Home is Where the Horse is........
Hidden Acres Foxtrotters

What exactly is a Missouri Foxtrotter?

The Missouri Foxtrotter is an excellent family style using horse.     This breed is notorious for
the gentle disposition and forgiving temperment that is it's trademark.   They were developed
in the Ozarks as the poor mans horse, who couldn't afford to keep separate animals for every
use required.   The average animal was expected to provide transportation under saddle, pull
the family buggy to church on Sunday, and perform every necessary task on the farm in
between. The were also employed by individuals who needed to cover a lot of ground in a
day, such as tax assessors and doctors.  

Today's foxtrotter is used primarily as a trail mount.  They possess the type of sensible
temperment that enables them to become wonderful trail horses, whether you like riding
slow, fast, or somewhere in between.   There are shows specifically for them, most of the
larger of which are held annually in Missouri.     They can also be found in 4H clubs,
endurance riding, gaming competitions, endurance rides, jumping competitions, mounted
cowby shoots, and any other equine sport you can think of.  Many people use the same horse
for lots of different disciplines.

The true foxtrot is the ONLY diagonal based gait of all the so-called "smooth intermediate"
gaits.  A running walk, rack, pace, tolt, etc are all lateral gaits.

I'd like to help remove a few myths about this unique gaited breed.....

Myth # 1.    MY HORSE IS A REGISTERED MISSOURI FOXTROTTER, THEREFORE THE
SMOOTH GAIT HE IS DISPLAYING IS A FOXTROT, CORRECT?

Not necessarily.  There would certainly be a lot of headaches allieviated if this were true, but
he can easily be doing a a stepping pace, a running walk, a rack, or jumping back and forth
through a combination of any of these.    Education is the key to learning to feel for the foxtrot,
and unfortunately, it's really not something that can be 'booklearned'.  Most people need to
feel it before they can understand how it is supposed to feel.   

Is this a catastropy?  That my horse isn't doing what it should?    

Again, that depends on what your wanting to do with your horse.   If your goal is the showring,
then yes..... seek professional assistance and get your horse foxtrotting.    But if you enjoy
your horse, it's gait is comfortable and fun to ride, and you get a big wide smile on your face
everytime it does it's particular gait, then just enjoy the ride.

It is important to note that there are MANY foxtrotters that do multiple gaits, they will foxtrot
when desired, and running walk when desired, for example.    I personally feel that any extra
smooth gears are just more icing on a delicious cake.     As a breeder and occasional
showring person though, I always try to breed for and perfect the foxtrot first and foremost.

MYTH # 2:   MY HORSE IS BLUE PAPERED, SO ISN'T THAT A GUARANTEE THAT MY HORSE
WILL FOXTROT CORRECTLY?

Quite bluntly, the answer is a resounding NO.     All blue papers mean is that there are 4
generations or more of registered foxtrotters in his background.    Keep in mind that 4
generations of junk will still produce junk.

MYTH # 3:    IT'S A GAITED HORSE, SO IT MUST BE A HIGH-STEPPER, RIGHT?  

Again, another misconception.   To the contrary, a good foxtrotter will display very minimal
knee action, with the preference being for a horse which will swoop it's front legs out as far
as possible, rather than as high as possible.

MYTH # 4:    GAITED HORSES ARE NOT VERY SUREFOOTED ON TRAILS.

I'm not sure where this one got started, but I suspect the origins are rooted somewhere in the
big lick walking horse breed, where at the highest level of showing the horses are shown in
extremely high, artificial pads attached to their feet, with chains added as well.  (This being
done to get a super exaggerated high step).    I'm quite certain they  would indeed be very
clumsy on a trail in this get-up.    I'm equally certain that so would any non-gaited breed
outfitted in the same.

MYTH # 5:   YOU SHOULDN'T CANTER YOUR GAITED HORSE, OR IT WILL NOT GAIT WELL
ANYMORE.     ANOTHER  VARIATION OF THIS ONE IS THAT GAITED HORSES SIMPLY DO
NOT CANTER.

This one always makes me roll my eyes.     Yes, they canter.  Most have a wonderful natural
canter, and yes.. they can be taught leads like any other horse.  

I will say that yes, if you don't put the bare minimum of thinking into your horsemanship, you
can get them to where they won't extend their gait to a higher speed, but will "cheat" by
breaking into a canter instead.     But the same is true of the flat walk:   If you don't insist on
them extending their flat foot walk, they will "cheat" that too by breaking into a foxtrot instead of
extending the walk.      Like any horse, they are a bit lazy by nature, and it's easier to break into
the next gear than to extend the one that they're in.   

The trick is to have a CUE for a walk, a foxtrot, and a canter.    Most people think of the
walk-foxtrot-canter as "speeds":  slow-medium-fast.     Nothing could be further from the
truth.   They are separate gaits.  On a well trained horse, a canter can be performed more
slowly than it's Flatfoot walk.

