Mountain Pleasure Horse: A Deep Dive into This Unique Breed

The Mountain Pleasure Horse stands as a distinct and noble breed, primarily developed in the Appalachian Mountains’ Eastern Kentucky region. Renowned for its smooth, gaited movements, this breed exemplifies a harmonious blend of endurance and elegance, adeptly navigating the mountainous terrains.

Its signature gait ensures a ride of unparalleled comfort, a characteristic deeply ingrained in its very name. The breed’s association steadfastly upholds the integrity and purity of these horses, focusing on their natural abilities rather than their potential for showmanship, thereby preserving the authentic essence and historical significance of the Mountain Pleasure Horse.


The Mountain Pleasure Horse is an acclaimed breed in equine breeding with an esteemed history as varied and intricate as the Appalachian Mountains from which it hails. Tracing this breed’s evolution over time reveals a fascinating pattern of genetic and cultural change which is deeply intertwined with America itself.

Origin of Early America:

Mountain Pleasure Horses can be traced back to early European settlers’ arrival in America. These early settlers brought various horse breeds with them from Britain – Hobbies and gaited ponies being among them.

These imported breeds played an essential part in shaping the American Narragansett Pacer breed, known for its fast pacing capabilities during racing competitions and smooth ambling gait often described as a single-footed trot.

Narragansett Pacer:

At its height in New England Colonies during the 17th century, the Narragansett Pacer became an integral part of colonial life. Due to its smooth gait it quickly became popular for traversing rugged and sparsely settled terrain in colonial America.

By the early 1800s, despite its great popularity, the purebred strain of Narragansett Pacers began to decline due to extensive crossbreeding. However, small populations continued to thrive in isolated Appalachian regions; valued for their smooth gaits, endurance, and pleasant dispositions.

Appalachian Saddle Horses:

In Eastern Kentucky, descendants of these horses were commonly referred to as saddle horses or mountain horses and played various roles throughout daily life ranging from work in fields to providing comfortable transportation services.

Appalachia was far removed geographically, yet that did not impede essential activities like mail delivery and commercial visits thanks to these “old-time mountain horses.”

Generational Breeding and Ancestry:

Formal records on these horses are scarce, yet oral histories and family archives often provide comprehensive accounts of their lineage dating back to the early 19th century.

Breeding practices focused on producing top-quality saddle horses, often pairing mares to the finest local stallions with family names like “Coffey’s Major” and “Little’s Silver”.

Contributions to Other Breeds:

Between 1900 and 1940, Tennessee Walking Horse breeding saw breeders seeking mares from Eastern Kentucky as an indication of how highly these horses were valued.

The palomino variety was especially sought-after, and several were purchased for notable figures like Roy Rogers.

Genetic Research and Legacy:

Genetic studies, particularly those performed by Ernest “Gus” Cothran from the University of Kentucky, have played an essential part in tracking down Mountain Pleasure Horse’s lineage. Blood-typing and genetic testing has revealed connections to other breeds such as Rocky Mountain Horse, American Saddlebred and Tennessee Walking Horses.

This research showcases the breed’s rich legacy and lasting presence on American equine landscape.

Mountain Pleasure Horses are not simply beloved breeds of exceptional physical and temperamental qualities; their story encapsulates much of American history. Over the course of its long existence, this breed has witnessed both changing landscapes and demands of early American life that made its story truly epic and endearing.


Mountain Pleasure Horses, known for their striking combination of beauty, functionality, and temperament are mid-sized horses measuring 14.2-15 hands in height (58-62.2 inches/147-157 cm). This breed stands out with its well-proportioned physique designed to ensure soundness and longevity – qualities celebrated among many breeders and riders.

Physical Attributes:

The Mountain Pleasure Horse has an ideal body composition. One notable trait of its structure is a laid-back shoulder angled at 45 degrees that facilitates wide strides necessary for smooth movement.

Their hind legs are strong and well-angled, providing powerful impulsion during all gaits while also helping them navigate rugged or steep terrains with ease.

The breed boasts an arched neck, attractive head and kind eyes – three desirable qualities which increase its physical appeal.


Mountain Pleasure Horses are known for their gentle nature, making them great companions for riders of all ages and skill levels. Beyond physical appearance, these horses are celebrated for their kind temperaments that allow for family bonding time together.

Gait Characteristics

The Mountain Pleasure Horse’s signature intermediate speed gait, featuring four beat lateral movement that is evenly spaced, is distinguished by moderate forward speed and extension with minimal knee or hock action for a smooth ride.

