5 Gaited Crossbreeds

Crossbreeds – while not breeds in the true sense of the word, but a combination of two or more established breeds – are filling a niche for trail riders. They’re usually the result of a breeder’s curiosity: “What if I crossed this fine breed with that one?” The smartest, most willing, and most athletic equine results of such breedings endure, as their aficionados form registries to set standards, control breeding, and track lineages.

It’s easy to see why gaited crossbreeds in particular abound, especially among those who ride on the trail. Gaited crossbreed owners typically love the qualities of a particular breed, but also want a smooth gait to take them on their adventures.

Here, we introduce you to five smooth-gaited crossbreeds: the Gaited Curly Horse, the Gaited Mule, the Gaited Pony, the Tennuvian Horse, and the Walkaloosa. (The latter not only can be crossbreeds, but also smooth-gaited members of the foundation Appaloosa breed.)

For each crossbreed, we give you history highlights and a brief description. Then we relay what owners tell us and on-trail accounts. Finally, we provide registry and breeder resources, should you desire more information.

Gaited Curly Horse
History highlights: Curly-coated horses have been found in Chinese art dating back to 161 A.D. It’s a mystery how the breed reached our shores. Some theorize that they crossed a former land bridge over today’s Bering Strait, while others believe they arrived in the Northwest with Russian settlers in the 1700s. There are also those who believe the first curly horses arrived with Spanish explorers 400 years ago, eventually joining wild herds in the Southwest. Pictographs from the early 1800s show Sioux and Crow Indians riding curly-coated horses.

Modern history of the American Bashkir Curly begins in 1898, when a young Peter Damele and his father rode upon three curly horses in the high country of the Peter Hanson Mountains in central Nevada. Then, around 1931, the Dameles brought home a curly-coated horse from a local mustang herd, trained him, and sold him. After the particularly harsh winter of 1932, the Dameles observed that curly horses survived the severe conditions better than their flat-coated brothers. It wasn’t long before the family started to use curly horses in their breeding program.

Today, some Gaited Curly Horses are descendants of the Damele horses. Breeders also diligently cross their Curly Horses with another gaited breed, such as the Missouri Fox Trotter, to produce a Gaited Curly Horse.

Lisa Perry and her husband, Craig, own Zion’s Gate Curlies in Hurricane, Utah, near Zion National Park. Lisa tells us that the American Bashkir Curly Association originally accepted all gaited curly horses. However, a few years ago, it closed its books, which meant that only the offspring of ABC-registered horses bred to other ABC-registered horses could be registered. Lisa admits disappointment.

“There are relatively few Gaited Curly Horses, and we worried about problems from severe inbreeding,” she says. “So the International Curly Horse Association was formed by more progressive members of the community who believed that such inbreeding was unacceptable. The ICHO allows us to breed our valuable curly foundation horses with the finest straight-haired horses, like our Missouri Fox Trotters. We breed top-quality Gaited Curly Horses that are dual registered with the ICHO and the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association.”

Gaited Curly description: According to the ICHO, “All Curly Horses that perform an intermediate/soft gait are eligible to be included in the Gaited Curly Association. A gait and conformation analysis will be done, and all accepted Curlies will be issued a certificate of approval and receive an analysis on their Curly for gait, conformation and breeding quality.”

Owners tell us: The Perrys have four children-two with debilitating allergies to horses. “But our children can ride, groom, and love our Gaited Curly Horses with no sneezes,” Lisa says. “And many of our clients also find the curly coat hypoallergenic.”

All of the Perrys’ Gaited Curlies descend from the dominant curly gene found in the bloodlines of a Gaited Curly Horse named Curly Jim. In the 1960s, he was bred to an exclusive group of Missouri Fox Trotter mares; today, his legacy is seen in the pastures of Zion’s Gate Curlies.

“The sweetness and intelligence of Gaited Curlies is endearing,” Lisa says. “We’ve found that discerning riders want something special: smooth gait and good temperament, and the curl and color are like icing on the cake.”

If you wish to buy a Gaited Curly, “Seek out owners and breeders for information,” Lisa says. “There are only about 400 Gaited Curly Horses in the world – they’re very rare – and many people won’t part with their well-trained adult horses. So consider a young horse; youngsters are very sweet, trainable, and a joy to watch grow.

“Find a mentor who understands the conformation and gaits of Gaited Curlies, and learn as much as you can,” Lisa continues. “Most Gaited Curlies can perform a variety of soft gaits and will prefer one or two naturally.”

On the trail: Diane Mitchell, owner of Curly Country Ranch in Caldwell, Texas, breeds both Gaited Curly Horses that descend from wild herds and those with Missouri Fox Trotter in their background. She’s a trail rider who also competes in endurance events.

