The Missouri Fox Trotter is a popular gaited breed of horse that originated in the Ozark Mountains. Recognized as the official horse of the U.S. State of Missouri, this breed is famous for its ability to perform a smooth ambling gait known as the fox trot.

Ozark settlers developed the breed as a sure-footed and comfortable mount that could serve various purposes on the Western frontier. Fox trotters combined the best attributes of popular breeds in America to produce horses with an attractive look and good disposition.

Today, Missouri Fox Trotters are the ultimate pleasure and trail horses for owners of all physical abilities thanks to their smooth gait. While this breed is relatively healthy, they still need appropriate care and management to maintain long-term well-being and soundness.

This breed profile will review the history, breed characteristics, common health problems, and nutritional needs of the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for Missouri Fox Trotters.

Missouri Fox Trotter History

While the Missouri Fox Trotter did not become the official state horse of Missouri until the 21st century, these horses have a long history in the region. Multiple breeds influenced the development of Foxtrotters, but today these horses belong to a closed studbook.


Missouri Fox Trotters descend from horses brought across the Mississippi from Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee by settlers in the early 19th century. Most of these horses came from equine stock bred on southern plantations.

Some had ambling gaits and served as foundation stock for Kentucky Saddlers and other gaited American horses. Others were fine saddle horses with Arabian and Morgan blood, which added refinement to local breeds.

Additional influences from American Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walking Horses, and Standardbreds helped concentrate the genes responsible for ambling gaits in the breed. The resulting horses displayed a unique foxtrotting gait from which they got their name. [1]

Studies show ambling gaits reduce vertical oscillations of body mass over unstable terrain. This suggests that ambling gaits helped horses conserve energy while traversing the Ozarks’ rocky hills, which may have contribute to the success of gaited horses in these regions. [2]

Early breeders also selectively bred the horses for the sure-footedness needed on the challenging terrain. And by the mid-19th century, the gaited horses of Missouri earned a reputation as comfortable, attractive, and hardy mounts.

Historic Use

Settlers in the Ozarks relied on the Foxtrotters for many demanding jobs that characterized life on the frontier. The easy-travelling horses needed willing personalities and robust soundness to work through the long days.

Ancestors of Missouri Fox Trotters spent their days clearing dense forests, plowing fields, and working cattle. But the same horses also needed versatility to serve as riding horses and pull the family’s carriage. [3]

The breed rapidly gained popularity with cattlemen for their cow-horse abilities. Foxtrotters could also cover great distances quickly while maintaining a comfortable gait, making the horses a favourite mount for doctors and sheriffs in rural communities. [4]

Initially, the Foxtrotter name applied to any horse that could perform the fox trot gait. But eventually, the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse gained recognition as a distinct breed with a unique breed standard. Today, Foxtrotters are found worldwide and are among the most popular horse breeds in the United States.

Breed Registry

The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association (MFTHBA) was founded in 1948, based out of Ava, Missouri.

This breed association initially managed an open studbook that registered all horses with a fox trotting gait. A studbook is an official record of the pedigree and breeding details for animals within a specific breed.

In 1982, the association closed the studbook, which meant that no outside animals could be introduced into the breed. Only purebred foals with verified pedigrees descending from registered Missouri Fox Trotter parents are eligible for registration.

Breed Characteristics

Closing the studbook for Missouri Fox Trotters solidified a breed type that is easily recognizable today. While initially developed for practicality on the frontier, Missouri Fox Trotting Horses are now known for their elegant and graceful conformations.


Missouri Fox Trotters have an average height of 14 to 16 hands. The MFTHBA also maintains a separate registry of foxtrotting ponies standing between 11 and 14 hands.

These horses have a naturally proud presence with a high head carriage and graceful neck. The head is well-proportioned with an intelligent expression and pointed ears. Their backs are short and strong, with deep chests and well-sprung ribs.

Muscular, sloping shoulders and hindquarters power the Foxtrotter’s animated movement. While some gaited horses tend to be sickle-hocked, the ideal Missouri Fox Trotter should stand squarely on sturdy legs and well-formed hooves.

Missouri Fox Trotter Horse Conformation Pictures


Missouri Fox Trotters can be any solid colour or pinto. White markings on the leg and face occur frequently. While MFTHBA breed standards prefer horses with silky hair, some Foxtrotters are born with curly coats.

The genes responsible for buckskin, palomino, cremello, and other diluted coat colours are also common within the breed. Unfortunately, some of these dilution genes are associated with congenital eye problems in Foxtrotters.


The two standard ambling gaits Missouri Fox Trotters perform are the flat foot walk and the fox trot. Several gaited breeds show a flat foot walk, which is a four-beat gait with an even cadence in which the back foot over-strides the track of the front foot in a smooth, sliding movement.

Foxtrotters are distinguished by the fox trot, a broken diagonal gait characterized by the horse moving the front foot slightly before the opposite rear foot. Unlike a standard trot, this gait feels smooth because the horse maintains contact with the ground.

Kinematic studies helped to objectively define these gaits and distinguish between ambling paces in different breeds. While the two gaits share similar stride lengths, research shows significant differences in stride duration and frequency between the fox trot and flat walk. [5]


Missouri Fox Trotters have gentle natures and calm temperaments. Although the breed has an alert and charismatic expression, they are relatively quiet horses. These traits make them tolerant of energetic youths and mistakes made by inexperienced riders.

Foxtrotters still have the work ethic and willingness that made them the ideal all-around working horse of the Ozarks centuries ago. They are friendly, intelligent horses that enjoy spending time with people and learning new things.


This breed remains popular with cattlemen for working cows, but most Missouri Fox Trotter owners enjoy their horses as pleasure mounts. A majority of MFTHBA members report that they primarily use their Foxtrotters for trail riding.

Bravery and stamina help the breed excel in competitive trail riding and endurance. Pleasure riders enjoy trail riding these horses thanks to their comfortable gaits. Their smooth movement also suits older equestrians and riders with back problems.

Missouri Fox Trotters can compete in model, performance, and versatility classes at breed events. Model Missouri Fox Trotters are judged based on the breed standard for conformation and gait in hand, while performance classes showcase the horses under saddle.

Versatility arenas feature Western pleasure, English, horsemanship, reining, ranch horse, pole bending, and barrel racing classes. These classes allow Foxtrotters to demonstrate their abilities in a chosen discipline. But unlike non-breed events, these horses also fox trot.

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Missouri Fox Trotter Health

Most health problems affecting Missouri Fox Trotters are common conditions in the general horse population. However, gaited horses a