Volume I, No. 3, Spring 1974

FOX TROTTING through the Ozarks

by Ruth Ellen Massey

Photographs by Terry Tyre and Stephen Hough

Research by Terry Tyre, Patti Jones and Vicki Bench

A Missouri fox trotter? Well, the fox trot is a dance, so a Missouri fox trotter must be a person from Missouri that dances the fox trot. Almost right, but not quite. It is not a person, but a horse--one that originated in the Ozarks of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas and that moves with all the grace, style, rhythm and action of a dancer.

The fox trot, the gait that makes this horse like a dancer, is a syncopated two-beat gait. The horse walks with his front feet and trots with his hind feet. The name comes from the fox which leaves only two tracks. Its hind foot steps in the track left by the front one. In a fox trot the horse, too, "caps his tracks," hence the name the fox trot.

The fox trotting horse is a relatively new breed of horses. One hundred fifty years ago when the first settlers came to the Ozarks from Kentucky and Tennessee, they brought their own horses, for the most part, five-gaited horses. However, the settlers quickly found that the high spirited five-gaited horses did not work as well in the more rugged Ozarks as they did in the East. The Ozark hills demanded a sturdy sure-footed, even-tempered horse to successfully look after the cattle and hogs that roamed free in the woods.

Russell Moore's Yankee's Golden Sensation was the 1973 world champion senior mare.


So the settlers started crossing their five-gaited stock with calmer Tennessee walking stock to slow them down and make a better natured horse. Later they also crossed the horses with mustang mares to cut down the size and give more endurance.

Many of the Ozark people had just a little forty acre farm and definitely could not afford to own a work team and two or three riding horses besides. So the fox trotter was bred to fill the need for an all purpose horse. Most were used to make a living for the settler, plowing fields all day and to furnish transportation at night and Sundays to church and social gatherings. As James Hufft said, "They're just a hillbilly universal horse."

Today the hillbilly horse finds himself quite far from the Ozarks and quite at home in forty eight states and in several countries including Canada, Mexico and Australia, proving his breeding for the ability to travel long distances. He is no longer only hillbilly, but the fox trotter is still the universal horse. All ages ride them from Sarah Scott who started when she was three to Elmer Hicks who in 1970 celebrated his seventy-third birthday by showing and placing on his mare Silver Bell. Elmer is still very active in training and showing fox trotters. Women ride and show them as well as men. The 1973 world champion fox trotting horse, Mona Lisa, is owned and shown by Charlotte Dampier and the reserve champion, Red Man, is owned and shown by Janet Burks.

Like most breeds of horses today, fox trotters are now used mainly for pleasure. They are frequently seen at trail rides. They have been backyard horses, ridden, driven and used for roping. Martha Jo Willard Stephens found fox trotters scarce when she moved her horse to Virginia. But she found a new sport for fox trotters--jumping. "Dorie [her horse] has jumped four feet, but I feel more comfortable at three to three and one half feet," she said. "His take-off and landing are good."

Mr. President, owned by James Hufft, was grand champion horse of the Model Stake Class at the 1971 Missouri Fox Trotters Horse Breeders Assoc. Show and Celebration, Ava, Mo.


Diagrams showing the fox trot

Many people do still work fox trotters. They are frequently used to work cattle. And they still are used during the day and then ridden at night. C.H. Snyder said, "An ole fox trotting horse, you can run cattle with them, you can use them on your place, or you can take them to a show. I've run cattle with my horse, then take them to a show of a night and show them and win too."

Some fox trotters still earn their keep. The Kansas City sheriff's possee uses them to direct traffic at ball games and for shore patrol duty. The Missouri State Fair uses them for guarding the grounds. For the last nine years the U.S. Forest Service, after trying several other breeds of horses found fox trotters the best all-round horse for the job. R.N. Riding, Forest Supervisor, Big Horn National Forest, Sheridan, Wyoming, wrote:

"Fox trotters now travel over approximately fifteen million acres of National Forest land. We have used them for riding sheep ranges, cattle ranges, checking wilderness areas, checking deer, elk and moose hunters and checking on back area camps. We have used them on fires varying from two acres in size to six thousand acres in size. Some of these horses have been packed. Most have been ridden; but whatever job we need to do horseback we have found these horses ideally suited for our purposes. The gentleness, intelligence, their great toughness and capacity to go on after most horses are tired have made them a very valuable management tool for a great number of rangers in the National Forest system of the Rocky Mountains."