“We may not have been the first to finish,” says Mitchell. “But the ride veterinarians always commented that my horses finished events better than most horses started. Gaited Curlies have sturdy constitutions and stay sound even over tough terrain. Their easygoing temperaments and intelligence make them a breeze to train.”

One of Mitchell’s favorite trails rides with her Curlies is in Arizona’s Coconino National Forest, on the Mogollon Rim.

The Rim is a rugged escarpment at the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau that offers an extensive trail system. There’s high desert and forest, with lakes, creeks, and expansive views.

Gaited Mule
History highlights: A mule is the result of crossing two species, the horse and the donkey. Top gaited-mule breeder Bill Moore of Shelbyville, Tennessee, has a photograph of his mother on a gaited mule that his grandfather bred in the 1940s, using a Tennessee Walking Horse crossed on a jack (donkey stallion) of Old Grey John stock.

For scores of years, farmers have been breeding gaited horses to jacks in the hopes of producing a gaited mule that would be strong and reliable working in the fields, as well as provide a smooth ride under saddle.

Since 1990, Moore and his wife, Jane, have been breeding gaited mules at their Stepping Out Farms, where they welcome more than 10,000 visitors annually. Today, the majority of Moore’s gaited-mule clients are avid trail riders. There’s a high probability that a gaited mule will result when one of his two gaited jacks is bred to a gaited mare.

“We use Tennessee Walking Horse mares, because I like a big reach with the back feet,” Moore says. “But many of our clients use Fox Trotters or Paso Finos or other gaited mares with great success. Baby boomers are ringing my phone off the wall – there are just not enough gaited mules to go around!”

In 1993, Bill Moore was elected the first president of the American Gaited Mule Association. The following year, the North American Saddle Mule Association added a section on gaited mules to its rule book; in 1995, the first gaited-mule classes were held. With an increasing interest in gaited mules, the AGMA looks forward to a bright future.

Gaited mule description: According to Marie Lanier, owner of R&M Gaited Mules located in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana, a gaited mule is any mule that has a smooth gait (other than a walk) that’s distinct from a trot. Examples include the single-foot, fox-trot, rack, running walk, stepping pace, and paso fino. The gaited mule’s size and color will depend on that of its parents.

Lanier stands a gaited jack named Lonesome. “Before we had a gaited jack, breeding for a gaited mule was hit and miss,” she says. “But now, when we breed

a gaited mare to the gaited jack, we have virtually a 100 percent chance that the [resulting] mule will gait.”

Owners tell us: Bill Moore says a good mule’s personality “is like your puppy. Mules have a tendency to bond with people better than horses.” Moore sells his gaited stock to enthusiastic clients from coast-to-coast. He sold a gaited jack to The Trail Rider contributor Dan Aadland.

“We’ve been raising mountain-oriented horses since 1980,” says Aadland, owner

of Absaroka Tennessee Walking Horses in Absarokee, Montana.?”We have an outstanding market, and a gaited jack adds another dimension. Several customers expressed an interest in gaited mules, and it’ll be fun to raise gaited mules to pack into mountain camps and to pull our wagon.” Aadland’s first homebred gaited mules are due in 2008.

On the trail: “Riding a gaited mule is like having a Jeep in the mountains and a Cadillac on the straight away,” Lanier says. “The Bitterroot Valley has lots of trails. A well-trained gaited mule can tackle the most challenging. One trail involves a climb over slate rock, frequently with water running over it. There’s a dizzying drop on one side, but at the top, your reward is a pristine mountain lake and bountiful grass for grazing.

“I’m so proud of my gaited mules! Sometimes, happiness just overtakes me. Without warning, it strikes – and I marvel at how lucky I am to be in such a beautiful place with my animals.”

Gaited Pony
History highlights: The Gaited Pony isn’t a cross of two distinct breeds; rather, it’s any pony that exhibits smooth gaits. Ponies have long been appreciated for their intelligence, hardiness, and load-carrying ability. When you add smooth gait to the equation, who can resist the Gaited Pony?

Lifelong horsewoman Kelly Robison has owned and bred Gaited Ponies at her Rocky Hill Farm in East Liverpool, Ohio, since 2001. In 2004, she founded the American Gaited Pony Registry.

“Parents realize when they’re teaching children to ride that a youngster can get bounced right out of the saddle on a trotting horse,” Robison says. “Imagine how much easier for them to learn on a Gaited Pony. And ponies aren’t just for kids; they’re also for the young at heart. Any small adult, or a rider with bad knees or challenges mounting a tall horse, will appreciate them. A Gaited Pony will give you the smoothest trail ride you’ve ever had.”

