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By Noah Anderson

Dec 17, 2016

I wanted to place this famous picture of J.B. Smith of Decoy, KY and his outstanding stallion right at the front of this post. Why? First- this is one of the greatest Rocky Mountain Horses that ever lived. Smith’s Ginger had it where it mattered– gait, temperament and conformation. Second- He put some awesome horses on the ground. Third: he wasn’t “the color that a Rocky Mountain Horse should be”. That’s why I made this photo black and white. A good thing to do when you are studying horse conformation and type– it keeps you from being distracted by your favorite color or distracted by colors you don’t like. In a world obsessed with color, and the internet with horse color calculators, Punnett squares to predict offspring color, and genetic testing of color, the very best thing I think you can do is forget about color. Don’t get me wrong- I have preferred colors myself and in my mind, nothing is more classy looking than a sorrel with matching stockings. But its a distraction. And it is the last thing you should look at. When I sat down with Ray Smith, J.B. Smith’s son, this past summer he made no bones about it– “All this color gene testing and advertising stallions as red gene negative is completely wrong!” But why listen to him? Well, to put it simply- Ray and his family have had some of the very best horses in the breed. Through years of trading and breeding horses they had learned to look past the color and see the horse for what it was. They knew that you had to have everything else- gait, conformation and temperament (in that order, according to Ray). The proof is living in Ray’s and his brother Luther’s, barns. I was fortunate to have a wonderful, if all too short introduction to their horses; which all had exceptional conformation. More importantly, they were all consistent in that conformation. In other words they all looked alike, and they had an abundance of type. Take out any conformation book you want and study this horse. He is worth that effort– remember no horse is perfect, but Ginger comes close. Divide him into thirds and look at the body balance. Hoof and bone ample enough for his weight. Look at that shoulder. Angle of the hip. Clean legs with good angles. Short back and long belly. Look at how his neck gracefully flows onto his topline, across his back and over his muscular hips. That’s what the old timers meant by a smooth topline. Doesn’t that back just invite you for a ride? A muscular neck- typical and exactly what you want for a Rocky (I will forever remember Ray’s admonition about “pencil necked Rockies” being all too common these days). Enough crest and flesh to know that this is a stallion, but he is not obese or coarse. Head is clean cut- bold eyes, protruding lip, teacup chin and small ears- Ginger’s head is neither too large nor too small. Overall, he gives the impression of power and beauty. He could go to a show or plow a field and excel at either one. Ginger also had it where it counts. According to Ray, one of the first things JB did with Ginger was to break him to harness and then he plowed the family garden. JB rode Ginger to work (he never had a driver’s license). As a sire, his babies inherited a nice, square, shuffle gait, regardless of the Dam’s way of going. Finally, you can still recognize a Smith’s Ginger horse even two or three generations away. Breeding for a favored or rare color and avoidance of “unwanted” or common colors has put the cart in front of the horse, so to speak. Average horses are kept intact because they carry this or that gene. Worse yet, outstanding horses of an unpopular color are cut or otherwise never bred. As a result, we see a lot of horses (and this is in many breeds- it is not exclusive to Rocky Mountain Horses)- that look like they are put together by a committee. Lines that don’t match up. Big front ends with small hip. Baby doll heads and petite, delicate hooves. Or heads a mile long. Horses that don’t even look like a Rocky Mountain Horse are kept intact and promoted as breeding stock. So if you’re looking for a horse– ask yourself- what are the most important characteristics to you? Gait? Conformation? Temperament? Pedigree? what particulars are you looking for? I remember when I was looking for future breeding stock- I fell in love with a weanling filly of a particular color- she was just beautiful. I had the owners put her in a round pen by herself- her buddies just a few feet away. She threw an absolute fit. COULD NOT stand still, not even for the span of one breath. I took this in for awhile. Finally, I swallowed hard and sent her out of the pen, and never looked back. I had to put temperament at the top of my list. As a final word- don’t get too hung up on any one particular aspect of a horse– after all of your analysis and picking apart a horse- consider the “whole horse.” Over the years, I have had some horses that, how should we say- were unique in their own ways- maybe a personality quirk or big ol’ clunky head or long backed– but I came to know them and love them just the same. When you’re out on the trail and you have a horse that knows you will take care of them, and they will take care of you- well, that is what matters most of all.