When the original settlers bred the fox trotters, they were concerned not only with versatility and endurance, but also with the beauty of the animal. Ideally, the horse should stand around fifteen hands to fifteen hands two inches (a hand is four inches measured from the withers to the ground.) They come in all colors, blacks, sorrels, palominos, bays and red and blue roans the more popular colors, with white markings desireable. The head should be carried not quite straight with the front legs, the nose slightly forward.


The head should be medium sized with a high rolling forehead. The ears should be small, alert and straight. The horse needs good bright eyes set wide apart. The neck should have a slight crest with a smooth flowing line evenly muscled to allow freedom for the horse to work his head. The horse has to have a deep sloping shoulder to be able to work the front end. The body should be medium in length, not as short as the quarter horse, nor as long as an American saddle horse. To give an easier ride the fox trotter should be cut up in the flank with the hind legs not quite as straight as they are in a quarter horse. To develop the reach and stride they need long pastern joints and a long slim foot with heels on front and back cut reasonably low. The tail should be long, full-flowing, natural and set fairly high. The mane, too is full and free.

The fox trotter is a three-gaited horse doing a flat foot walk, fox trot and canter. The walk is fast and square. The horse's legs should be well under his body and not pacing or swinging from side to side. The hind foot over steps the front foot anywhere from four to eight inches. Nodding his head and flopping his ears in time with the feet, the horse walks with spirit and grace.

The fox trot, walking with the front legs and trotting with the hind, is a relaxed syncopated two-beat gait with a one-two, one-two rhythm, traveling at seven to eight miles and hour. The legs move diagonally. Starting with the left front leg, the sequence is left front, right rear, right front and left rear. Until recently fox trotters were supposed to cap their tracks, and hind foot set in the track left by the front foot. For an even smoother ride some breeders are cross breeding with walking horses to develop a longer stride which over steps the track.

The easy ride of the fox trot comes from the horse shifting his weight as he moves. When he picks up his front foot, his weight is across his back and loins. But, just before he slides his hind foot in place, he shifts his weight to his chest and withers, leaving the hind foot weightless. This eliminates the bounce and jar associated with a trot or jog trot.

How to hold the reins


The fox trotter caps his tracks.

To do the fox trot the whole body of the horse has to work in rhythm with his feet. To give the most comforatble ride the horse has to work his head and neck. The head nods in rhythm, rising when the front foot steps and falling when the hind foot does. The ears also flop in time and even the tail gracefully swishes and bobs in time with the feet. As all good dancers, the fox trotter performs with a relaxed grace and seeming ease that belies the complexity of the movement.

The third gait, the canter, is not used until the horse is a three year old, but like the fox trot and the walk, it is a natural gait. The canter is rhythmical, slow, and like riding a rocking chair. It is a little higher than a quarter horse lope, but not as high as the walking horse canter. Like the walk and fox trot the horse canters with ease.

The fox trot is extremely easy ridding, and easy on the horse, too, because to perform, the horse has to be relaxed. Thus, as a breed, the fox trotters are gentle natured, easy-going and tough. Children can and do handle them with ease yet they have the drive and endurance for adults to enjoy and use.


I have been around and liked horses all my life. But I did not become acquainted with fox trotters until six years ago. That was when I met C.H. "Dutch" Snyder. He trained my first fox trotter and since then has trained three others for me and sold me two. Right now he is training a coming two year old for me, so one afternoon Patti Jones and I went out to ride my horse and talk to Dutch about training the fox trotter.

Do you have any idea how many horses you've trained?

Oh my, I tell you what, I've rode horses for about fifty-six years. And now I've trained them for years and years. I don't know how long it has been. I guess I've trained horses for twenty-six, seven years. And I used to break and ride all my own horses and mules. Well, I've worked at it all my life. I bought my first horse when I was ten years old. Give thirty-five dollars for it and the feller I worked for give me fifty cents a day and my dinner and he paid for my horse and I worked it out when I was ten years old.


What kind of horse was it?

It was just a little fox trotting mare. She was pretty. Her name was Old Beauty. I never will forget her. But if I've ever been off of mules or horses ever since I was ten years old, I don't know it.

Have your horses mostly been fox trotters?

I used to show walking horses. I used to ride them all the time. And then I started in a breaking out quarter horses and Appaloosies. They got too rough for me as I got older and I started in on these ole fox trotting horses. I've rode them ever since they ever started.

Which breed of horses do you like best?

Fox trotting horses.


They ain't as much trouble.

How come they're not as much trouble?