Gaited Pony description: For entry into the AGPR, a pony must mature no taller than 14.2 hands high (58 inches) at the withers. He must exhibit a saddle gait other than a trot, such as a running walk, fox trot, pace, or rack. Gait verification may be conducted either in person or via a videotape. If the pony is less than 4 years old, temporary papers are issued; permanent registration is awarded when he reaches age 4 and still stands 14.2 hands or less. The AGPR also tracks the lineage and size of registered ponies; such information is valuable for those making breeding decisions.

Owners tell us: Toni Meins of Ava, Missouri, has been involved with ponies since 1969, and today breeds Gaited Ponies with Missouri Fox Trotter bloodlines. Meins double-registers his stock with the AGPR and the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association, which has a pony division.

“My pony mare, Oreo, 10, traces back to some of the first ponies I had,” she says. “Ponies will serve you well during their long lives. I still have the first Gaited Pony I bought. He’s 35 this year, and still in excellent condition.”

Meins has hauled her Gaited Ponies to some of the best trails in the country, including those in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming and near Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. But she also loves the trails in her backyard. At Fox Trotter shows held in Ava, the association organizes 10- to 15-mile trail rides that originate from the showgrounds.

“It’s a great way to meet other trail riders and introduce them to our remarkable Gaited Ponies,” Meins says.

On the trail: Jennifer Rhodes’ daughter, Audrey, was born infatuated with all things equine. “When she signed up for riding lessons, I went along for the ride, too, and got hooked!” says Rhodes, who resides in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “About a year later, I bought Audrey a horse. Then I visited a friend and rode her son’s Gaited Pony mare. Instantly, I knew she was the one for me.”

The mare, Honey, who stands 12.2 hands high, has been Rhodes beloved mount for the last seven years. “She’s a beautiful, dappled, liver chestnut, with a very refined head,” the proud owner says. “We’re not certain of her breeding, but we believe she’s Welsh Pony crossed with Tennessee Walker. She’s very athletic, surefooted, and smart. And her running walk has a big stride, which allows her to easily keep up with other horses.

“We spend lots of hours on the trail, and Honey has developed a fan club among trail riders,” Rhodes adds with a smile. “She’s very friendly, but definitely a queen, and knows she’s all that!”

Tennuvian Horse
History highlights: The Tennuvian is a cross between a Tennessee Walking Horse and a Peruvian Horse. The Walking Horse originated in the bluegrass region of middle Tennessee in the mid-1880s, bred by farmers to work the fields during the week and provide them a comfortable ride to town on weekends. Their most valued trait was their running walk, a ground-covering, smooth-as-silk gait.

The history of the Peruvian Horse begins more than 400 years ago, when Spanish explorers brought Iberian Horses, African Barbs, and Friesians to the New World. They carried the conquistadors over the most challenging terrain and eventually were used by settlers on Peru’s vast hacienda.

There, owners carefully bred for the smooth, rocking gait, stamina, and willing natures that epitomize the Peruvian breed today. For centuries, owners maintained a closed population within their country’s borders, protecting the breed by discouraging outcrossing with other breeds. Only within the last 40 years have Peruvian Horses been imported to the United States in any appreciable number.

Certainly, owners of Walking Horses and Peruvians had crossed them before the early 1990s, but it was then that Colorado resident Paula Bonser fell in love with what she officially christened the Tennuvian Horse.

“I’d just purchased a Walking Horse mare, when I visited a friend’s mother who’d crossed her Walker with a Peruvian,” she recalls. “The result was remarkable! I loved the way her horse moved and looked.” Bonser immediately sold her Quarter Horses, purchased a Peruvian stallion, and started breeding.

In 1991, Bonser founded the Tennuvian Horse Registry, which she now runs from Spring Hill, Florida. The Tennessee Walker-Peruvian Horse cross is accepted for registration, as are Tennuvian to Tennuvian, and Tennuvian to either Tennessee Walker or to Peruvian.

Tennuvian Horse description: According to Bonser, the Tennuvian is smooth gaited with great endurance – perfect for long days on the trail. It typically inherits the good feet of the Walking Horse, with the smaller stature and more refined head of the Peruvian. It comes in all colors, and normally stands between 14 and 15 hands high at the withers.

“The Tennuvian gaits are the best of both worlds,” Bonser notes. “Generally, they’re smoother than the Tennessee Walker’s, and they exhibit longer strides than the Peruvian. I call their unique gait a ‘soft prance.’ “

Owners tell us: Ramona Quesenberry owns two 5-year-old Tennuvian mares, both homebred. The Illinois horsewoman likes both the Walking Horse and the Peruvian, but favors the result of their cross.

