Missouri Fox Trotter Horse Origin and Characteristics

If you’re taking a trip through the Ozark Mountains on horseback, then there’s a good chance that you’ll find yourself riding a Missouri Fox Trotter. This breed isn’t native to the region, but has developed in the rugged mountains for nearly two centuries, and that has led to unique characteristics within the trotters today that benefit from the origins of this breed.

Much of what is loved about this horse is their ability to carry weight while maintaining a smooth gait. For that reason, they are used in several recreational capacities today. Individuals with disabilities can even take advantage of the gait offered by the Missouri Fox Trotter so they can enjoy a ride as well.

Missouri Fox Trotters are quite fast, despite the trot being an intermediate gait. While using the fox trot, a horse can complete short-distance tasks at a speed of up to 10 miles per hour. Over long distances with a rider, most horses can maintain a speed of up to 8 miles per hour. 

What Is the History of the Missouri Fox Trotter?

The Missouri Fox Trotter has its origins in the Ozark Mountains, developed by 19th century settlers looking for a new start on life. Because of the terrain and needs of homesteading, the breed quickly developed its unique trotting gait.

The breed came about through the breeding of equine stock that included gaited horses that were brought into Missouri during the period of settlement. Homesteaders came from Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee and brought with them a variety of horse breeds. Contributing to the establishment of the Missouri Fox Trotter are Standardbreds, Arabians, Morgans, Tennessee Walking Horses, and the American Saddlebred.

By 1821, when Missouri achieved statehood in the United States, the Missouri Fox Trotter was already well-known throughout the region for its gait. Homesteaders found it an extremely impressive horse for handling the rocky trails found in the Ozarks. Cattlemen could use these horses to work with livestock in difficult areas and quickly chase down stragglers or escapees in the rugged environment.

Despite their overall popularity, a breed association for the Missouri Fox Trotter was not established until 1948. The Queen of England would import the first trotters to Europe in the 1950s when several palomino horses of the breed were exported from the US.

From 1948-1982, the stud book was open for the breed. Since then, only horses from registered parents are allowed to be entered. In 2002, the Missouri Fox Trotter became the official state horse of its namesake state. Today, they can be found throughout North America and Europe, though most of the population resides in the United States. There are fewer than 1,000 trotters living in Europe, with about half of them residing in Germany.

The first Missouri Fox Trotter association in Europe was formed in 1992 and became an official affiliate of the American association. In 1996, the first championship show for the breed took place in Europe, but it wouldn’t be until 2010 when the first efforts to create a European stud book for the breed would begin. The Free University of Berlin is highly involved in the establishment of European Missouri Fox Trotters as a breed.

Beginning in 2006, an effort was formed to preserve the original heritage-type of Missouri Fox Trotter that was originally seen on the first registrations of the breed. Part of the goal in establishing this preservation effort is to reduce the amount of Tennessee Walking Horse bloodlines that are found in the trotters.

Today, you will still find trotters working on ranches in the US West, helping to drive livestock and handle the long distances that need to be covered. They are also extensively used for recreational riding and some compete in athletic or show events. 

What Are the Characteristics of the Missouri Fox Trotter?

A Missouri Fox Trotter will stand 14-16 hands high and typically weighs 1,200 pounds or less. For ponies that are kept in a separate registry, but are still part of the breed, the average height will be 11-14 hands high with a weight typically less than 900 pounds. The pony registry is maintained by the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association, but cross-registry parentage is discouraged.

The Missouri Fox Trotter can be of any solid coat color. Pinto coloration is also possible within the breed. It is very common for the horse to have white markings on their legs and their face.

The facial profile of the horse should be straight. The neck is of average length in proportion to the body and the withers should be quite pronounced. When looking at this breed, there should be a noticeable sturdiness to the horse, supported by a shorter back, very sturdy legs, and shoulders that are sloped just a bit.

Each individual should exhibit a temperament that is sound, calm, and good-natured. The horses should be relaxed, quiet, but not entirely placid. They are a wonderfully social horse, seeking out human companionship, but can handle time on their own when it is needed. Trotters are highly intelligent, ready to learn something new, and easy keepers. 

Instead of the standard trot, the Missouri Fox Trotter performs the gait of its name. The fox trot gait is a 4-beat, broken diagonal gait which has the front foot of the diagonal pair land before the hind foot. This eliminates any suspension in the ride, limiting the bounce a rider will experience. It is a gait that also contributes to the sure-footedness of the breed.

This format tends to make the gait of the modern trotter be a little smoother than what riders can find in other horses, which adds to its popularity. They work well with children and are patient enough to help beginners of any age begin to learn how to ride a horse with confidence. 

Interesting Facts About the Missouri Fox Trotter

  • There are an estimated 50,000 registered Missouri Fox Trotters around the world right now.
  • In the United States, the Forest Service uses the Missouri Fox Trotter for backcountry work that rangers are required to do in the national parks because of the sure-footedness of the breed.
  • Most Missouri Fox Trotters who are in good health have an average life expectancy of 20-30 years. 

As the popularity of the Missouri Fox Trotter continues to grow, the survivability of the breed could come into question. Donkeys are already being crossed with trotter mares to create pack animals that retain the gait and that is just one example of several practices. With conservation efforts in place and a closed stud book supporting the purity of the breed, however, there is great potential for future trotters to experience even more success.