Well, you don't put in as much time with them. It don't take as much riding. You don't have to take care of them like you do these walking horses. Now walking horses you got to keep them shod so-so. You can't turn them out, they jerk them old heavy shoes off. And these fox trotting horses ain't no trouble. You see if you want to, just turn one out and ride it and go right on. A quarter horse is the same way only I just got where I didn't like to ride them, just too rough riding, quarter horses, unless you just let them jog along about like a snail'll go, they're all right. But, an ole fox trotting horse, you can run cattle with them, you can use them on your place or you can take them to a show. You can do anyway you want to with them and they're just not near as much trouble.

When you train a fox trotter, about how old are they when you first start riding them?

All the way from seventeen months on up to two years.

Is it better to start them at two or can you wait till they're three?

I'd rather start them at two, before they get two. They're easier broke and they're not set in their ways. But it depends on your horses. Some horses is more developed and you can start them quicker than you can others. You take them where they ain't developed good nor been took good care of--you can't do that. You're liable to hurt them. You've got to know about what a young horse can stand when you start in. If you don't, you better leave it alone. That's all there is to it.

What's the first thing you teach a horse to do when you're training it?

Learn it to mind.

How do you do that?

That's easy done for me. I just show them what I want them to do. After I show them and they understand what I want them to do, I make them do it. Just like you would a kid. The first thing you do, you got to learn them to mind. You got to learn them what "whoa" is and all that stuff and then you just start from there on out just like you would anything else.

Could you tell us how you start a horse that has just been halter broke? What do you do with them?

Well, different ways. Sometimes I put the saddle and bridle on them and let them stand in the stall and I tie their head a certain way and do that for a few days straight, and sometimes I just put the saddle and bridle on them, turn them out in the lot, let them fight it and get used to it. Half the time, if they're gentle and all, I just get them in and go to riding them, like I'm doing this horse here of yours. Depends on your horse.


Do you ever use an older horse to help break a young one?

Yes, when I'm riding outside, I generally have some boy here to ride the young one and I do the leading the horse and all.

What kind of bit do you use?

General rule, I use just a regular limber bit (snaffle bit). You see, they can fight it and it don't hurt their mouth. Sometimes I ride them according to whether I can handle them or not. If they're pretty hard to handle, I ride them with a regular bit on.

What gait do you work them in first?

I generally flat foot them. Get them set in their flat foot good. Then just go from there. You can tell by your horse how soon you can go to fox trotting. But that flat foot is the main thing you ought to learn them the first thing.

What do you do with a colt if he doesn't want to fox trot?

Now, that's a hard question for me to answer. I could tell you how on one, but then the next one you'd get on, you couldn't do that. I've rode lots of horses and I hardly ever ride two that breaks out alike. I've rode a lot of them and I forget. You know, it's been so long, I forget what I did to some of them.

Why wait until the horse is three before cantering them?

Well, that's easy answered. It's a good thing you asked it. Sometimes you go try to canter a two year old fore you get him set in his gait, you'll get him where you push him up a little, he'll quit fox trotting. It confuses them.

What do you like to do with a horse until they're old enough to ride?

I like to take good care of them. You can let them run out clear up to they're a yearling. They ought to run out. Then when they are a yearling and you're going to ride them about that fall, you ought to bring them in and take good care of them and grow them.

What's the most important thing to do when you're training horses?

You got to be smarter than your horse. Horses are pretty smart. I tell you horses is really smarter than people really give them credit to be. If you'll just take a young horse when you're breaking it, and if you don't know how, the horse is smarter than two-thirds of the people. Now that's the truth, if I ever told it. They're smart enough to know how to not let them break them. And they're smart enough to know what to do when they're doing it. My experience is if you ain't smarter than the horse, you're pretty well blowed up.

But maybe even more important than that, you've got to love horses. If you don't like them, and like to fool with them, you just better leave them alone. Now, that's the whole thing in a nutshell. You've got to love the animal when you start in. I'm a horse-lover. I have been all my life. My dad was that way, too. And he always took care of his horses and he loved horses. And I guess I took back after him.



To find out how to shoe the fox trotter Patti Jones and I talked to Keith Mizer of Lebanon who has been shoeing them for nine years. When asked why he started shoeing, Keith replied, "Lack of sense, I think!" Actually, Keith had a quarter horse mare that needed shoes and Lloyd Bell, the only farrier in the area. was ill. He lent Keith his tools and told him to shoe the mare. "I just started in. It was a terrible looking mess when I got done with it."

For three and a half years, Keith shod horses under Lloyd Bell's supervision. "He [Mr. Bell] told me that if I wanted to learn how to shoe that he'd teach me to shoe fox trotting horses because that's what he'd been shoeing for thirty-five to forty years. When he started out, he drove shoes on for ten cents a shoe."

Keith paused, and looked at me before he added, "Now I get fourteen dollars for shoeing." Thinking of my two horses, both waiting for Keith to shoe them, I began wishing for the good old days.

