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Training the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse

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Some Fundamentals on Training the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse
Reprinted from a pamphlet issued by the MFTHBA (some years ago)


The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse, because of its nice disposition and easy gaits, has trotted its way to popularity and into the hearts of people throughout America and also many foreign countries during the past few years. This well-mannered horse with its gentle temperment, beautiful conformation and free easy gaits, provides a ride that is healthful; and is the ideal mount for those both young and old who desire the utmost in satisfaction from horseback riding. Equine lovers who are inexperienced in handling horses have found the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse easily managed and have grown to love and admire it.

Thousands of Missouri Fox Trotting Horses have been purchased during the past few years and have been shipped into sections where Missouri Fox Trotting Horses have never been before. Requests are received almost daily from owners and riders who do not thoroughly understand the mannerisms of our breed and as a result the horses are not trained or ridden in the manner to which they are accustomed.


We begin handling our foals when they are about a week or 10 days old and teach them not to be afraid of us. They will learn by kind treatment that we do not intend to hurt them. We enter his stall and paddock at frequent intervals, pet and handle him, gently rub his legs and pat him on the nose and ears. He will become accustomed to being handled and soon be our friend.

Horses are like people, no two are alike, although fundamentally all are about the same. Missouri Fox Trotting Horses are intelligent animals and very docile; they invariably respond to kind treatment. You can be good to your horses and also your foals without spoiling them. However, leave off all sugar and apple feeding, etc; as this does not make your animals one bit more gentle nor do they think any more of you. It only teaches them to bite and be ill-natured.

When your foals are about six weeks old put halters on them and begin teaching them to lead. After they have become used to the halter attach a four or five foot leadline to the halter. Have an attendant lead the foal's mother off in front of him and the youngster will follow her. After a few days the colt will respond to your movements of the leadline an while following along in the steps of his mother he will not even realize he has been taught to lead. Be careful not to over work your foals and do not ever let them get tired.

Bear in mind that every foal demands certain particular attention, because every foal should be treated as a different individual. However, the above practices are those which are generally applicable to almost every foal. If one particular phase or recommendation does not work with your foals, try another similar method. As the foal grows older we think he should be led on a loose rein, the attendant holding the rein some two or three feet from the foal's head, letting it walk naturally. Former experience has taught us not to lead a foal fast enough to cause it not to go in a long, loose flatwalk and we never try holding onto a foal's halter trying to force it to nod.

Fresh air and plenty of exercise are good for growing foals. Therefore we let ours run out practically the year round during the day and night when the weather is pretty; and put them in the barn or some other good dry shelter when the weather is cold and bad. After foals are weaned, which is at about six months of age, we leave our shelter door open so that foals may come and go at random. A trough is placed in the barn or shelter where the foals have access to a good balanced grain rationing, together with a legume hay.

18 to 24 MONTHS

We start to break our young horses at 18-24 months old. At this age they will range in weight from 800 to 900 pounds and will stand approximately 14 hands and 3 inches.

We like to take our horses completely off the pasture from 30 to 60 days ahead of time and feed them a good balanced ration. During this time when the young horses are in the barn and before we begin riding them they are placed in a stall convenient to a small paddock for use during pretty weather. During this period a drive bit is used for a short time each day. Be very careful not to place a young horse in a strain by reining his head too high or having the side reins too tight at the beginning. Tighten the reins gradually as the young horse becomes used to the bitting rig. This helps the young horse get accustomed to having bits in its mouth, reins on its neck, having something on his back and also gets him used to a girth. This also helps make it easier for the rider to set the youngster's head when this part of his education arrives. About an hour each day is long enough for the average young horse to have on a bit and saddle as we do not want to tire the horse.


We shoe our young horses just before we ride them with plain keg shoes; the size of the shoe depends on the size of the hoof. After the young horse has worn a set of shoes for about two months his feet might have grown too long and will need shortening. We use a regular bridle equipped with a snaffle bit and it is a good idea to lead the young horse around a few times after putting the snaffle bit in his mouth in order for him to become more used to having it in his mouth.


It is a good idea to let the young horse smell the saddle before it is placed on his back, so that he will not be afraid of it. After you have placed the saddle gently on the young horse's back, let him stand for a few minutes then lead him around. He will soon find out that the saddle is not going to hurt him and he will not be afraid of it. When the young horse has ceased to pay attention to the saddle being on his back, mount and ride him. Get on his back gently and be as quiet as possible until he realizes that you intend to ride him. It is a good idea to have an attendant lead the young horse around with you on his back. He will soon become used to the idea and will not mind having you there.


