Within every breed organization there is a system whereby horses are awarded prizes and recognition through activities in the show ring. Typically we call these horses "SHOW HORSES".

Many people find showing their horse to be a fun and exciting avenue by which to gain recognition for themselves, their horse, and/or their barn, breeding program or training facility. In some breeds the horses win money and become a valuable asset to the owners. In other breeds the horse may not win much money but the notoriety may bring scores of people to the breeding barn or training facility anxious to tie their kite tail to a "winner's kite".

Most people get a false impression that because a horse wins in the show ring it is in some way superior to other horses. This really is not the case and never has been. The winner of any contest is simply a horse who happened to show up that particular day or night and performed better than the rest of the horses in that class. At least that is what a winner is supposed to be.

Champions, however only represent the small group of horses that actually compete in the show ring and have very little to do with those horses who don't or the overall breed. Horses that don't compete in the show ring are by no means lesser beings. They simply belong to people who either don't enjoy showing or who may live too far out of the showing circle to make showing a practical pastime. Many truly superior horses never see a show ring!

In many instances breeding to a "champion" may be a disappointing experience because not every champion may match well with just any mare. However, humans being human, many simply want the notoriety of being able to claim some relationship to a champion for their foal or riding mount.

In some breeds a greater number of members participate in show ring activities which could possibly bring more of the good horses to play. In the Missouri Fox Trotter breed however, this is not the case. Less than 2% of the membership participates in showing their horses. That leaves 98% of the breed that never steps inside the show ring. Instead many of these fine horses are out doing a days work or excelling in other avenues of endeavor that are equally valuable if not more so than those of the show ring.

The plain fact is, the champion show horses of today are simply those who showed up at any given show and pleased enough judges to win their class. While this is indeed an accomplishment, it simply does not assure this horse as being better than any other horse outside the show ring. Unfortunately many of these animals are not "natural" foxtrotting horses instead being mechanically altered to perform a facsimile of the true gait. When those horses reproduce, they will reproduce as they are themselves, not as they were trained to be!

For the most part, the only horses advertised through the Association are the show horses. The annual Celebration book is full of photos and records of the show horses. When anyone comes to investigate the breed THESE are the horses they see first and the stables that produce or train these horses are the first the newcomers will come to see. WHY? Because there is no apparatus in place to facilitate other breeders so they might put their horses forward.

The Association has instigated a number of programs through which horses can gain some recognition for other things than show ring sports and this is a big step in the right direction. But it will take much more concerted effort to level the playing field between the show barns and those who breed using horses of various abilities in order to gain for them the same sort of promotional support.

Many show lines are not adept at functioning in other activities and many of the good stock horses or horses used in other activities would not do well in the performance classes in the show ring. Some horses, however, excel in both areas of activity.

A horse coming from a favored show line is not guaranteed to be a better horse than one stemming from more obscure lines. In fact many of the more obscure lines retain abilities far more in keeping with the breed standards than many of the "show" lines of today.

Part of the reason for this is that today's Missouri Fox Trotting show horse has far more Tennessee Walking horse blood than the earlier horses had. In fact many of today's Missouri Foxtrotters are actually 100% Tennessee Walker by blood. The old horses of the breed were predominantly Saddlehorse by blood. They had less stride length perhaps but for the most part they were better balanced and more athletic than the the average TennesseeWalker .

The more show people strive for longer and longer strides in their horses the farther away from the athletic ability they get and the farther away from the solid, well balanced, and sure footed horses of yesterday they get.

People investigating the breed need to look beyond the bill of goods being touted by various breeders and look to the individual itself. If buying a saddle trained horse they should RIDE a number of horses until they find that horse that best suits them. They should explore many different styles and resources and handle a number of horses before making a decision on one over another.

There is a world of difference between a natural gaited horse and one that has been artificially trained to gait or one that has been trained to push past it's natural ability. Natural Foxtrotters are fluid and soft in motion while many of the show trained horses are stiff and stilted. Many show horses are less than smooth to ride due to the artificial training methods used on them. Some can overcome this training with time and experience, but some simply do not.

Some show breeders breed horses to be more lateral than a natural Fox Trotting horse should be. They do this to get a huge "big lick" stride on the horses that they can use mechanical gimmicks to make them fox trot when they would not fox trot naturally. These horses when sold to the average newcomer to the breed quickly revert back to their natural gait and often times that natural gait is a pace or an intermediate stepping pace.

Does all this mean the show horse of today is LESS desirable than another horse. No!. It simply means that some horses are naturally geared toward certain activities better than others. A person is well advised to decide what kind of activity they wish to participate in with their horse and then select the type of horse that lends naturally to that sort of activity best.

Today's show ring has been extended in the Missouri Fox Trotter Association. There are now versatility classes in which horses can participate to show their abilities as a working horse as well as the classic performance classes. There is virtually something for everyone within this breed.

It is the wise shopper that takes his time and investigates these horses from more than one aspect. When the right horse is found, then it can be purchased and enjoyed without the headache of disappointment

Someone new to the breed may be coerced into thinking a horse has to be of specific breeding in order to be any good. This simply is not the truth. There are horses of all different bloodlines that are good and those that are not so good. What is more important than the names on the pedigree is whether or not that horse gives a good ride and can function in the capacity for which it is being purchased.

