The story of the Rocky Mountain Horse began in the late 1800s in the Appalachian foothills of Eastern Kentucky. Though few facts about the breed remains from that time and most of that is oral accounts passed down the generations, it is indeed believed to be somewhere near the truth.
Off course all horses from USA originate from European horses the Spaniards among others brought over the sea in the 1500s and the following centuries. Among horse breeds today it is assumed that the Rocky Mountain Horse breed is closely related to the other American gaited horse breeds – especially such as the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse and Mountain Pleasure Horse and one horse can easily be registered in all three stud books if it possesses the demanded traits. The Tennessee Walking Horse and the Paso Fino are among other breeds that are considered related to the breed to some degree, because of their ability of the special four-beat gait, tølt. A look on this web site will give you a good impression of the differences between the different breeds of Mountain Horses in a short overview.
A tribute to Bonnie Hodge
Here follows a short account of the history of the origins of the Rocky Mountain Horse as researched by Bonnie Hodge, author of the book “Rocky Mountain Horses”. I have completely rewritten the text to honor the copyright of Bonnie Hodges work, but the story itself is identical in essence to the one written in the book. The text also contains a few add-ons in the form of pictures and extra text in comparison to the text of the book.
The inception of the breed
In the late 1800s the horses in the Appalachian Mountains area of Eastern Kentucky were highly valued and appreciated for their utility in the strenuous everyday life, but were hardly known outside this area. People considered these horses to be the best mounts for every possible use and were generally the first choice among travelling people like preachers, postmen and even doctors, where they were very appreciated for their sure-footedness on steep and rugged trails. The horses were also used in farm work plowing small fields and herding live stock. They were even used for driving the buggy to church on Sundays. In short to these people these horses were very much a necessity and every horse had to earn its keep and had to be extraordinarily versatile. Horses in that time were used not for pleasure, but were a working animal and they were worked hard every day. A horse like that would need a lot of strength, stamina and versatility and this was the Rocky Mountain Horse the embodiment of.
People owning these horses in Eastern Kentucky were not rich in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and they could not afford to spend a lot of money on care and upkeep of their horses. As a direct result of this, weaker horses did not survive. The horses had to survive the harsh, cold winters of Eastern Kentucky with a minimum of shelter and on bad quality fodder. Some even had to find their own sustenance through the winters eating tree bark like deer. Only the most hardy horses survived these conditions and it is from this base population the breed was built.
It is told that a gaited colt was brought from the Rocky Mountains around 1890 to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The horse was referred to simply as “The Rocky Mountain Horse” by the locals, because of his origin and this colt is credited for the start of the breed. Very little is known about this foundation stallion, but as the story goes he was a chocolate coloured horse with flaxen mane and tail and possessed a superior four-beat lateral gait. The stallion was bred to local Appalachian saddle mares within a relatively small geographical area bringing about relatively similar and defined basic characteristics among the horses in that area and continuing a strong genetic line. The numbers of this line of horses increased over the years and became the horses we know today as The Rocky Mountain Horses.
This map shows the overall geography of the originating areas of the Rocky Mountain Horse. Click on the markers for more detail.
Vis USA RMH locations på et større kort
Sam Tuttle – an important breeder
Among the breeders of these popular horses a man named Sam Tuttle was the most prominent breeder in 1900s. Though as times changed and the need for horses declined, so did the numbers of horses in general. But in less developed areas like the Appalachian Mountains this trend was less powerful and gaited horses were still in need for travel in the countryside that didn’t have any infrastructure at all, and the horses in these areas were therefore preserved to a greater extend.
Even through hardships like The Great Depression and World War II, Sam Tuttle managed to keep a herd of 30-40 horses on his farm. For this reason he is considered the man most responsible for the survival of the breed. The most prized and used breeding stallion in Sam Tuttle’s breeding program was the stallion called Tobe. Even with the coming of basic farming machinery in the 1950’ies USA and with the horse population rapidly declining, Sam had demand for Tobe’s stud service, and people came from far away – even from other states – to have their mares bred by this stallion. Sam never had any trouble selling the horses he bred and could sell as many as he could produce, which must be a true testament to the obvious qualities of his horses that defied the trends of that time.
Tobe was a special horse for many reasons and is considered to be a founding stallion of the The Rocky Mountain Horse breed as it is today, because he first of all had many offspring, but secondly and most importantly passed on the traits that are most desired in the breed to many of his offspring – including a very gentle and people-friendly temperament along with a gliding, comfortable four-beat gait and the famed chocolate coat colour with flaxen mane and tail. He was known as “Old Tobe” in his later years as he evidently lived to a very old age.
Along side his stud farm, Sam Tuttle managed the trail riding concession at the Natural Bridge State Park in Powell County, Kentucky in the 1960’ies. He had as many as 50 horses for the trail rides, including Tobe. The stallion was often seen tied to the hitching post alongside all the mares without any fuss at all. He became quite a well known horse for his obvious qualities in the 10 or so years he was ridden there.
Tobe was used for both breeding as well as a trail horse. He was mostly ridden by Sam himself, and sometimes by the employed trail guides, and he carried them with sure-footed ease over rocky and rugged terrain for many years. Everyone who ever rode Tobe enjoyed his gentle temperament and comfortable gait. It was amazing to people to think the well-mannered horse they were riding was indeed a breeding stallion.
Tobe was used for breeding until July of his 34th 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. He was the father of many fine horses before his death at the old age of 37. One of the outstanding traits passed on to his offspring was longevity, as many of his offspring were still breeding into their late 20’ies and early 30’ies.
The sons of Tobe
Among the multiple offspring of such a productive stallion as Tobe, there were five stallions in particular referred to as “The five Sons of Tobe”, that also played an immense part in the Rocky Mountain breed as foundations stallions. These were Kilburn’s Chocolate Sundown, Maple’s Squirrel, Sam Clemon’s Tim, Sewall’s Sam and Yankee. Each of these stallions brought its own qualities to the breed and people often refer to one of today’s horses as being out of a particular line like Maple’s Squirrel.
The Rocky Mountain Horse Association (RMHA) was formed in 1986 in USA to oversee the management and preservation the breed with its unique and distinct qualities and the association lives on today as strongly as ever.The stud books were closed three years later in 1989 and only accepted grade mare stud book entries until 2004 (a horse with only one RMH registered parent or simply a mare with all the breed associated traits), thus effectively closing the stud book to all horses hereon after that are not already registered or have two registered parents. The finest pedigree is considered as one with the least amount of grade mares or none at all, hereby giving the horse a hight percentage of “Tobe” in its pedigree. On the other hand throwing a few grade mares in the mix definitely also has its advantages, because there’s less inbreeding.
It is also fairly unique to the association that they will only accept and register offspring from breeding certified parents. This ensures that the desired characteristics of the horses is maintained within the breed. Read more about the history of the association here.
There seems to be a growing popularity of this previously relatively unknown breed, yet there is a long way to go to reach the same popularity as the Quarter Horse for instance. Today there’s somewhere around 18.000 registered horses or more in the association and one can only hope those numbers will rise.
Bonnie Hodge, “Rocky Mountain Horses”
Rocky Mountain Horse Association, www.rmhorse.com