17 Cool Rocky Mountain Horse Facts

Despite its name, the Rocky Mountain Horse is a breed that was actually developed in Kentucky in the Appalachian Mountains. The foundation stallion was brought to Kentucky from the western US in the late 1800's, which is how the breed got its name. There are two types of Rocky Mountain horses: the foundation type and the modern type. Here are several interesting Rocky Mountain horse facts available to help you get to know this breed a little bit better.

#1. Most Rocky Mountain horses can trace their lineage to one specific horse. 

The foundation stallion for the modern type of Rocky Mountain horse was named Old Tobe. Owned by Sam Tuttle, he was often used as a trail horse at a local state park. He was also gaited, which is why this trait has become part of the modern type of this breed. Siring foals until the age of 34 and living to the age of 37, five of his sons have been named as foundation sires by the Rocky Mountain Horse Association.

#2. Rocky Mountain horses are known for their unique coat. 

The typical Rocky Mountain horse has a coat color that is described as “chocolate.” The mane and the tale are generally flaxen in color. What makes their appearance so remarkable is the influence of the silver dapple gene, which is relatively rare, and how it acts on the darker coat of each horse.

#3. The Rocky Mountain Horse Association was first formed in 1986. 

The registry prefers to have horses that have evidence of the silver dapple gene. Solid color horses within this breed are also accepted. White markings are considered to be acceptable, assuming that they are judged to be “minimal” when looking at the horse. What is not considered acceptable are any leg markings that extend above the knee. 

#4. Rocky Mountain horses have high risks for certain health disorders. 

The Rocky Mountain horse is the breed with the highest known risk of a condition called MCOA. This condition creates abnormal development around the ocular tissues, which changes how the horse is able to see. It’s generally mild when it develops and is a disease that is non-progressive. Genetic studies suggest that the reason why this breed is so greatly affected by MCOA is because the disorder is tied to the silver dapple gene, which also is the most prominent in this breed.

#5. Rocky Mountain horses don’t actually trot. 

This breed exhibits what is called an “ambling” gait. It is due to the trait that Old Tobe had and it has replaced the trot that most horse breeds typically have. The gait is called the “Single Foot” and it is a four-beat gait at the speed of a trot, which is a two-beat gait. The extra beats in the gait create a smoother ride since there is always one hoof on the ground, which reduces bounce and potential riding-related injuries.

This gait may prevent higher speeds from being achieved with this breed, but Rocky Mountain horses are known to be able to cover long distances without tiring as much because of it. 

#6. There were just 26 horses in the initial registrations for the Rocky Mountain Horse Association. 

In the past 30+ years since the association first formed, there have been over 25,000 horses in total that have been registered at some point. More than 11 countries are represented on the registry, as are 47 states of the US. 

The reason for the lower-than-normal registration numbers for this breed is due to the standards of acceptance. For a foal to be registered, the parentage must be verified through the use of DNA testing. Then, at 23 months, the horse will also be personally inspected to ensure that it meets the physical and gait characteristics that the association requires.

#7. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has the Rocky Mountain Horse on “Watch” status. 

This means that the estimated numbers of this breed are relatively low. Part of this is due to the youth of the breed, with the modern type of Rocky Mountain horse being less than a century old. The current estimates for this breed population hover around 15,000 worldwide. Fewer than 800 new registrations occur every year in the United States.

#8. There are other interesting physical characteristics for the Rocky Mountain horse as well. 

In size, the Rocky Mountain horse is about average, standing between 14.2-16 hands for most horses. They typically have a shorter-than-average back, but a wide chest and a neck that is well-set. Their rear feet are also angled, which helps to promote the specific gait that is seen within this breed. As a breed, their ears are often described as being “foxed” and their chins are listed as being “teacup” in shape and size.

#9. Rocky Mountain horses are extremely versatile. 

For many families in Kentucky and the rural Midwest, it was important to own a horse that could perform multiple tasks for you. This was especially true for the older types within this breed that were owned during the Great Depression. At best, many families could only own one horse, so it had to pull a buggy or carriage, work the farm, ride under saddle, and deal with a wagon. That’s what this horse could do.

The modern Rocky Mountain horse is still just as versatile, though the modern requirements for a horse have definitely changed. Today’s Rocky Mountain owners are typically trail riders, though these horses are making more appearances on the competitive circuits. They are especially strong in endurance riding events and it is difficult to ignore their trademark look in a show circuit event.

#10. About half of all Rocky Mountain horses still live in Kentucky. 

When non-registered Rocky Mountain horses are added to the total population for this breed, there are about 20,000 horses in the world today. Out of that figure, about 10,000 of the horses are living in Kentucky right now.

#11. Rocky Mountain horses have a unique personality. 

For most horses, if they get startled or spooked, then their natural reaction is to run away. For this breed, when they get startled, their natural reaction tends to be a complete stop instead. Their personality also helps them be able to understand the skill level of the driver or the rider that is working with them, making sure that almost everyone has a comfortable ride.

#12. This breed is intensely curious. 

Rocky Mountain horses are like extreme micromanagers. If you’re working on something by one of these horses, you can expect to have one peering over your shoulder the entire time that you are working. They want to be where you are, know what you are doing, and be part of the activities whenever they are allowed. This makes them one of the most reliable natural companions in any breed of horse.

#13. The registry books are completely closed. 

The only horses that are allowed to enter the registry of the Rocky Mountain horse breed are the offspring of already registered Rocky Mountain horses. Because of the youth of the breed, the current goal of the association and its breeders is preservation.

#14. The Rocky Mountain horse is also a trademark. 

The US Patent and Trademark Office has granted the Rocky Mountain Horse Association with a certified trademark for the term “Rocky Mountain Horse.” This means that the only horses which are allowed to be called a Rocky Mountain horse are those that have been accepted into the registry.

This means even if a horse comes from Rocky Mountain lineage, if it does not meet the conformation guidelines for the association, it cannot be called a Rocky Mountain horse.

#15. About 2.5% of Rocky Mountain horses are Palomino. 

The vast majority of horses within this breed are chocolate or black, accounting for 2 out of every 3 horses. Other coat traits are also possible, including Buckskin, Roan, and Cremello.

#16. Rocky Mountain horses retain information extremely well. 

If you’ve taught a Rocky Mountain horse a specific task, then there is a good chance that it has retained that information. Whether they are trained once per week or once per month, they tend to retain their training and can instantly respond to commands. Part of this is due to their high levels of curiosity, which makes them strive to learn new things and receive attention from their handlers. 

#17. This horse breed is a tremendous jumper. 

Rocky Mountain horses have been known to easily clear 4-foot jumps once they have been trained in show jumping and are ridden properly. This horse will typically go anywhere and do whatever their rider wants them to do. They might fail in the effort, but they’ll keep trying until they get it right. 

Although it is rather young compared to most horse breeds, the Rocky Mountain horse stands on its own in terms of appearance, gait, and temperament. It’s been said that if you ever own one of these horses, then one day you’ll decide that you can’t own just one. These Rocky Mountain horse facts may just prove that sentiment to be true.