“I find that their conformation is better than either parent,” she says. “They’re beautiful and have a nice energy. When it was time to train them, they were cooperative and eager to please – much more so than their Walking Horse mothers were! They’re mellow and intelligent, just what I like in a trail horse.”

On the trail: Julian and Bette McKinney own and operate the Bar Fifty Ranch in south-central Arkansas. The Bar Fifty features a horse campground, recreational-vehicle facilities, barns, a bed & breakfast, and log cabins, all with direct access to 20,000 acres of trails. The McKinneys own 70 head of horses, many used by their guests. Bette raves about her Tennuvians.

“We’re very pleased with their temperament and their abilities,” she says. “They’re fast learners and great family horses. When guests need a horse for their kids, we often put them on guided rides aboard a Tennuvian.”

The ranch’s trails traverse mixed terrain in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains. There are valleys and hills, creeks to cross, and wooded paths amongst pine and hardwood trees. “The Tennuvians tackle every trail with calm confidence and their super-smooth gait,” says Bette.

History highlights: If you presume that a Walkaloosa is the cross between an Appaloosa and a Tennessee Walking Horse as the name implies, you’re partially correct. The Walkaloosa is any gaited horse with Appaloosa coloration.

A Walkaloosa can be the colorful result of crossing an Appaloosa with, for instance, a Peruvian Horse, a Paso Fino, or a Missouri Fox Trotter. Or, it can be a foundation Appaloosa Horse – a purebred Appaloosa – that exhibits a gait long known as the Indian Shuffle.

The foundation Appaloosa Horse traces back to the Paso Fino horses brought to the New World by Spanish explorers. Some of these horses carried the spotted coloration that is the hallmark of Appaloosas today. In addition, they also had the paso fino, literally, the fine gait.

These horses eventually found their way into the wild herds of the Southwest, then spread northward. The Nez Percé, who inhabited areas of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, were introduced to these horses around 1700. The Nez Percé became accomplished horsemen and selectively bred widely admired horses.

The most highly prized of the Nez Percé horses were distinguished by a gait inherited from their Paso Fino ancestors, later dubbed the Indian Shuffle. The shuffle is a four-beat, ground-covering, intermediate gait that’s exceptionally smooth.

It’s said that cowpokes who could buy a horse for $2 were eager to lay down $50 more for an Appaloosa that shuffled. The late Gene Autry, the famous singing cowboy, owned El Morocco, a gaited Appaloosa.

Walkaloosa description: The Walkaloosa is renowned for its colorful coat, bravery, endurance, and, of course, its smooth gait. In 1983, the Walkaloosa Horse Association was founded to help preserve the gaited Appaloosa. (The Appaloosa Horse Club doesn’t register horses with Appaloosa coloring that have a gaited-breed parent.) The WHA was purchased in 1999 by longtime horsewoman Pem Meyer; today, Cy Brashears helps her run the Carefree, Arizona-based organization.

To be accepted for WHA registration, a horse must meet one of three qualifications: be the progeny of a registered Walkaloosa; show Appaloosa coloring and demonstrate an intermediate gait other than a trot; or be the offspring of verifiable Appaloosa and gaited-horse blood.

Owners tell us: Floridian Stefanie O’Dell owns O’Ranch Apps. She initially raised both Walkaloosas that were foundation-bred Appaloosas and those with Tennessee Walking Horse blood. Today, she concentrates solely on the former.

“It was somewhat frustrating to cross the Walkers with Appaloosas, and get either the gait or the Appaloosa color, but not both,” O’Dell explains. “So, I decided to concentrate on the old, foundation Appaloosa bloodlines, and voila – I got both gait and color!

“One benefit of using purebred, foundation Appaloosas for my program is that they can be double registered with both the ApHC and the Walkaloosa Registry,” she adds. “It benefits both the horse and the owner; a little piece of paper is valuable.”

The shuffle gait has “a lot of variables,” says O’Dell. “Any soft gait is called the Indian shuffle. It’s supremely smooth to ride.”

On the trail: O’Dell grew up riding Walking Horses. “I love a smooth-gaited horse on the trail, and when you combine that gait with the gorgeous color of the Appaloosa, it’s awesome,” she says. “And the variety of color pattern is captivating. No two horses are ever exactly alike.”

O’Dell’s most magical trail experience happened one warm Florida evening under a full moon. “It was on 240 acres we owned in Oxford,” she recalls. “It had been a hot, humid day, when the best time to ride was long after the sun had gone down. My Walkaloosa mare, Candy, was pure white with liver-colored spots. She gaited effortlessly, just beautifully. In the bright moonlight, her white body glowed. It was peaceful and sheer magic to ride her across the grassy meadows.” 

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