History of the Breed A Brief History of the Rocky Mountain Horse…. The history of the Rocky Mountain Horse from 1890 to the latter part of the 1900s carries little or no documentation and few facts that can be proven beyond the shadow of doubt. Everyone who personally witnessed the breed’s beginnings (back to the 1800s) is deceased, and we have been left with only verbal history passed down from generation to generation. Thus, all that can be recorded at this point in time are the stories recollected by living descendants. The Rocky Mountain Horse breed originated in the United States in the late 1800s, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. At the time of its beginnings, there was no understanding of the need to document anything about these horses. The people living in this region were quite unaware that one day their utility horses would become the foundation of a special breed of horse. The existence of these horses was practically a secret for many years to all but the inhabitants of this region. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the rural inhabitants of eastern Kentucky considered these saddle horses to be horses for all seasons. They were sure-footed, easy-gaited, and the mount of choice for postmen, doctors, and traveling preachers. People used them for plowing small fields, herding cattle, traveling through the steep and rugged trails, and driving the buggy to church on Sunday. Horses were not a luxury, but a necessity. Every horse had to earn its keep and be extremely versatile. It was not a matter of having horses around to use every once in awhile; these horses were worked hard, every day. At the end of the day they were exhausted, but possessed enough stamina to continue on, day after day. The families of eastern Kentucky who owned these horses were not wealthy and could not afford to spend a lot of money on the upkeep of their horses. Unlike Kentucky Thoroughbreds that were typically owned by wealthy people, the gaited horses of eastern Kentucky received no special care, and as a result most of the weak ones did not survive. These horses withstood the harsh winters of eastern Kentucky with minimal shelter, and they were often fed “fodder”, a kind of rough silage. Some had to exist on whatever sustenance they could find. So, like deer, they ate the bark off trees when they were hungry. Only the horses that survived these extreme conditions lived to reproduce their kind. The Rocky Mountain Horse Association’s (RMHA) rendition of the history of the breed states there was a gaited colt brought from the Rocky Mountain region of the United States to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky around 1890. He was referred to as “the Rocky Mountain Horse” by the local Kentucky people because of the area of the country from which he had come. He is the horse credited for the start of the Rocky Mountain Horse breed. Little is known about this foundation stallion, but oral history indicated he was chocolate-colored with flaxen mane and tail, and he possessed a superior gait. The stallion was bred to the local Appalachian saddle mares in a relatively small geographical area and the basic characteristics of a strong genetic line continued. This prized line of horses increased in numbers as years went by, and these are the horses known today as Rocky Mountain Horses. Sam Tuttle was the most prominent breeder of Rocky Mountain Horses for the first three quarters of the twentieth century. With the advent of better roads and means of travel, the population of gaited horses in the United States began to decline. The exception was the less developed area of the Appalachian Mountains. Gaited horses were still needed for travel where there were no roads, and therefore they were preserved in that area. Even through the hard times of the Depression and World War II years, Sam Tuttle kept a sizable herd of thirty to forty horses on his farm. Sam is considered as the man most responsible for the survival of the Rocky Mountain Horse. TOBE was the primary Rocky Mountain stallion used in Sam’s breeding program. In the 1950s, many people were selling their stallions, and the horse population in general was rapidly declining due to tractors and farm machinery available. Even so, breeders remembered TOBE, and he was always in demand for stud service. People brought their mares to TOBE from several different states, and he was as famous in Estill County as MAN O’ WAR was in Lexington, Kentucky. Everyone who rode TOBE fell in love with him. TOBE’s offspring were always in demand, and Sam never had any trouble selling all the Rocky Mountain Horses he could produce. In the early 1960s, Sam Tuttle managed the trail riding concession at the Natural Bridge State Park in Powell County, Kentucky. He had as many as fifty horses there, including TOBE. This stallion was often seen tied to the hitching post alongside all the mares. He became quite well known in the ten or so years he was ridden there. Besides breeding, TOBE was used as a trail horse. He carried Sam, and sometimes the trail guides who worked for Sam, with sure-footed ease over mountainous terrain for many years. Although Sam would allow other people to ride TOBE occasionally, it was always a ride closely supervised. He loved to show off his beloved stallion, but also kept a close eye on him. Everyone who rode TOBE enjoyed his gentle temperament and comfortable gait. It amazed people to think the well-mannered horse they were riding was indeed a breeding stallion. TOBE was used for breeding until July of his thirty-fourth year, and he passed on his gait, disposition, and other great qualities to his offspring. It has been said that TOBE’s progeny followed in his “perfectly-timed” footsteps. TOBE fathered many fine horses before his death at the ripe old age of thirty-seven. One outstanding trait passed on to his get was longevity, as many of his offspring were still breeding into their late twenties and early thirties. This brief history of the Rocky Mountain Horse® is an excerpt from the book Rocky Mountain Horses. Taken from the home page.

Additional Reading The following articles may be of interest to those who want to know more about the Rocky Mountain Horse. New Owners Guide to the Rocky Mountain Horse Dressage for the Gaited Horse Endurance Riding and the Rocky Mountain Horse Special Horses and Special People You Cant Have Just One

"I love my Rocky from SRR and KMH. I really enjoyed working with Susan - she loves her horses and takes great care of them. My Rocky (His Glory reg name) is the greatest horse and I love her dearly - I call her Chocolate Pony. She is the first Rocky I've owned and now I would only buy Rockies." Tia Smouse - CA

Windkist Pearl's T Rose

Was an excellent broodmare and exceptional riding Rocky Mountain mare here at Shake Ridge. She was sold to a lovely new home/owner so she could continue her carrier as a fabulous trail horse and people horse. She's a love. Here is what her new owner had to say:

"Every time I ride this little mare I like her more. She is such an awesome little girl so calm, never gets real excited about anything. I took her camping couple weeks ago and she was fabulous. Just stood in her corral very calmly the whole time didn’t get excited with anything else going on around her no pawing, no pacing, no screaming. And boy does she love people! This is the first time in probably six years that I have enjoyed riding so much again. I am so very glad to have her I feel very lucky." - Owner annonymous

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