Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
What is a Breed?
There are a number of myths that have crept
into the circles of Mountain Horse breeders over the years. Some of
them have been started intentionally by mean spirited persons intent
on putting down a competing organization. Some of them are just out
and out fiction and others arise out of genuine misunderstanding.
One of the biggest myths circulating among
Mountain Horse lovers is the one that states something along these
lines: “Not all Mountain Horse associations are BREED associations,
they are just registries.”
This subject seems to arise every several years
or so. Usually when something of monetary value arises like the
Kentucky Non Race Breeds Incentive Fund or the preparation for the
Showcasing of a limited number of “Breeds” to be selected for
demonstration at the 2010 Equestrian Games to be held at the
Kentucky Horse Park.
It has been interesting to discover how different groups define the
term “BREED”. We researched dogs, cats, birds, cattle and of course
horses. The material following is the definitive answer!
For those of you who only read the headlines
and won’t go on to read this entire article, let me say right up
front .The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse is a BREED! The Kentucky
Mountain Saddle Horse has been a BREED for almost 20 years!
The Spotted Mountain Horse is also a BREED! It
was established back in 2002 as a distinct BREED of Mountain horse
with more white markings than the KMSHA guidelines would accept.
Several years ago we met with Dr. Gus Cothran
PHD, in his office at the Equine Parentage Verification Center on
the University of Kentucky Campus in Lexington, Kentucky. (Dr.
Cothran, is now with the Texas A & M School of Veterinary Medicine,
in College Station, Texas ).
At that original meeting Dr. Cothran was very
gracious to answer many questions that we had about the subject,
“What is a BREED?” Dr. Cothran has a sign on the wall of his office
“ A BREED is a group of animals that has been
selected by man to possess a uniform appearance that is inheritable
and distinguishes it from other groups of animals within the same
We asked him, “Is there not some kind of
government agency or watch-dog group that regulates or decides who
is and who is not a BREED?” His answer was none of which he had ever
been aware. We asked, “How many different characteristics would need
to be defined in the BREED standards to set an animal apart as a
different BREED?” To our surprise, Dr. Cothran answered, “One”.
We then described to Dr. Cothran the
characteristics that we identified with the Kentucky Mountain BREEDs
both the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse and the Spotted Mountain
Horse; temperament, gait, conformation, color and size.
He agreed that they were all genetic traits,
that is to say that each of those qualities can be passed on to
progeny, and that 5 different characteristics were more than enough
to define a BREED. Then he cautioned that a very good breeding
program would include provisions to cull any offspring that for some
reason did not meet the BREED standard. We told him how we issued a
Temporary Registration to foals and did not certify them to BREED
until they were under saddle and could demonstrate to a minimum, two
qualified and licensed KMSHA examiners that they possess each of the
qualities described in the KMSHA’s “ BREED Standard”. He
complimented us on the provisions we had put in place and stated
that they were more than adequate.
We then told Dr. Cothran how we require DNA of
all breeding horses to be kept on record for identification and also
proof of parentage if necessary. He was impressed as to how
particular the KMSHA was structured in order for preservation of
In an article published in the March, 2003
EQUUS Magazine entitled “Defining a BREED”, genetics expert Phillip
Sponenberg, DVM, PhD responded to a question sent in to EQUUS asking
for a “good definition of the term ‘BREED’” in this way: “I am
afraid you are looking for clear-cut definitions and hard-and-fast
rules that don’t exist. When speaking of horses, more than other
livestock species, several different concepts for “BREED” emerge.
Each of these has legitimacy, but each is very, very different.”
Doctor Sponenberg goes on to say, “A few horse associations add
restrictions to the genetic BREED concept so that not all horses
that are born of registered parents are automatically
registered…Further evaluation or testing might be required, or the
foal might have to meet certain other requirements…Other horse
BREEDs, and many of the most popular BREEDs in this country, have
“open” herdbooks… The result of having herdbooks open, but open in
only a restricted direction, is that the core identity of the BREED
as genetically based is really not hampered much.” He then ends with
this statement. “The key importance of pure BREEDs is that they
represent real, repeatable, predictable choices for horse owners.”
