The Rocky Mountain Horse, a Proud American Breed


When a horse breed is not so few as to be classified as “rare” but is not numbered in the hundreds of thousands, it’s officially listed as “uncommon”. The Rocky Mountain Horse or Rocky Mountain Pony is uncommon, but not just because there aren’t as many of them around as Quarter Horses or Arabians. They sport an uncommon color, uncommon gaits all in an uncommonly attractive little package.

History and Origins

In the year 1900, Kentuckian Sam Tuttle bought a stallion that had been imported from the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado. Tuttle was in charge of the trail riding business in Kentucky’s Bridge State Park. He needed a gentle stallion with comfortable gaits that could pass on his sweet nature to his offspring since most of his clients were inexperienced riders. He found just such a horse in Tobe, also known as Old Tobe. The remarkable stallion was fertile until age 34 and died at age 37. His breeding is unknown, but Morgan and Spanish mustang are thought to have contributed. He became the foundation sire of the Rocky Mountain Horse.

After Tuttle died there was little organization of the breed until 1986 when the Rocky Mountain Horse Association was formed and copywrited the name “Rocky Mountain Horse.” About 1,000 foals are registered each year. According to Judith Dutson’s book Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America there were about 12,000 registered Rocky Mountain Horses in America and Canada in 2005 which jumped to over 23,000 in 2012, notes the Rocky Mountain Horse Association.

Breed Particularities

This breed was created to give a smooth and easy ride for tourists more interested in the scenery than in learning how to ride. These traits are still seen in modern-day Rocky Mountain Horses. This is a great riding horse on the small side with a draft-horse temperament and ability to thrive on even poor food. However, these horses do their best when fed the best hay and grain their caretakers can find.

Physical Characteristics of the Rocky Mountain Horse

This breed is built like a Morgan in that it has a compact yet elegant confirmation. They range in size from 14.2 to 16 hands, but average just under 15 hands. They have deep chests, prominent withers, short backs, small ears, wide eyes and a straight or very slightly dished profile to the head. These special horses are born with smooth ambling gaits that cannot be taught or enhanced through artificial means like placing chains on the legs or wearing weighted shoes. Any breeder or trainer caught using artificial methods are barred from the registry.

Rocky Mountain Horses come in a variety of colors but the preferred color is a dark chocolate chestnut with a pale or even white mane and tail. Bays, blacks, greys, chestnuts in any shade, duns, buckskins and palominos are acceptable. Only small white markings on the face or legs are allowed. The mane and tail can grow quite long and thick. These horses tend to be long-lived if given annual vet checks, teeth floatings, wormings and farrier care.

Rocky Mountain Horse Temperament

Although each horse has individual quirks and personalities, in general the Rocky Mountain Horse has a gentle nature and is not quick to spook. This makes the breed ideal for beginners, for children or for those with physical handicaps or mental disabilities. Horses with bad temperaments are not allowed to be registered.

Having a Rocky Mountain Horse

The initial cost of a Rocky Mountain Horse tends to be the smallest overall cost of horse keeping. The cost of feed, tack, health care and even entry fees for shows change unexpectedly due to the whims of global and local economies. The Horse magazine and website lists these as averages for annual yearly expenses (in American dollars):

  • Boarding: Not everyone is lucky enough to keep a horse at home. $300 to $3000 annually, depending on what services such as bedding or used bedding removal in the fees.
  • Hay: $520 when there is a good hay crop for the year.
  • Grain feed: $390. This is a must for breeding animals, animals losing weight unexpectedly or horses doing heavy work.
  • Basic veterinary care: $250
  • Basic dental care for tooth flotation (filing): $250
  • Farrier visits every six weeks: $750 total for all visits in a year when the horse is sound.
  • Emergency medical care: $2000.
  • Basic grooming supplies: About $250 per year. Remember that even the toughest of horse blankets, brushes and buckets all need replacing sooner or later.
  • Tack: About $1000 per year. Cleaning tack after every use helps lengthen the life of tack. Although saddles, bridles and saddlecloths come in many colors, check show rules to see what colors are allowed. Muted, conventional colors are the safer investment.
  • Registration fees: $50 on average for one person to stay in the good graces of the Rocky Mountain Horse Association. Fees for transfer or ownership, name changes, registering a foal, search their DNA file or to correct a mistake on the papers average $75 for each service needed.
  • Showing: Entry fees, show outfit, transportation costs and hotel costs (if needed) average about $500 per year for just local events and over $1000 if showing out of state.

Current Uses of the Rocky Mountain Horse

These are great mounts for all kinds of pleasure riding disciplines in English or Western, especially for trail riding, teaching beginners to ride and for therapeutic riding or riding for the disabled. Rocky Mountain Horses are still used for park rangers in some American National Parks. Some horses have even learned how to cut cows from a herd. Many owners enjoy riding their horses bareback so much that the Rocky Mountain Horse Association added bareback riding classes to their breed shows.

It is tempting to breed such an uncommon horse. Only the best registered horses should be bred, since there is a bad horse overpopulation problem in North America. It costs just as much to breed an average mare as an exceptionally healthy, athletic and intelligent mare.

Image sources: 1, 2.

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