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200 Years of History and Heritage...the Original Old Kentucky Saddler..

The Mountain Pleasure Horse (Old KY Saddler) is a breed of gaited horse that was developed in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky. This breed reflects the primitive Appalachian gaited horse type and genetic testing shows them to be ancestral to modern breeds developed in the region, including the American Saddlebred, the Tennessee Walking Horse and the Rocky Mountain Horse. Although formal written history is limited, individuals whose families have bred these horses for several generations can often provide names and dates as far back as the early 19th century. Some Mountain Pleasure Horse bloodlines are traceable for over 200 years.


The signature gait of the Mountain Pleasure Horse is an evenly spaced, four beat lateral gait, commonly known as the saddle rack. Lacking the moment of suspension that produces the bounce of a trot, this smooth intermediate gait is delightful to ride. In fact, people who have previously given up riding due to back or joint problems are often able to ride a Mountain Pleasure Horse in comfort. This natural gait of the Mountain Pleasure Horse is not taught or mechanically produced, but is the product of generations of careful breeding. Mountain Pleasure Horse foals are known to demonstrate their innate ability to perform this genetically inherited gait within hours of birth.

The comfortable ride and sure-footedness of the Mountain Pleasure Horse are also due to the good conformation for which they have been bred. They are a medium sized horse, nicely proportioned, with a physical structure conducive to soundness and longevity. A laid back shoulder, ideally having an angle of 45 degrees allows the horse to move out in a reaching stride. Strong, correctly angled hind legs enable the horse to have good impulsion in all gaits and also to navigate rugged terrain and steep hills with safety and ease. A nicely arched neck, attractive head and kind eye complete the picture of a gentle family horse.


Mountain Pleasure Horses are descendants of the smooth gaited horses that came to North America with the first settlers. Small, hardy Hobbies, gaited ponies from the British Isles, were used to develop the first American horse breed, the Narragansett Pacer. Bred in the New England Colonies during the 17th century, The Narragansett was a fast pacing horse for racing contests. They also performed a smooth saddle gait, sometimes referred to as a “single-footed trot", which made them favorite mounts for traveling between the sparsely settled colonies, especially in rugged terrain. The Narragansett Pacer had disappeared from the New England colonies by the early 1800s when road development led to greater demand for trotting breeds. The breed did not vanish into extinction, however. Small populations continued to thrive in the Appalachian regions where horseback travel prevailed, not only because road development lagged, but because the Appalachian horsemen loved a smooth riding horse.

In Eastern Kentucky, the descendants of these horses were simply referred to as “ Ky saddle horses” or “mountain horses". They were expected to be able to work the fields or carry a rider comfortably, whichever was needed on a given day. While the rugged topography isolated Appalachia, it didn’t prevent the traveling Doctor, Preacher, Frontier Nurse or schoolteacher from reaching their destination. In addition, the postal carriers still had mail to be delivered and salesmen had to make their rounds to the local stores. These folks, as well as many others relied on their “old Ky Saddlers” for daily chores, plowing, pulling buggies and general transportation.

Genetic testing has shown the Mountain Pleasure Horse to be ancestral to all American gaited breeds. From the early 1900s until the early 1940s, people involved in the development of the Tennessee Walking Horse made regular forays into eastern KY to find well-gaited mares to put to their foundation Walking Horse stallions. These quality mountain saddle mares contributed greatly to the Tennessee Walking Horse breed. Similarly, they were sought out to lock in the smooth gaits of the American Saddlebred and later, the Rocky Mountain Horse.

The Mountain Pleasure Horse Association was formed in 1989, with goals to preserve the bloodlines and encourage the breeding of Mountain Pleasure Horses.  

On September 29, 1994, Brereton C. Jones, Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky issued a very unique proclamation which recognized the importance of the Mountain Pleasure Horse. In this proclamation, Jones acknowledged that breeders in Eastern Kentucky had developed a unique breed of horse known for its gentle disposition, smooth gait, work ethic and sure-footedness. He noted that these horses had been bred for 160 traceable years and that research by the University of Kentucky found them to be the parent stock of all other American gaited horse breeds. A photocopy of this document can be viewed on this website.




























Due to the genetic importance and small numbers of Mountain Pleasure Horses, the Equus Survival Trust has placed the Mountain Pleasure Horse on their watch list, with their status listed as “critical”. Because of their unique place in gaited horse history, Mountain Pleasure Horses have been used in a number of genetic studies, most recently the Horse Genome Research Project.


From 1994 to 2009, the MPHA books remained closed to outside horses. In March, 2009, the then MPHA board of directors opened the books to allow appendix horses and “outstanding mountain stallions” to be registered under certain circumstances. The stated purpose of this was to increase the number of breeding horses within the registry. In 2014, as MPHA board members reviewed the registry and it's overall effects on the breed, it was determined that appendix program had brought about negative consequences. To counteract that, also in 2014, The MPHA board separated the registry into two divisions: Purebreds and Appendix. Appendix horses continue to qualify for participation in all MPHA events, but maintain appendix designation in the database. Also, MPHA does not offer a "grading up" policy and the progeny of Appendix horses will continue to be listed in the Appendix registry, with only horses descended from the original foundation or purebred stock included in the Purebred section of the registry.


In current times, the Mountain Pleasure Horse is primarily being used as a favorite trail mount, for competitive obstacle and trail obstacle events, as well as an 18 horse mounted drill team which performs at events and venues all over the country including the world renown "Breyerfest" and breed demonstrations at the Kentucky Horse Park several times a year. . MPHA offers a Trail Riders Mileage club to members who wish to track their trail miles and earn awards, as well as a competitive obstacle course series for year end awards and prizes through the Association. Mountain Pleasure Horses excel at all of these venues as well as endurance, cattle penning and even barrel racing. Their versatility, beauty and willingness is simply astounding.


