The Rocky Mountain Horse is a gaited American horse breed known for their rare silver dapple colouring. Contrary to their name, this breed originated in the Appalachian Mountains from a founding stallion imported from the Western United States.

These horses can perform a distinct four-beat lateral gait called the single foot. Their smooth movement made them efficient for traversing the rough terrain of eastern Kentucky and contributes to their modern popularity as trail horses.

While Rocky Mountain Horses are considered hardy, they are also susceptible to genetic disorders arising from their small founding population and rare colouring. However, preservation efforts have led to growth in the breed’s population in recent years.

This breed profile will review the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional requirements of the Rocky Mountain Horse breed. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for Rocky Mountain Horses.

Rocky Mountain Horse Conformation Picture | Mad Barn Canada

Rocky Mountain Horse History

Rocky Mountain Horses are one of several gaited breeds with Kentucky roots. Throughout history, these easy-gaited horses served as versatile mounts, and their enduring traits continue to attract new fan to the breed .


Rocky Mountain horses share ancestry with the American Saddlebred, Tennessee Walking Horse, and Mountain Pleasure Horse. Some evidence suggests these breeds descend from the Narragansett Pacer, an extinct American breed with ambling gaits. [1]

The breed’s origin as a distinct type of gaited horse dates back to 1890, when a gaited stallion with a chocolate coat and flaxen mane and tail arrived in eastern Kentucky. Locals called the stallion the Rocky Mountain Horse in reference to his Western birthplace.

This stallion crossed with Appalachian saddle mares to produce a genetic line of prized horses with the Rocky Mountain name. While gaited horses declined in other parts of the United States with the advent of better roads, they remained popular in Appalachia.

Sam Tuttle was the most prominent breeder of Rocky Mountain Horses during the mid-twentieth century when he stood a stallion named Tobe. Known for his sure-footedness and gentle temperament, Tobe’s progeny solidified the breed standard of modern Rocky Mountain Horses.

Historic Use

Settlers in Appalachia used horses for plowing fields, working cattle, driving buggies, and riding. Horses were essential to everyday life, and most belonged to families of modest means who couldn’t provide special care for high-maintenance horse breeds.

Breeding programs focused on producing hardy horses that could survive the harsh winters in the Appalachian foothills with minimal shelter and limited food. Horses that lacked the constitution to survive these brutal conditions perished.

The ambling gait of the Rocky Mountain horse was smoother and more comfortable for riders spending long days in the saddle. Gaited horses also used less energy while traversing the region’s rocky terrain, allowing them to travel longer distances and require less feed. [2]

Rocky Mountain Horses are also beloved for their attractive temperament and appearance. After gaining recognition as an official breed in the late 20th century, these horses quickly spread from their Appalachian home to new owners worldwide.

Breed Registry

Founded in 1986 in the breed’s home state of Kentucky, the Rocky Mountain Horse Association (RMHA) is the official breed registry for Rocky Mountain Horses. The association owns the trademark for the Rocky Mountain Horse name, which only RMHA-registered horses can use.

The RMHA closed the books for foundation stock in 1989 to preserve the breed’s traits. Rocky Mountain Horses are among the few American breeds requiring inspections and certification of horses intended for breeding.

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