Follow the above procedure for a very short time each day until the young horse is absolutely at ease with you on his back. After a week or so take him to a place where there is level ground and hold the reins in your own hands. Be very careful not to snatch the young horse or pull up on the reins quick or hard. A young horse's mouth is very tender and you may scare and hurt him without meaning to in the early stages of his training. Allow him to walk in one direction, then another and he will soon learn how to respond to your handling of the reins.


As it is generally known, the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse has three distinctive gaits, the flatwalk, the foxtrot and the canter. Each of these gaits should be thoroughly understood and recognized by every Missouri Foxtrotter owner and handler. The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse is a born fox trotter and while at his mother�s side he can be seen performing each of the gaits. To improve and separate these gaits and to change from one to the other, at the will of the rider, is the sole task which the trainer finds before him.


The flatfoot walk is the slowest of the three and is the first gait the Missouri Fox Trotting Horses perform. We ride our young horses in a flatfoot walk for about 30 to 40 days, around parked automobiles, tractors, other horses and around objects with which we want them to become accustomed. The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse is fearless and level headed and once he has learned an object he is not afraid and does not shy away from it. When we are sure he is not afraid of these things, we ride him farther away from the barn and in other surroundings that soon become familiar sights to him. He can be ridden around over the farm, along the roadside and other places where he will see moving vehicles. He will soon learn not to be afraid of anything.

After riding our young horses four to six weeks in a flatfoot walk they are fairly bridle-wise. We then remove the snaffle bit, because the colt is ready for a curb bit. Still using a regular bridle with a curb bit and a loose chin strap, we ride our young horses over new territory, often in soft ground. If they feel they are going somewhere they will want to go on. The flatfoot walk has a speed of from four to five miles an hour and is performed with much comfort to his rider. With the diagonally opposed movement of his feet he strikes the ground with his right-fore and left-rear and left-fore and right-rear.


We now allow our young horses to go into a foxtrot. Mount your colt and ride him in the flatfoot walk for about 10 minutes, or until the colt begins to relax and take hold. Then add a little more to his walk by gently urging him on and taking hold of his head slightly tightening up on the reins. We ride the average young horse only 30 to 40 minutes each day.

The Missouri Fox Trot gait is basically a diagonal trot. It is distinguished from the regular trotting gait by the fact that there are periods of single leg support. The smoothness of the foxtrot as compared to the regular trotting gait is the result of two, interacting factors. First, the regular trot has a fly period between the two diagonals with all four feet off the ground. This causes the familiar up and down motion movement of the regular trot. Since the Foxtrotter always has at least one foot on the ground, there is no fly period and much of the up and down movements of the body of the horse is obviated. The better the timing of the up and down movements of the pastern, the smoother the ride.

The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse is not a high stepping horse, but an extremely sure-footed one; and because of the sliding action of the rear feet, rather than the hard step of other breeds, the rider experiences little jarring action and is quite comfortable in the saddle for long periods of time.

The head and tail are slightly elevated, giving the animal a graceful carriage; and the rhythmic beat of the hooves, along with the nodding action of the head give the horse an appearance of relaxation and poise.

The ideal characteristics of the foxtrot shall be that the horse will travel with animation, foxtrot rhythm and style. The horse will travel in a collected manner with an adequate amount of tension on the bit.

The foxtrot should carry with it rhythm. The head should nod; the ears should indicate the step and the tail should be part of the rhythm. Also, the step should be springy, consistent and smooth. The up and down motion should not be noticeable, but rather a smooth gliding gait without swinging.

Ride with a rather loose rein and snaffle bit or at least a smooth loose curb, low port bit while breaking the young horse. If he does not carry his head at a good angle at first, do not attempt to get his head high. Gait him first. If he has a tendency to pace, ride him over poles or in high grass until he is cured of the pace.


The canter is a natural gait of the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse and he should be allowed to use it in early training. If the young horse is trained to a nice canter, taught to change leads, it will add to his value. However, the canter is not necessary for the registration of the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse.