"Anyway," Keith continued, "I let quarter horses go and went on to fox trotting horses. I started out part-time. And £t just got bigger and bigger and bigger. I shod Mona Lisa. I guess I'm the only man that's ever shod a world champion, same horse three years in a row.

"Usually, you start shoeing when the horse is a two year old. You ride them a few times before shoeing because they'll stay on the ground a little better and get them a little tender footed and they'll break out a lot easier. The average horse you set them on a 50° angle in the front end and on about 48° behind. The angle runs from your pastern joint to the tip of the foot. Stand a horse and look down his shoulder and keep the same slope from his shoulder to the tip of his toe and you have a perfect slope for shoeing. [see diagram 1]

Diagram # 1

"Most usually you trim the hoof so you keep a three and one half inch toe on the front end and a four inch toe on behind and use just a plain shoe with a little toe and heel. It depends on the horse, though. If one's not working his front end good or not working his back end good, you could grow more foot on him to put more action in him. Lots of horses, you've got to use a shorter foot. A lot of them will interfere, or pick up a stride or strike hock [the hind foot reaches up and hits the front foot] and on a horse with a strike in his hocks, you cut him real short in front to set him pretty straight and leave a longer toe behind which breaks his back end.

Keith Mizer shoes a horse before the show.


"If the horse is having trouble walking, we put heavy shoes on it to get it to working his front shoulders. On a short-gaited horse [one that doesn't cap his tracks] we've got weight on the front and just a flat plate on the back. That'll make the horse reach his hind end on up. A lot of fox trotting horses will running walk and to break his running walk up to put him to fox trotting, we'll use. Boston toe weights [see diagram 2], maybe with extra weight on the end.

"If a horse wings or paddles [throws his front feet] and it's not in his knee, you can lower the hoof about a quarter of an inch lower on the outside and weigh the inside and this will bring the foot over straight. You can use what you call a square toed shoe on them [see diagram 3], but I've had more success just cutting low on outside and weighing inside. For a horse that twists his back foot we use a trailer. [ see diagram 4] Run these trailers on the shoe and it'll catch them and keep them from twisting."

Horse shoe diagrams

It seemed to me that almost every other time I rode my mare, she had worn out her shoes and needed a new pair. Keith agreed.

"On fox trotting horses you'll average shoeing them every three or four or five weeks and other breeds you can let them go as high as six to eight weeks. A fox trotting horse slides his shoes real bad and the biggest part of them are ridden out on the road to where quarter horses and stuff like that, they mostly stay in the ring or out in the field working cattle.

"The fox trotter is very difficult to shoe compared to other breeds besides maybe the five-gaited horses or your walking horses. They're harder to shoe. But your fox trotting horse in order to keep him in his gears, you've got to about know what you're doing to get them to travel right."

Patti, after watching Keith shoe, decided that shoeing was hard work.

"I have spent as high as three hours on one horse and have shod them in as little as twenty-five minutes. About all show horses, you'll average spending an hour and a half to two hours on it. One thing you never want to do is really hurry on a horse when you're shoeing it because if your horse hasn't got good feet, you haven't got much of a horse.

"Last summer out in Bonner Springs, Kansas, I shod twenty-two horses in one day. I started one morning about six o'clock and it was quarter to eleven that night when I got done. But that's the last, and I'll never do that again. Just on an average, I'll usually do five, maybe six horses a day."

Intrigued by the nails used to shoe horses, Patti wondered if they hurt the horses. "They've got what you call a wall in the horse's foot and they've got a white line. As long as you stay outside that white line you're okay. But if you get inside that white line, then you're into the sole of the foot that's filled with just real tiny nerves and stuff, and you're in trouble. But shoeing, just like anything else that has to do with horses, you've got to know the horse and just use a little common sense, and you're all right."

Straight from the horse's mouth.



You've never been to a horse show? There's one tonight I'm taking Chocolate Drop to. Why don't you come with us and you can help us get ready, too.

Chocolate is getting a bit woolly, so you hold her while I give her a hair cut. I need to trim her bridle path, ear. nose whiskers, fetlocks and hairline above the hooves so she will look neater and trimmer.

Okay, now tie her under the maple tree so we can give her a bath With a garden hose and dish-washing detergent. I like Ivory liquid because it leaves her soft and if you do a lot of horses, it's cheaper. The hardest part about the bath is doing her tail. Watch her. I bet as soon as I get it wet and sudsy, Chocolate will swish it across my face.

Would you put the feed in the trailer? I've got the saddle and bridle and my good saddle blanket. I sure hope we tied Chocolate so that she can't lie down in the dirt{ We don't have time for another bath. Here, take the hay while I put her cooler on so we can load her and go.

