Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse: Breed Profile

Training, Grooming, and Care Tips

A horse wearing a saddle

Kittymama/Wikimedia/CC by 3.0

Many horse breeds around the world have been developed specifically for their local environment. One such breed is the Kentucky mountain saddle horse. These horses are closely related to the Tennessee walking horse and other gaited breeds originating in the southern United States. The Kentucky mountain saddle horse has a naturally smooth gait that delights riders who prefer an exceptionally even, gentle ride.

Breed Overview

Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds

Height: 11 hands (44 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)

Body Type: Medium, muscular build; arched neck; flat facial profile; deep chest

Best For: Riders and owners of all experience levels

Life Expectancy: 25 to 40 years

Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse History and Origins

For over 200 years, the people of the eastern Kentucky mountains have bred Kentucky mountain saddle horses for their uniquely smooth gait, hardiness, and calm demeanor. They are all-purpose horses, equally capable of working in the fields or carrying a person over rugged terrain to town. 

Not much is known about the breed’s specific origin. But the now-extinct Narragansett pacer—a surefooted horse breed that developed in the eastern U.S. in the 18th century—is a likely ancestor of the Kentucky mountain saddle horse. It’s also likely related to the Tennessee walking horse, Rocky Mountain horse, and other gaited breeds.

Kentucky mountain saddle horses existed without much recognition until the 1980s, when more people came to appreciate them for their smooth ride, versatility, and dependability. The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Association formed in 1989 as a breed registry. 

Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Size

Size varies a great deal within the breed. Generally, these horses stand between 11 hands (44 inches) and 16 hands (64 inches). They must be at least 11 hands to be registered. The registry divides the horses into Class A (more than 14.2 hands) and Class B (between 11 and 14.1 hands). The breed’s average weight ranges from around 950 to 1,200 pounds.

Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Breeding and Uses

Although they are called Kentucky mountain saddle horses, they perform just as well when hitched to a cart or sleigh. They were bred to be a versatile horse for riding, driving, and general farm work. The rough terrain of the area in which they developed required them to be particularly agile, reliable, alert, and calm. And they deliver these traits in spades. Nowadays, they are still used for work and are very popular for pleasure and trail riding.

Colors and Markings

The breed comes in all the typical solid equine colors and in beautiful patterns. These include palomino, gray, perlino, cremello, white, chestnut, roan, black, champagne, dun, grullo, brown, and buckskin. The horses have flowing manes and tails that vary in color, creating a great number of coat-mane-tail color combinations. The resulting contrast is often quite beautiful.

The horses sometimes have white markings on their faces and legs. But to qualify as a registered Kentucky mountain saddle horse, the markings must not make up more than 36 square inches of the horse's coat. A horse with more white than that is considered a spotted mountain horse instead.

Unique Characteristics of the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse

The most distinguishing characteristic of the Kentucky mountain saddle horse is its natural four-gait beat, which is called an amble or a rack. This is an unusually steady, gentle gait that the horse can maintain over rough terrain. It has the same footfall pattern as a walk. At all times, at least one hoof is in contact with the ground. As a result, the rider sits almost motionless while the horse carries them at speeds as fast as most horses canter. 

In addition, these horses are also known for their gentle, friendly demeanors. They are typically calm enough for beginners and even children to handle. And their smooth ride often is suitable for people with physical limitations.

Diet and Nutrition

Kentucky mountain saddle horses generally require a typical horse diet of quality grass, hay, and grain with some fruits and veggies. They might need vitamin and mineral supplements, especially if they’re not able to graze freely. And because these horses developed in hilly terrain where grazing was sometimes scare, they might require slightly less food than an average horse to maintain their weight. But that largely depends on their size and activity level.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

The Kentucky mountain saddle horse was bred to be sturdy and hardy. Thus, the breed is not prone to any specific health issues. And because a gentle demeanor also was stressed in breeding, the horses generally are friendly and easy to train, and they lack serious behavioral issues.

Grooming

Standard horse grooming practices should be sufficient for a Kentucky mountain saddle horse. That includes brushing your horse daily to keep its coat free of dirt and debris and to evenly distribute oils. You also should examine and clean the horse’s hooves daily, especially after a trail ride. To keep the horse’s flowing mane and tail tidy, consider using a detangler with a mane comb and tail brush.

Pros

  • Smooth gait

  • Friendly and gentle

  • Good for trail riding

Cons

  • No obvious cons to this breed

Champion and Celebrity Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses

Owned by noted breeder Sam Tuttle, a gaited stallion named Old Tobe is touted as a foundational sire for modern mountain saddle horses. Old Tobe lived in Kentucky during the early 1900s.

Is the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Right for You?

The silky-smooth gait, even temperament, agility, and steadiness of the Kentucky mountain saddle horse make it a wonderful trail horse. They are friendly horses that like the company of humans. So if you'd like a horse that makes a loyal, loving companion and you have the time to spend with it, the Kentucky mountain saddle horse can be a great choice.

Moreover, riders with joint issues, particularly in the back, often find a jaunt atop a Kentucky mountain saddle horse to be a pleasant experience that doesn't jolt or jostle. And thanks to their patient and sweet nature, these horses can suit beginning riders very well, including children.

How to Adopt or Buy a Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse

The average cost to adopt or buy a Kentucky mountain saddle horse ranges from around $1,000 to $10,000. This depends on factors, including the horse’s age, health, training, and pedigree.

Aim to visit a horse at the breeder or rescue organization before you choose to bring it home. Ask about the horse’s history, health, temperament, and level of training. And look for any red flags, including lameness or labored breathing. If you feel the organization can’t adequately answer all of your questions and concerns about the horse, it might be best to move on.

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