, Fox Trot rhythm, and style. The horse will travel in a collected manner. The Fox Trot should carry with it rhythm. The head should nod, the ears should indicate the step and the tail should be part of the rhythm. The step should be springy, consistent and smooth. The up and down motion should not be noticeable, but rather a smooth gliding gait without swinging.


The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse should stand 14 to 16 hands in height, be of good conformation, and able to carry weight. The animal should stand well on its feet, be erect, wide awake and alert. The neck should be graceful, in proportion to length of body, and well-joined to body. The Fox Trotting Horse should have a neat, clean, intelligently-shaped head; pointed ears that are well-shaped; good, large, bright eyes; and a tapered muzzle. The back should be reasonably short and strong; the body deep and well-ribbed. The flank should be full; and the chest deep and full. The shoulders should be properly sloped and well-muscled. The legs should be muscular and well-tapered. The foot should be well-made, strong and in proper proportion to size a horse. The hair should be soft and silky.

Performance of the Horse in Fox Trot

The Fox Trot will be performed in stylish collected manner by walking in front and trotting behind with reach in each stride (front and rear). The back feet must exhibit a sliding action in order to keep beat of the gait. The horse will carry its head slightly elevated having as much rhythmic head motion as possible. This head motion should always be in time with the movement of the feet. The ears should be relaxed. The tail will be carried naturally elevated and should be in rhythm to the Fox Trot beat. The natural rhythm of the horse starts at the tip of the nose and goes back to the tip of the tail in one continuous motion.

The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse
"The Winning Combination"

The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse is known best for the comfort if affords its rider. Loved as a trail horse, 90 percent of registered Missouri Fox Trotters are owned by people who use them for trail riding, competition and endurance riding, and pleasure riding. Acclaimed as a show horse the Missouri Fox Trotting horse is also recognized for its beauty and style in the show ring.

Used by hunters and forest rangers for it’s endurance and surefootedness in rugged terrain, by ranchers for it’s versatility and intelligence, and on Hollywood movie sets for its gentle nature the breed has quickly earned its reputation as a horse for all situations.

The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse has three naturally gaits: the long and easy-going flat foot walk, the smooth and comfortable fox trot characteristic of its name, and the "rocking horse" canter. No special shoeing or training is required for these horses to perform their gaits and their good disposition and trainability are among their many desirable characteristics making them one of the most versatile and loved of horse breeds within the equine registries.

Developed from  horses in the Ozarks, the breed is characterized by a gentle disposition and an easy, fluid 4-beat diagonal gait. Bloodlines can be traced from early settlers coming into the Missouri Ozarks from neighboring states of Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Their horses were depended upon for their surefootedness in this mountainous region and their ability to do whatever was needed around the homestead, ranging from plowing, hauling logs, and working cattle, while at the same time able to double as a stylish buggy horse or riding horse for the family. Whatever the need this using horse from the homestead which eventually became known as the Missouri Fox Trotter proved capable and adaptable.

By 1948 a Breed Association was formed for this talented horse and in 1958 the Missouri Fox Trotter Horse Breed Association, located at Ava, MO was reorganized and reincorporated. Since then breeders have worked to develop this multi-talented breed of horse into the much sought after pleasure horse and show horse of today.

Surefooted in mountainous terrain, gentle in disposition, and smooth of gait for the comfort of both horse and rider the Missouri Fox Trotter Horse Breed motto today is "Every rider’s pleasure horse".

Contributed By: Oklahoma State University