Do not pump your horse, but if his head is not properly set he may work you. When you have had your horse going along in a good smooth flatfoot walk for several minutes, urge him to increase his speed and let him go into a foxtrot. Ultimately, you will derive much pleasure from his smooth gliding foxtrot. When desiring to canter, you must give the cue which the previous trainer or rider has taught the horse, as the various trainers have different ways in starting a horse to canter. Some will swing them on the rail; some will signal them with their foot behind the fore leg and on the side and some will tell them to canter by speaking to them. All horses when circled to the left should canter on the left lead, which means that their left fore foot should be more extended and when cantering to the right in a circle the right fore foot should be more extended and should never cross behind. Crossing is very uncomfortable to the rider and also is very conspicuous to an onlooker. If your horse starts crossing in the canter, just put him back in the flatfoot walk and start all over again. Use any type bridle equipped with a curb bit and be sure the curb strap is not too tight. When a horse is broke and ready to show or ride for pleasure he works well without a long shank rough bit.

When we are ready to teach our horses to canter we use a gently sloping rise. Allow your horse to run or lope as slowly as possible up the rise, gradually slowing and gently raising him with the reins. Give him his head and when he starts to go to fast, pull him back. Help him to canter by lifting his head and putting pressure on his mouth. After the young horse learns to canter at your command on the side of a hill, ride him on level ground and gradually develop the canter by riding him in this gait every day. We teach our horses to canter along with the fox trot, we believe in many instances a horse�s foxtrot may be improved if he is taught to canter early in his training period. However, it is advisable to canter them only for a few minutes each day, because too much cantering is hard on their legs. Before giving the signal to canter, always drop your horse back into the flatfoot walk. When we desire to canter on the left, we pull the left rein and touch the horse gently with the left foot behind the left foreleg and on the side. We change our lead by performing the same maneuvers on the opposite side of the horse and in reverse. Remember to drop back to a flatfoot walk each time you change leads.

During the second part of our young horses� training, it is often a good idea to canter a colt in a fairly large circle and when he finds out he is not going anywhere he will stop trying to go fast and will soon develop a well established gait. As he comes sure-footed we continue his training in circles, on the track, on the sloping ground and in other places.


It is very important for every owner of a Missouri Fox Trotting Horse to thoroughly understand the gaits of his horse and to so develop him. If at all possible, have a good ground person to watch the performance of your horse doing the different gaits while you are riding him. They can tell you when and how to pick up your horse, when you are bitting him right and tell you at what angle he looks the best and does his best reaching. A good ground person is able to point out things that are done wrong during the training period and a horse is usually straightened out much sooner if two people work together on him.

In the flatfoot walk the horse is supposed to walk square and on all four corners in a 1-2-3-4 movement. A ground person can watch your horse's movements from the front and from the rear as well as from the sides while the horse is being ridden. Watching from front or back, the ground man can tell the rider if the horse is going too fast, if he is winging or throwing his feet or is unusually wide behind. If the horse winging or wide behind he is not performing the gait correctly and it is better to take him back to a flatfoot walk and start again. From the side view your horse is supposed to be moving in an even motion with lots of nodding action.


All Missouri Fox Trotting Horses should be exercised daily. If you do not have time to ride your Missouri Fox Trotting Horse daily, turn them out in a small paddock for a portion of each day or else work them out on a long leadline of approximately 20 feet in a circle about you. Either of these methods will take lots of the play out of your horses and they will relax and settle down to work quicker. This also keeps the horses limber. A horse that stands in the stable constantly with no exercise is prone to be tight and choppy in his gaits.

By working our two year olds only a small amount each day, they are fairly established in their flatfoot walk, foxtrot with only a beginning in the canter at the end of their first year under saddle. But as the new year rolls around and our colts are three year olds, we increase their working time. They are more fully developed, larger in size and heavier in weight. As we begin to finish our young horses we continue to bring them out of the barn in a flatfoot walk. We spend plenty of time on this gait, for although it is the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse it is by no means the least important.

As three year olds we work our horses alternating between the foxtrot and then the flatfoot walk, because by now one gait will help perfect the other. Now it is easier for the horse to change from one gait to the other at the will of the rider. We are also doing more with the canter and working it in more often with the flatfoot walk and the fox trot.

For more information about the easy riding breed developed in the Missouri Ozarks, please contact:

The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association
P.O. Box 1027
Ava, MO 65608
Phone: 417-683-2468
Website: www.mfthba.com

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