Gaited breeds are probably among the most misunderstood breeds of any that found in the hobby. This may be due to the fact that they are very regional -- they are rare outside the southern states -- so many hobbyists never get the opportunity to see them firsthand. The following are brief descriptions of the group of breeds commonly referred to as the "Southern Gaited Breeds" (with the exception of the better-known American Saddlebred).
TENNESSEE WALKING HORSE
After the Saddlebred, the Tennessee Walking Horse (often called "Walkers") is probably the best-known of the Southern Gaiteds. It is also a breed that has been used extensively in the developments of many of the other gaited breeds. In appearance, Walkers tend to be heavier and a little less refined then the Saddlebred, although type does tend to vary since they have been bred for gait rather than for looks. They come in almost all colors and patterns, with the possible exception of appaloosa. They are shown in cutback saddles and a single-reined bridle with their unique "S" bit. Colored browbands and breast straps are also common. Unless showing in Western classes, Walkers are shown with braids in the forelock and front of the mane. There are numerous divisions, with different rules regarding shoeing, action devices, and whether or not tails are set or unset. All Walkers perform the three gaits; the flat walk, running walk, and a rocking-chair canter. The TWHBEA stud books have been closed since the 1950s.
Very similar to the Tennessee Walking Horse and sharing many of the same bloodlines, the Racking Horse is native to Alabama and performs the rack rather than the running walk. In appearance, they are nearly indistinguishable from Walking Horses, although they are more likely to be solid black, brown, or chestnut. The showing styles are similar to those with Walking Horses, with the possible exception that Racking Horses do not show with set tails. Many Tennessee Walking Horses are double registered as Racking Horses, but as of 1990 the stud books were closed to all but the offspring of registered parents.
Although thought of by many hobbyists as a completely separate breed, the Missouri Fox Trotter stud books were not closed to outside blood until 1980. Prior to that time, the breed was heavily influenced by outcrosses to Walking Horses (although shown only at the running walk, many Walkers can and do perform other gaits, including the fox trot), and a few stallions can still be found that are double-registered with the two breeds. In appearance, Foxtrotters tend to be more compact and "rounder" than Walking Horses, and with shorter heads (many look like Morgans). Like many of the other gaited breeds, they come in almost and color or pattern, with palominos particularly common. Foxtrotters are shown in Walking Horse bridles with colored browbands and western saddles, with no action devices and unset tails. They are also the only gaited breed where "butterfly" ribbons (ribbons with rows of bows along the length) are still considered in-style.
SPOTTED SADDLE HORSES
Like the Racking Horses, most Spotted Saddle Horses are also registered Walking Horses, although there are also Missouri Foxtrotters and bloodlines that are unique to the breed (such as the popular Tony W). Right now the two registries for the breed both maintain open stud books and will accept any horse that shows a pinto pattern (either tobiano or overo) and can perform any lateral gait (running walk, single-foot, rack, foxtrot, ect). One of the things that make Spotted Saddle Horses unique is that they are shown under western tack. The bridle used is similar to a Walking Horse bridle (including the bit), but it is silvered like a western bridle would be (colored browbands are not allowed). Spotted Saddle Horses are usually shown without ribbons and with a natural, unset tail.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN HORSES
The Rocky Mountain Horse is a more recent breed of gaited horse, though they have experienced a great deal of popularity and growth in the last few years. They are a completely natural breed and are shown in cutback saddles flat-shod, with no action devices and long, unset tails and loose manes. In type, they tend to be somewhat smaller and finer-boned than the average Walking Horse, and they perform single-foot or rack as an intermediate gait. The predominant color is chocolate with a flaxen mane and tail; while some have termed this liver, in most cases these horses are actually varying shades or silver dapple -- a unique color more commonly associated with Shetland Ponies. Other colors do occur more rarely, but markings tend to be minimal and pinto patterns of any sort are forbidden.
MOUNTAIN PLEASURE HORSES
Although the organization is fairly recent, breeders claim that their horses are the foundation of the other southern gaited breeds, bred in obscurity for generations in eastern Kentucky. Indeed, Mountain Pleasure Horses bear a striking resemblance to the horses pictured in show catalogs from the 1930s -- a type that has been largely lost in the modern showring. All colors are found including silver dapple (many Rocky Mountain Horses are double registered as Mountain Pleasure Horses), and white markings are not allowed on the body. The registry also has one of the strictest programs for entry into its stud books. Horses must be from registered Mountain Pleasure parents, and are granted temporary status until they can be shown to perform a natural, unaided single-foot gait. The intent is to guarantee the gait of the breed by only allowing true-gaited horses into the stud books.
For more information on a variety of gaited breeds, subscribe to Favorite Gait (PO Box 1472, Jackson, MS 39215). A year's subscription is $23.95, and the magazine covers all the breeds mentioned here.