Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
February, 2014 by the Editor
For the KMSHA/SMHA 25th Anniversary, the story of what Bonnie Robinson remembered about her husband, "Junior", seemed to be a very appropriate topic for the lead-in to this Stallion Issue. Information that many of us would have liked to know about Junior, even now after his death.
An Interview with Bonnie Robinson
So Bonnie, what do you believe Junior had in mind when he started the KMSHA? Well, it just all started back in 1989 when General Jackson, a beautiful red chocolate stallion wasn't registrable with the Rocky Mountain Horse Association. The Gen was short you no, about 14 hands. Junior got so upset that after thinking about it long and hard, he decided that there needed to be a breed registry beyond and more complete than the Rocky's.
So what do you mean more complete then the Rocky's? Back in the early to mid 90's, several horse encyclopedias who had listed the Rocky Mountain horse, captioned them as "Rocky Mountain Pony's" because the Rocky's had registered horses as 14 hands and smaller and up to 16 hands. Since the Rocky's didn't want to be known as a pony breed, they immediately changed their own rule, whereby any horse to be registered for size needed to be a minimum of 14 hands. But by three years old the horse needed to reach 14.2 hands tall to be certified. This way, the horse would meet the International standard of height gauged for all horses. The Rocky's proceeded in the mid-ninety’s to make this new fact known Internationally. Junior felt that would leave a lot of horses out of the foundation books. Awful good stallions, mares and geldings that were true Mountain horses. He also knew that some of the Mountain horses had spots, mostly a Sabino gene. So Junior went on a crusade, to register good quality horses in the books of the his newly formed "Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Association", which he was totally committed.
What would Junior use to register horses? Junior started with a logbook, which consisted of a two digit year end and four digits as the registration number. Example: Gen. Jackson #890001 and so on. He also took a measurin’ stick with him.
Did you know the logbook is still used today at the office to give each horse a registration number? No, that's really interesting.
So what role did you play along with Junior? Junior was such a hospitable guy, that he would invite almost anyone who visited, in for some food and drink. If I was out and when I came back home, I wouldn't be so surprised to walk in and have Junior ask for me to prepare as much as a meal for our guests. So I found this to be one of my major responsibilities along with accompanying Junior up into the hills, hollers and strips (strip mines) to register as many Kentucky mountain saddle horses for several years as time would allow. We spent a lot of time meeting new folk and being introduced to their horses. Junior knew there were still lots of horses out there that had not been registered by the Rocky's and he set out to visit as many farms as he could, all strictly in Kentucky. He said it was a big enough territory and there were still plenty of horses and that the Mountain folk needed someone to stop by and explain why a New Registry was the right thing for them.
Why was registration of horses so important? Occasionally someone would ask Junior, why should I register my horses? Junior was quick to respond, "because it's going to make you more money and it will help others become knowledgeable about who you are, interested in what bloodlines you offer for breeding". Junior explained how he had intentions of setting up a database which incorporated information about each horse that was registered and certified. He further explained that horses were selling better from those that had them registered with KMSHA and for bigger money. As an additional benefit to registration, outsiders would call Junior and ask for recommendations on who to breed their mares to, as well as who had horses to purchase. Junior would always try to be fair and try to give everybody some business. The registry grew and grew and pretty soon Junior found a helper to start him with his database.
What might've been some interesting things that happened along the way? Junior would be asked every now and then, what's the difference between Rocky mountain horse and a Kentucky mountain saddle horse? Junior would be quick to say, "where you standin"? The answer was always, "well standin’ here on Kentucky land. So where's and horses out back standin’? They’re also standing on Kentucky land. So now you know the difference between a Kentucky mountain saddle horse and Rocky mountain horse"! Junior knew very well what the ancestry of the mountain horses were, they were Kentucky horses, the old saddle horses that went back to the Calvary during the Civil War and back even further. These were the surefooted, smooth gaited horses that were used by some of the poorest of folk for all their transportation, plow the fields and even going to war. They weren't meant to be for just color, they were bred for their gentle personalities and willingness to serve their owners and get the work done, even in the coal mines.
So where did the word "saddler" come from? "Saddler" or "Kentucky Saddler" were terms used to describe this Kentucky breed of horses. The horses could be found all long the Appalachian Mountains and no matter where you went, almost everyone would refer to this breed of horse as a "saddlin horse". You could see it in the built and especially under saddle when they moved. Contrary to other opinion out there, the horses known today as the "mountain horses" have come from mostly Kentucky, not the Rockies. There is one person though that Junior came to know pretty well outside of Kentucky, his name was Al Pruitt. Even though Al’s Homestead was originally Kentucky, Al lived in North Carolina. He had two pretty sizable herds of these mountain horses in both areas. Seems Al’s family went way back, knowin’ more history than most about the breed. Al and Junior got along swell, traded stories and talked about the heritage of the breed. It was important to Junior from a breeding perspective, who got very much involved with bloodlines, to talk to Al about the different stallions and mares that really meant a difference. On May 25, 2003 Al not only celebrated his 75th birthday, yet also celebrated being cancer–free. That very weekend, Al was tragically struck and killed in South Carolina, only minutes away from reaching another horse show. Junior vowed to carry on the mission of his good friend as long as and to the best could.
Bonnie it’s been nice talking to you today, do you think you have anything else that you’d like to add? Well, yes I do, I believe if Junior was still alive today he would be very proud of how his association has grown and prospered. Junior was always one who wanted everything he did to be the best or top of the line. That’s what the KMSHA/SMHA has shown, that they are the best breed association out there today, with the best registry, database, magazine, show program and just a class act! But better than that, he would have seen first off that this has become a "Big Family" (as he had always wanted it to be) type association, treating everyone equal and as they would like to be treated. Yep, Junior would be very proud! Great talking with you and you have a good day.
Thanks very much Bonnie! The KMSHA.