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Home Grown: Raising Up a New Breed on Kentucky Soil


Rocky Mountain HorsesTomatoes. Big, ripe, juicy tomatoes that just barely hold together when they're sliced for sandwiches. Cucumbers the size of your forearm untouched by pesticides. Corn stalks that cast shadows you could live under. These are the marks of a garden worth its keep. The grocery store can't compete with these vegetables. There's satisfaction growing beside that lettuce. There's pride in the product of your land.

Dr. Ron Hatcher knows this pride like few others. Sure, he's raised a garden or two in his day, but now he's bringing up something even more dear to his native Kentucky land, the Rocky Mountain Horse. This breed of Eastern Kentucky gaited saddle horse with its muscular flank and legendary stamina powered the Appalachian foothill region for a century. Now folks like Dr. Hatcher are sharing the pleasure of this home grown beauty.

The first thing that folks generally ask about the Rocky Mountain Horse, or at least the first one they should ask if they're paying any attention, is why a breed born of Appalachia bares the name of a range 2,000 miles away. As de facto Rocky Mountain Horse historian, Dr. Hatcher claims the reason is legendary.

"The story goes that at some time near the end of the 19th century a native of Virginia, a cavalry man, was returning from the Rocky Mountain area. He ran out of money and supplies in Eastern Kentucky and traded the foundation sire for supplies to get home. That horse was bred to the Kentucky Saddler and the Rocky Mountain Horse evolved from that. Today, it is a recognized breed with distinct genetic characteristics. Of course, the name is unfortunate. ‘Rocky Mountain' is something of a misnomer for a horse with such strong Kentucky heritage."

While the name is confusing, it does serve as a reminder of the grit and ability of this able-bodied breed. The demanding labor it took to run a Kentucky farm was appropriate for the descendant of a horse that crossed an entire continent.

"We feel that the Rockies represent an era when a horse was a vital part of every household," says Dr. Hatcher, who besides being a breed enthusiast is also a breeder based in Bowling Green, KY. "This is a horse that could be hitched to the plow on Monday, ridden into town on Saturday and pulled the family buggy to church on Sunday morning."

Elsie Hatcher on the future of the Rocky Mountain Horse: "The big thing we are looking forward to is the 2010 Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY. The Rocky Mountain Horse Association was invited to participate. We will have an expo booth and a demo at the games and we'll show ourselves to have ‘the one horse for all occasions.'" It's Elsie's hope that events like this will help the breed grow across the country and internationally. "We are eager to educate."

Of course, current times don't call on the Rockies for this kind of daily labor. Yet the breed is still growing in popularity, due in large part to its incredibly docile disposition. "These are the Labrador Retrievers of the horse world," says Dr. Hatcher as he stands in his pasture, surrounded by a few of this year's fearless foals. "They are naturally people oriented; they come right to you and follow you around like puppy dogs, even with a halter in your hand. It's an all around family horse, good both for kids and those who are finished with their younger years and appreciate a smooth ride."

In the midst of the doctor's soliloquy on the Rockies many good points, his wife arrives from her long morning ride, looking refreshed and none too worse for the wear after her long ride. She doesn't miss the opportunity to credit the horse. "I had a great ride, it's cool out and she was so smooth. For someone like me who started riding late in life, it's wonderful to have a horse who is sweet and gentle and has a smooth ride too."

Rocky Mountain HorseIn keeping with the Hatchers' appreciation of the Rocky's mood and historical value, the Hatchers have a philosophy when it comes to breeding these animals. "We see ourselves as preservationists," Dr. Hatcher says. "Elsie is a member of the Rocky Mountain Horse Association Board, and their stated mission is to preserve and protect this horse. We don't really see that it needs improvement. As the old saw goes: If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Dr. Hatcher is right; nothing in this unique breed needs fixing. It is a perfect all-around horse. Though still a fairly small breed association with around 17,000 registered Rocky Mountain Horses, it has a well defined standard and 20 years of official recognition. They are a medium-sized horse, between 14.2 and 16 hands with a broad chest, bold eyes and well-shaped ears. There is an affinity among owners for Rockies with a chocolate-brown body color and a flaxen mane and tail, created by the silver dapple gene, but a Rocky Mountain Horse can be any solid coat color.

All Rockies have a natural four-beat gait, swift and smooth and capable of traveling at speeds upwards of 20 miles per hour. More than any physical characteristic, however, the breed is characterized by its good temperament. It's an easy keeper, a perfect pleasure horse and a model of endurance.

Folks like the Hatchers love their Rockies for their great trail riding and historical significance. Though just down the road a ways on DeWeese Farm, Penny DeWeese and her family are enjoying new-found success showing Rockies on the riding circuit. Their barn boasts of champions and blue ribbons earned by a breed of horse that's a relative newcomer to competition. The DeWeeses are proud of their horses, capable at showing three distinct gaits: trail walk, show walk and pleasure gaits. And what's more, they have been wonderful for the younger members of the DeWeese family, as they have all learned to ride on Rockies.

"Our children and grandchildren ride Rockies because they are beautiful horses with gentle and kind temperaments," says family matriarch, Penny DeWeese. "I have a nine-year-old granddaughter who has been riding since she was four, and I would never let her ride any other breed."

Rocky Mountain Horses"They are forgiving and sure footed," she continues. "More than any other breed, you know what to expect from them. And they give and give in the ring. These horses have a lot of stamina, heart and willpower. Our horses can perform all day, if need be, and in several classes."

So, in the end, whether you are looking for a top-rate trail horse or a fleet, lateral-gaited show horse you would be wise to look to the home grown Rocky Mountain Horse of Kentucky. Because just like any good person with a bumper garden, folks like Dr. Hatcher are eager to share. "While we certainly appreciate the uniqueness of their Kentucky origin, our goal is to let more people in other regions know about this wonderful horse… We feel like these are really unusual animals."

For more information on the Rocky Mountain Horse visit the following web sites: the Rocky Mountain Horse Association (www.rmhorse.com), Rebel Ridge Farm (www.rebelridgefarm.com) and DeWeese Farm (www.deweesefarms.com).

The Hatcher's Rebel Ridge Farm and DeWeese Farm credit Southern States Equine Specialist Lee Buckner for his guidance with selecting the best Southern States feed for their horses.
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