Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse News

2008 Fall

International Issue



All American Horse


by Mary Marshall


The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse is truly an All-American horse. Born and bred in the Appalachian mountains, the sturdy descendants of the modern day Mountain Horse worked alongside the hardy pioneers that settled the land throughout the early formation of America. He became the settler’s most coveted economic asset. Without a good horse, a man was destitute, as he couldn’t farm, travel, or create a living for his family.

From that necessity an all-purpose horse of great stamina and versatility evolved. Unlike the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse, the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse was not bred primarily for sport and leisure. He was a working horse bar none. As the common man trickled into the Virginia territory which eventually became Kentucky and beyond, he brought with him horses of substantial constitution, with an ambling four-beat gait that allowed the rider to travel in comfort.


Like the settlers, these horses became a “melting pot” of different genetics selected for substance, versatility, intelligence, even temperament, and gait. Beauty, believe it or not, came later through selective breeding .it wasn’t a necessity for a good working horse. Hidden away in the Appalachians until the early 20th century, the KMSH was one of the world’s best kept equine secrets. Upon it’s discovery the KMSH has become a celebrated family and show horse, trail mount, and all-around athlete showcased for the same amazing qualities that he was initially bred for.


The descendants of the Mountain Horse include the Spanish Jennet, Iberian (Iberian Peninsula located along the coast of Spain across from the Barbary Coast in Africa) in origin. The Jennets were a combination of the native heavy Spanish cavalry horse and the lightning quick Barbs, Arabians, and Turkomans brought to the shores of Spain during the invasion of the Moors, which lasted over 500 years. During this tumultuous time in Spain’s history, the evolution of the Spanish horse became the genetic force that would feed the wellspring of horse breeding world-wide.

The Jennet, while carrying many of the same bloodlines as the early Andalusian and Lusitano types, was bred specifically for comfort, as his smooth four-beat gaits offered an easy ride in comparison to the high-stepping trot of the cavalry and haute ecole (high school) horse. The Jennet also came in many colors, including buckskin, chocolate, roan, paint, perlino, and palomino. His temperament was also even, and he was capable of traveling great distances to carry the aristocrats of Spain who chose them for their comfortable ride.

The Jennet, brought to the Americas, became the progenitor of the now extinct Narragansett Pacer, whose contribution is felt distinctly through the Kentucky Mountain, Saddlebred, Tennessee Walking Horse, Morgan, Standardbred, and other gaited breeds. The Narragansett was bred primarily as a riding and carriage horse, prior to being used for sport in trotting and pacing races, which were usually held over three-to-six mile heats. They were tough, stout, sturdy, and strong and held a reputation as good multi-use horses.

With the evolution of the Thoroughbred, Morgan, Mustang, and other “types” in the Americas, one has to suspect that the Kentucky Mountain got a little bit of everything along the way, although still maintaining a strong resemblance to it’s early Spanish origin.
After a century hidden away in the Appalachian mountains and surrounding areas, the Kentucky Mountain retained a strong phenotype and genotype that was reflected in it’s ability to replicate the same in it’s offspring. Through additional selective breeding, the Kentucky Mountain has evolved into one of the most beautiful and striking breeds in the world, well known for the same kindness, stamina, versatility, and pure four beat gait that defined it as a true All-American creation.