Usually Chocolate's really good about loading and unloading and riding in the trailer, but one night we got home from a show about two in the morning and Chocolate was in a hurry to get out. Before I could unfasten the tail guard, she started backing out and ended up wedged half in and half out, unable to move. We finally had to saw through the chain tail guard to get her out!

Well, here we are. I need to get Chocolate ready and warm up in the ring before the show starts, so why don't you brush her and I'll comb out her mane and tail. Don't let me forget to put the insect repellant on her, or she will be stomping at flies when she should be standing quietly in line.

Okay, now to saddle her. Doesn't this bright yellow saddle blanket look good on Chocolate? I had the brow band made so it would match the blanket.

Once my cousin went to a show with me. She had been showing three-gaited horses in the East, mainly Connecticut. Anyway, she was amazed at the people who show fox trotters, how friendly and how helpful they are, even with people they constantly show against. Most of the conversation is joking and advice. You'll probably hear someone say, "This time I'm going to come out ahead of you!" and be answered with, "On that two cent plug?" What they tell me all the time is, "Kick her up and hold her back. You're not going to make it like that, tonight! Kick her up and hold her back." I'm still not sure how to kick a horse up and hold him back even yet. A young horse will be straightened out, amid chuckles of bystanders, with a healthy swat and a "That'll learn ya, dern ya!" or someone might ask, "Have you got an extra blanket? Would you believe it? I've been showing for years and forgot mine!" One always appears with understanding smiles.

The show's starting now. Let's go watch a while. Chocolate will be okay tied to the trailer. All I have left to do is braid the yellow ribbons in her mane, brush out my own mane and put my ribbons in. If I put Chocolate's in now, she'll chew on them so I'll do it just before her class.

Kathy Wilkinson is showing her horse in the model class and I'd like to see-her. Let's set up our chairs by her mother. I always like to sit by her, for she gets so excited and claps and cheers for Kathy when she's showing.

In a model class, the horses are shown at halter and judged strictly on conformation (although a pretty girl leading the horse helps with some judges).

Children, like Sarah Scott, handle fox trotters with ease.


Russell Moore adds the finishing touches to his mare just before his class.

The horses are lead at a walk usually once around the ring, then lined up so the judges can get a good look at them. The horses stand just about square. Notice those out there are not stretched. They stand quietly, unless they are like the colt I tried showing one year. He decided he didn't like standing still, so he jerked out of my hands and merrily dashed around the ring with me, the ringmaster, and half the audience chasing him. We didn't place.

I don't get along too well in model classes. Another time, I tried showing a yearling. It was pouring down rain and I didn't have my glasses on. My horse started acting up, so I asked to be excused and tried to leave. Only, with all the rain, and without my glasses, I couldn't see the gate to get out! I haven't been in too many model classes since.

The next class is the two year old fox trot classes. The horses will come in to the right at a fox trot. Watch. Almost every horse is stepping right in time with the music. The organist tonight is good, but notice how the horses keep with the beat. The two year olds don't canter. They are shown at a walk and a fox trot both ways of the ring. The usual judging standards for them are 60% on the fox trot and 20% each on the walk and conformation. In the three year old class, Chocolate's class, the fox trot mares class and the fox trot studs and geldings class, the horses canter and are judged 50% on fox trot, 20% each on walk and canter and 10% on conformation.

The announcer is doing a good job tonight announcing the names of the horses and riders. Sometimes, though, they really have trouble reading the cards. Once, my sister was showing her mare Sassafras and the announcer got her as Frances Meskey riding Scarface! Usually, the announcers have some comments to make about the winners. Once Dutch Snyder won a really large class, and just as the photographer was getting his picture with the first place trophy, the announcer said, "That just goes to show you what a good horse can do without a rider!" You know, though, I think the horses like winning even more than the riders. Chocolate always knows when she wins and usually acts pretty pleased with herself. Maybe its the apple I give her she likes, but I think she likes winning, too.

Looks like the judge has just about made up his mind on this class so I better get Chocolate. We're in the next class. You stay here and watch I just need you for two things. Let me know if we're on the right lead when we canter, and wish us good luck.

Ruth Massey receives the reward for years of breeding, care and training of the fox trotting horses.

[Ed. Note: We'd like to give thanks to Miss Massey for writing this article for us. Appreciation also goes to Tom Jennings, Dwight Sutherland, Deryl Caswell and Janet Jenkins of Lebanon, and Twyla Thomas, Am. Fox Trotting Horse Breed Assoc., Marshfield.]


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

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