Some things to consider might be whether or not a new owner wishes to ride with other gaited horses or whether they will be riding with non-gaited horses. If the latter then it would be more fitting to purchase a horse with less reach because long striding horses will walk a non-gaited horse into the ground or get frustrated by continually being held back.

Many people think Missouri Foxtrotters cannot just walk. Of course they can! But most of them will walk with more energy and purpose than many breeds and still be walking at a normal walk.

It is more important that a new buyer find a horse that feels comfortable and responds well to them, than whether that horse has a specific ancestor listed on it's pedigree. Certain lines of Foxtrotters do loosely represent the type of ability the horse may have but it gives no guarantees the horse will excel at those activities.

If specific gait is not an issue then general solid conformation is all one needs to be watchful for. If a true, natural foxtrotting horse is what is wanted, then certain conformational aspects may be of interest.

A natural foxtrotting horse is normally not extremely high headed. Nor is it low headed as many Quarter Horses are today. A natural Foxtrotter usually has a moderately high natural head set with the head at the eye carried just marginally above the withers when it is relaxed and walking. Too high head set tends to shift the weight distribution to the hind and hollow out the frame of the horse which can lead to a pacy gait.

Too low a head set tends to make the horse heavy on the forehand and more likely to hard trot.

A good long shoulder that is well set in and sloping is to be desired. One important feature is to have a good distance between point of shoulder and point of elbow with the portion of that measurement between point of shoulder and where the foreleg sets in deep. This allows for a deep chest and free movement of the forelimb which equates to a more fluid and efficient stride in the horse.

One of the biggest errors first time buyers make is trying to get a horse with a massive hind quarters. While a deep hip is to be desired, a massively muscled one is not necessarily the best. Too much bulging muscle mass tends to shorten stride and diminish endurance. That type of hind quarter is more in keeping with quick, short duration work.

When looking at a Foxtrotter from the front a person is well advised against purchasing a horse that is broad and flat across the chest. This type of chest and front end is better suited to shorter, quick work than long, sweeping strides that are efficient and soft to ride.

The better build for a gaited mount is what is commonly referred to as the "magic V". This is where the front of the horse between the legs appears to come up to an apex produced by the long muscles of the forearm where it junctions with the chest muscling. This type of muscling is much desired in the gaited horse for it allows for maximum efficiency in stride and supports the front leg as it progresses forward.

Long, lean muscling is much preferred to thick, bulging muscles. This is much the same as the difference between a weight lifter and a marathon runner or swimmer. The longer, leaner muscling is designed for long, enduring action while the thicker, heavier muscling is designed for faster, shorter duration type work.

Gaited horses tend to have more range of motion in the joints than that of a non-gaited horse. Because of this when a gaited horse is out of condition they may tend to slouch and stand at odd angles or in unbecoming positions. A buyer needs to understand what he or she is looking at before passing over a horse because it appears to have conformational weaknesses.

One of these positions that often times makes a person take pause is to be found in horses that appear to be cow hocked. Cow hocked horses, truly cow hocked horses, suffer a deviation from the hip to the hock and hock to ankle which causes the hocks when the horse is standing square to come closer together than the ankles or stifles. This type of conformation is not good or enduring because it places excessive strain and wear on the joints.

In gaited horses, however, many individuals will stand in this stance just from lack of condition. In order to determine which you are looking at, stand the animal up squarely so that you can see the line from the point of buttock, hock and ankle. If when the horse is standing square those points are in a straight line top to bottom then the horse is not actually cow hocked. Proper conditioning will allow for him to strengthen those muscles and stand more squarely.

A similar situation can be found in horses that appear to be sickle hocked. Sickle hocked horses stand with their hind feet up under themselves while the hocks are closer to being squarely under them. The hind leg forms a sickle shape, thus the name. Truly sickle hocked horses have a deviation in the hock and cannot stand up squarely.

In gaited horses, many will stand in a sickle hocked stance simply from lack of condition. Proper exercise will bring that horse back to condition and it will again stand up straight and square.

Horses suffering shoulder or back pain may also stand in a sickle hocked posture so be aware and do not take things lightly. Check the horse out to see if it is just out of shape or whether it has a pain issue.

Knowing what you are seeing will allow that those wonderful bargains or diamonds in the rough aren't overlooked or passed over.

When shopping for a Missouri Foxtrotter it is wise to examine the feet of the prospective purchase. Foxtrotters are known for their excellent feet however poor hoof care or improper farrier work can sometimes create problems with the horse in later years.

In particular it is important to look at the frog on the feet to see if it is full and healthy. IF it isn't full but dry and shriveled up, then there is no support for the foot and that individual is likely to develop soundness problems.

Constricted heels occur in many cases where the toe is forced to grow too long and shoes are nailed on restricting the expansion of the heel. Healthy feet have heels that are spread wide and spaced to accommodate the frog. If the heels are narrow it is likely the horse has contracted heels which can lead to navicular disease and other soundness issues.

Educating oneself to understand just what one is truly seeing is vital to making good selective choices!




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