(For those new to gaited horses, the same is true in the quarter horse world....for instance, a
dressage horse will perform a beautiful entended trot, but left to their own devices they would
be cantering at that speed, which would be easier work for them).

MYTH # 6:    IT TAKES SPECIAL SHOING TO MAKE THEM PERFORM THIS GAIT.

This one is sort of Pandora's Box, but I will try to answer to the best of my ability.   Please
keep in mind I'm NOT a farrier.   

One of the most common questions foxtrotter owners hear from people who've just bought
their first ones is how they thought it was supposed to be a natural gait, yet their horse won't
do it.   

Yes, it should be a natural gait.

Most foals that are created by people who have a sincere interest in the welfare of the breed,
who take the time to learn as much as they can, who breed intelligently and try to improve the
breed, do indeed foxtrot naturally.    But even these foals can often have multiple gaits, or
pacing problems on occasion.    When you factor in all the horses bred by people with little
knowledge of gaits, those who  just breed to the cheapest stallion they can find who's pretty,
and those that breed to a big-name stallion thinking he can fix the gait problems their mare
has, you have a lot of foals being born with the gaiting odds stacked heavily against them.

Factor in the people who actually DO have well gaited individual on their hands, but no idea
which gait to encourage the horse to do, and the list of 'problem horses' gets even longer.

I think most of the problems newcomers to the breed have regarding gait involves several
things which are certainly understandable:

First, the average new owner understandably does not want to spend a lot of money to
dabble with a new breed when they're not sure if they will like it.     Foxtrotters are not
considered a rare breed, but they are certainly not anywhere near as numerous as an arab or
quarter horse, so understandably, the well trained, attractive individuals who are well set in
their gaits command premium prices.  

So, the newbie has to compromise on one of three things.... training, ponying up twice or
more what he had planned to spend, or natural gaiting ability.     

Since price is usually the first corner that gets cut, they end up doing one of two things:  
1.  buy a young horse that isn't broke, or
2.  buy a sweet, well mannered, broke horse that is pacing or some other common gait
problem.    Often the person doing the selling doesn't even realize the horse they're selling
has a problem.

So... now we have the green + green factor (gaitwise) that is no different than the green +
green factor that is often such a catastrophy with the first horse/green colt mistake that many
people make.       Only good thing is, at least with gait problems no one's likely to get hurt,
only disappointed.

At some point, the owner realizes this horse isn't doing what all the books and websites say
he should be doing, and attention generally gets turned to different shoing methods and/or a
different bit.

Good shoing can help a poorly gaited horse, but usually only to a degree.   Bad shoing can
mess up a good horse much easier.       A natural gaited foxtrotter should do his gait whether
shod or barefoot, and a good farrier will not make DRASTIC changes to his natural angles,
nor should you ask him to if he tells you it will be harmful..   A sound pacing horse is still
better than a crippled foxtrotting horse.     

And NO.... getting them shod like a walking horse is not going to make them foxtrot.   
Because walking horses are quite widespread, many folks who switch from trotting breeds to
gaiteds assume that if they person they hire knows Walkers, they will know how to shoe a
foxtrotter.   It is a good start, because at least that farrier should have a working knowedge of
a gaited horse, but you may have to get some advice to give your farrier in regards to proper
angles and toe lengths.   A good farrier should always to happy to listen to suggestions ,
beware the few that "know it all".    

If you must have a foxtrotter, and you absolutely cannot find a set-in-gait individual that suits
both your needs and your pocketbook,  AND if you are experienced with horses in general,   
your best bet may well be to buy an untrained horse that is NATURALLY predisposed to
foxtrot.   
Find a mentor that can let you ride a true foxtrotting horse so you can get the feel for it.     
Solicit the advice of people who have horses that do foxtrot.    It's human nature to ask for help
from those in the same boat as you, but not usually your best option~ if they had the
knowlege or skills they wouldn't BE in that boat.     Do the groundwork and initial early saddle
work with your horse, and then turn him over to a professional to set the foxtrot and flat walk.    
Make sure this professional is willing to work with YOU as well as the horse.

Keep in mind there is no subsitute for the right breeding, and quality is something that must
be bred in, not trained in later.  Pay special attention to quality of gait, because trying to teach
a horse to foxtrot that is predisposed to pacing can be like beating your head against a brick
wall.


MYTH # 7:  I NEED TO USE A SPECIAL, LONG SHANKED WALKING HORSE BIT ON MY NEW
HORSE, SINCE HE'S GAITED.

Nope.   Use whatever he works best in.  Hopefully the previous owner can advise you as to
the bit that works the best for that particular individual..  As with any horse, less is usually
better.   Try to use the minimum amount of severity that the horse will work well with.