The Missouri Fox Trotter developed in the Ozark Mountains in the United States in the early 19th century, where the settlers needed horses suitable for working with livestock in this type of environment. The Missouri Fox Trotter (MFT) is known for its high stamina and “fox trot” gait. It is a muscular mid-sized horse with a stock horse build. The fox trot gait is an adaptation to working in the rocky terrain of the Ozark Mountains.
In 2002, the Missouri Fox Trotter became the official state horse of Missouri.
Data from 2012 show that at that point, there were roughly 100,000 living MFT horses in the breed registry. A majority of them lived in the United States or Canada.
The MFT is a popular choice for ranch work and trail riding since they work well with cattle and provide the rider with a very smooth ride. They also have a surprisingly high weight-carrying ability. Quite a few MFT horses work for the U.S. Forest Service, especially in mountainous areas.
Mules created by mating a male donkey with an MFT mare are sought after for hunting expeditions, especially in the western U.S.
The height is 14-16 hands. (If an individual is smaller than that, it can instead be registered in the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association´s registry for fox trotting ponies.)
The MFT is a muscular type of horse, with sloped shoulders and pronounced withers. The back is short and the legs are sturdy. The weight is typically in the 900-1200 lbs range.
The ideal neck is medium long. The facial profile is straight.
The breed standard accepts any solid colour, and pinto is also permitted.
It is not unusual for MFT horses to exhibit white markings on the face and/or legs.
The ambling gait
The Missouri Fox Trotter is named after its distinctive ambling gait – the “fox trot”. It has been described as “walking in the front and trotting in the back”.
This fox trot is a four-beat broken diagonal gait. The front foot of the diagonal pair always lands before the hind, and this eliminates the moment of suspension. The horse always have one of the front hooves on the ground – never both in the air at the same time. Not only does this increase the horse´s sure-footedness; it also provides the rider with a smooth ride with minimal bounciness. Compared to a standard two-beat trot, the topline of the horse moves much less during the four-beat fox trot.
How fast is the fox trot?
Using the fox trot, an average MFT horse can be expected to do 5-8 miles per hour with a rider on its back. This is a speed that the horse can maintain over time and it won’t quickly run out of energy. It is slower than medium trot speed, but not by much.
If you just have to go a short distance, an average MFT horse can do 10 miles per hour or so during fox trot.
Riding with a disability
Because of its comfortable and non-bouncy ambling gait, the Missouri Fox Trotter is utilized in many riding programs for people with physical disabilities.
When settlers of European ancestry migrated Missouri from places such as Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, they brought various horses with them, including gaited horses, which is horses with a natural inclination to carry out four-beat horse gaits (ambling gaits). Four-beat horse gaits are appreciated by riders who spend a lot of time in the saddle because these gaits tend to be extra comfortable for the rider.
The Missouri Fox Trotter developed from a combination of these horses, including both gaited and non-gaited breeds. Two examples of horse breeds that we know contributed DNA to the MFT horse are the American Saddlebred and the Standardbred.
A lot of DNA from the Tennesse Walking Horse breed entered the MFT breed after 1970.
Registries and associations
The breed standard for the Missouri Fox Trotting horse was established in Ava, Missouri in 1948. It is maintained by the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association (MFTHBA), who didn´t close the studbook until 1982.
The breed standard stipulates a height of 14-16 hands. A purebred MFT that is smaller than this can instead be registered in MFTHBA´s registry for fox trotting ponies. This registry, which was created in 2004, is for individuals standing 11-14 hands.
Since 2006, a separate registry exists to promote the old-style MFT; the one that existed before a large amount of Tennessee Walking Horse DNA entered the breed after 1970. This registry is maintained by the Foundation Foxtrotter Heritage Association (FFHA).
The MFT is not a common horse breed in Europe, but a European MFT registry has existed here since 1992. It is maintained by the European Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Association (EMFTHA), in affiliation with the MFTHBA.
Trivia: The first MFT horses in Europe were palomino horses imported by Queen Elizabeth II in the 1950s.
The MFT show in Ava
Ava, a small city located in the southern portion of the Missouri Ozarks, is a hot spot for MFT activity. This is where the MFTHBA was created back in 1948, and this is also where the main MFT show of the year takes place. In an average year, around 1 400 horses attend the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Wold Show in Ava.