Mountain Pleasure Horses have long been prized for their smooth racking gait, the result of generations of selective breeding. It has become a signature feature of their breed.

Remarkably, foals often exhibit this innate gaiting ability shortly after birth – evidence of their breed’s deep-seated genetic traits.

Mountain Pleasure Horses are known for their exceptional grace, featuring well-structured bodies combined with calm yet intelligent dispositions and distinctive gaits produced through careful breeding that have earned them their distinct place among equine species as reliable mounts for riders from novice to veteran alike.

Preserving the Legacy: The Mountain Pleasure Horse in Conservation and Breeding

Mountain Pleasure Horses, known for their rare genetic heritage and diminishing numbers, have recently become the subject of intensive conservation efforts by The Equus Survival Trust. Due to this threat of extinction they have placed it under “critical” status on their watchlist indicating an urgent need for preservation measures.

Conservation Initiatives and Registry Modifications

From 1994 to 2009, the Mountain Pleasure Horse Association (MPHA) closed its studbook to outside horses, in an effort to safeguard its genetic integrity and preserve this breed of horse.

In March 2009, the MPHA board made a decisive step toward revising this policy by opening up their registry to include appendix horses and “outstanding mountain stallions” that fit specific criteria. This move sought to broaden genetic diversity while increasing registry numbers of this breed.

Reevaluation and Division of the Registry:

Following an in-depth assessment in 2014, the MPHA board recognized some unintended side effects from its appendix program and decided to revamp its registry to address these concerns.

Following this change, the registry was divided into two distinct segments: Purebreds and Appendix horses, to facilitate easier breeding and lineage tracking. Appendix horses could still compete in MPHA events; only their offspring included in the Purebred registry.

Financial Assistance and Breeding Incentives:

MPHA achieved another landmark achievement when they qualified to requalify for Kentucky Horse Breeders Incentive Fund (KBIF) support, marking an important step forward on their conservation journey.

Capitalizing on this opportunity, the MPHA established an Award Distribution Plan targeting Mountain Pleasure Horse Breeders between 2015-2017. This initiative sought to encourage breeding purebred Mountain Pleasure Horses.

Breeders could earn points by participating in eligible ACTHA or MPHA competitive trail riding or obstacle challenge events across Kentucky or the US and accrue them accordingly.

Mountain Pleasure Horse Association and related bodies’ ongoing dedication to its conservation demonstrates an in-depth appreciation for its value, with efforts made to secure its future through strategic breeding practices, registry administration and incentive participation at equine events. Through these methods they strive tirelessly to secure its longevity and prosperity for future generations of this distinct and treasured breed.

Establishing a Legacy: The Founding of the Mountain Pleasure Horse Association

In 1989, a group of Kentucky breeders set out on a mission to formally establish and preserve a distinct equine breed. As a result of their efforts, the Mountain Pleasure Horse Association was created – charting a path towards recognition and perpetuation of Mountain Pleasure Horse breed.

First Steps in Breed Recognition

The original breeders recognized the need for a structured approach to authenticate and preserve the breed, so they organized “Certification Days”, where owners brought their mountain horses for examination by an expert panel. This was essential in identifying foundation stock as well as pedigree records.

In an unprecedented scientific collaboration between the Mountain Pleasure Horse Association (MPHA) and University of Kentucky, genetic tests were performed on Blood samples from Mountain Pleasure Horses to establish proof of parentage and solidify its status as a distinct breed.

Registry Development

The MPHA took decisive steps to protect its lineage by closing both of their registries – one for stallions (100 registered stallions) in 1991, followed by one for mares (400 mares) two years later (both 1992). These moves played an essential role in protecting genetic integrity of the breed and ensuring its continued existence.

State Recognition

On September 29th 1994, Brereton C. Jones – then Governor of Kentucky – made history when he issued an official proclamation honoring Mountain Pleasure Horses as part of Kentucky history. This declaration celebrated their gentle nature, smooth gait, diligent work ethic and sure-footedness – qualities the breed exemplifies today.

The proclamation recognized and acknowledged the breed’s long and rich history in Eastern Kentucky, stretching over 160 years. Additionally, findings from the University of Kentucky indicated its pivotal role in shaping other gaited horse breeds of North America.

This document, marking an important event in the breed’s history, can be found prominently displayed on MPHA’s website to signify its formal recognition and legacy.

Establishment and official recognition by Kentucky Governor made an extraordinary mark in Mountain Pleasure Horse history. Not only was formal acknowledgment secured; moreover, this initiative laid a strong basis for future preservation and appreciation as part of America’s equine heritage.