As we expanded our research to investigate what
other species of animals used to define the word “BREED”, we found
some interesting statements.
The International Progressive Cat Breeders
Alliance has this definition in their Registration Rules, Article
1-DEFINITIONS, Section 2: The word “BREED” shall be defined as a sub
population of cats which differ from other cats with respect to
certain physical characteristics which all members of the defined
sub population share in common. These characteristics are described
in the written “standard” for the BREED.
The American Kennel Club has a similar
requirement. They say, “An established BREED, moreover, has a well
defined ‘standard’ that clearly lists how it should look or how it
The International Miniature Cattle Breeds
Registry, Inc. states: A breeding program means standards and rules
have been determined against which future animals are compared and
measured. A BREED is defined as “A group of animals with similar
characteristics from a common background that reproduces itself
similarly within an acceptable range of standards”.
If you go to the Oklahoma State University
website and look under Breeds of Livestock you will find this
interesting offering; Welcome to the Breeds of Livestock
resource presented by the Department of Animal Science at Oklahoma
State University. This site is intended as an educational and
informational resource on BREEDs of livestock throughout the world.
What is a Breed?
The classic definition of a “BREED” is usually stated as a variation
of this statement. “Animals that, through selection and breeding,
have come to resemble one another and pass those traits uniformly to
Unfortunately this definition leaves some
unanswered questions. For example, when is a crossbred animal
considered a composite BREED and when do we stop thinking about them
as composites? Perhaps this definition from The Genetics of
Populations by Jay L. Lush helps explain why a good definition of
“BREED” is elusive. … note: now read this slow, we had to read it
three times before it really sank in…
A BREED is a group of domestic animals, termed
such by common consent of the breeders, a term which arose among
breeders of livestock, created one might say, for their own use, and
no one is warranted in assigning to this word a scientific
definition and in calling the breeders wrong when they deviate from
the formulated definition. It is their word and the breeder’s common
usage is what we must accept as the correct definition.
As you can see from Dr. Lush’s definition it is
at least in part the perception of the breeders and the livestock
industry which decides when a group of individuals constitutes a
All of these definitions fall well within the
parameters of the quote we read on the wall in Dr. Cothran’s office.
The fact is that a BREED is a manmade thing. When someone sits down
and writes out a description of the characteristics he feels best
describes those he wants to preserve in a breeding program; then
sets about to introduce only those animals into the breeding program
that meet the standards set forth in his description; as long as
those characteristics are able to be passed on, or reproduced, in
the offspring, that man has formed a BREED.
In 1989 Robert Robinson, Jr. set forth to do
just that. Each horse registered and certified to BREED as a
Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse has been examined and found to
possess the characteristics defined in the BREED standards. Although
foals born of registered parents have been allowed to be registered,
they must be examined under saddle before they are certified to
BREED. The horse, General Jackson, was the first horse to be
registered as a Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse and every horse since
then has met the same criteria set forth from the beginning.
The BREED was born in 1989 and has continued
since that time with very strict provisions in place to insure that
only those horses possessing the desired genes are allowed to be
registered and certified. The result is that the Kentucky Mountain
Saddle Horse has now been a BREED going on 20 years. We have over
22,000 horses registered. Each horse that has been certified
possesses all of the qualities that Jr. Robinson identified in 1989
in the BREED standards for the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse.
Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses fall under
three specific BREED categories:
Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse 14 hands and up; Kentucky Mountain
Saddle Pony 11 up to 13.3 hands; Spotted Mountain Horse and Pony,
with the same height standards.
So then, outsiders can say that the Kentucky
Mountain Saddle Horse and the Spotted Mountain Horse is this or
that, in their opinion; but what they can’t say is that the Kentucky
Mountain Saddle Horses and Spotted Mountain Horses are not qualified
BREEDS! To do so would only be telling the world that you simply do
not know the definition of the word or your just plum crazy…or
confused … or listen to people with little to no knowledge about our
fine BREED of horses.