History - The Dates

“We’ben breeding and using the Mountain Pleasure Horse in my family clear back to Grandpa J. C. Stamper. I’m guessing now, but I believe he was born about 1815, “says Marion Stamper, himself 81, born in 1903, the son of Tom Stamper – born 1881, and grandson of Lewis Green Stamper – born 1848. (Marion was mistaken – the date on the tombstone in the Stamper Family Cemetery shows J. C. Stamper to be born in 1812). He wasn’t wrong about himself, his Daddy, his Daddy before him, and his Daddy before him breeding and trading the Mountain Pleasure Horse.


“We just called him the Mountain Horse back then. That “Pleasure” part is new. We didn’t have much time for “pleasure” – except maybe on Sundays” he remarks. “Horses up here had to work for a living- they still do for that matter. No one could afford a horse that only rode good, but wouldn’t work. People up here had families to feed. There weren’t stores in those days. You ate what you grew. We all had big families that had to eat come winter. I learned what I know from my Daddy, and he got it from his Daddy. We’ve always been in the horse tradin’ business and farming too, of course. That’s all we ever knew to do”.


Marion then stated that the family land in Stamper Branch (an area near Hazel Green, in Wolfe County, KY) has been in the family “ever since Homestead. Never has been sold.”


From Alfred Prewitt, a resident of Mt. Sterling, KY (Montgomery County) and Fayetteville, N.C.: “My family has been raising these horses since way before the Civil War. Showing a photo of Vergeland, as it looked back in 1841 when the barn was completed. It was a two story barn. The carriage house was at ground level, and the stabling area was underground, carved out of the limestone.”

“There’s a family story about a great great grandmother of ours Anne Kenney. They say she saw a horseman trotting real fast up the road towards her. “Where are you going in such a hurry, she asked the rider. “Mr. Lincoln’s dead. Mr. Lincoln’s dead.” They say she said, “Well, you will be down to the barn and get yourself a good one. Just leave yours there.” A month later he brought the horse back and asked to buy it.

Great great grandfather, Caswell Prewitt, built that house for his 12 children, and the barn for his Mountain Horses. The barn was completed in 1841,” concluded Al Prewitt. “He had his horses even earlier than that, and we have had them ever since, too. I know that they’re my family’s


“Living History.”

How the Blood Stayed True

The terrain of Eastern Kentucky is mountainous – Appalachian style. Coal mining is still a major industry in these parts. Between the steep hills run crevices or “hollows”, usually containing a running creek or small river. In these hollows (sometimes called creeks or branches), the early Kentucky settlers made their homes, hunting and farming up the steep hillsides. Harsh and inaccessible, the terrain provided the early Kentuckians the privacy they sought.

“The original settlers of these hills came here from the other colonies. This was frontier country in those days. They were independent kind of folks. They had their own ideas, and they kept to themselves. They didn’t like to fool much with people,” says Dr. Gordon Layton, a well known equine veterinarian, of Paris, Kentucky, and one of the founders of the Mountain Pleasure Horse Association.

“They could do just a bout anything. They made what they needed. If they couldn’t make it, they did without it. Some people might call them backward in some ways, but they still don’t need civilization to be productive. They made these harsh mountains and climate provide for them and their families, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. Modern conveniences are nice to have, and they do have them. The important thing to remember about the mountain people is that they don’t NEED them”.

You might not want to live that way, but you have to respect it”, Layton adds.

“Only a few people ever bothered keeping track of the bloodlines since it was really a “community” thing. Someone along the creek had a good stallion – the kind whose colts worked good and rode the best. Mare owners along the creek bred to him. Everyone mostly stayed around their own branch.” says Paul Stamper, son of Marion.

Because the Eastern Kentucky horsemen lived pretty well within their “hollows’ and creek, many horses had the same name, i.e. “Rex”, “Buck”, “Star”, “Major”, “Silver”, and “Ginger”. They became known outside their hollows by the family name that owned them: “Brewer’s Pearl”. “Chaney’s Palomino Mare”, “Oldfield’s Silver Mare”, “Little’s Silver”, “Cable’s Rex”, “Coffey’s Major” even a “Stamper stallion” (often palomino for that was local/family specialty) and “Ebb Montgomery stock”.

Further confusing the issue, it seems “Oldfield’s Silver”, was in fact by Little’s Silver. Horses were often named for their color, such as “Copper” and “Ginger”. Sometimes they weren’t named at all, just identified by the mountain horsemen as “Cable’s Good Yellow Mare”. These horsemen knew, of course, which mare they meant and that she was different from Cable’s other good yellow mares.

The most unique name of all was “Big’un Goodpasture’s Horse”. This particular horse, a black, is said to be the Black Squirrel line that was so much a part of the beginnings of the American Saddlebred registry.

Walk these hills, or lock in your 4wheel hubs and drive these hills and talk to these folks. Everyone has glowing tales of getting a wonderful colt, or knowing of a wonderful colt sired by “The Goodpasture Horse”, or “Big Good” as they’ll also refer to him.

Tracing these bloodlines would be completely impossible for an outsider, but to these mountain horsemen, however, they are as clearly distinct as if they each had their own color. Listening as they proudly talk of the almost unbelievable feats these animals performed with regularity, and which, by survival needs, were a requirement, You’ll hear certain names repeated “Rex, “Buck”, but without a guide, you’ll never know that the horse being discussed is Jasper Jones’ Bucky, or Cable’s Rex, for there are countless d Rex and Bucky horses totally unrelated.


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