"The people living in this region were quite unaware that one day their utility horses would become the foundation of a special breed of horse," Hodge stated. "The existence of these horses was practically a secret for many years to all but the inhabitants of this region."
A registry of the breed wasn't started until 1986, and at one point the breed was on the endangered species list. The reason for its placement on that list remains a mystery. However, there's speculation as to why the population started declining.
The Gordons said a big reason they dropped off is because Rocky Mountain Horses primarily were located in Eastern Kentucky. They were used for farming, and transportation because of their naturally-smooth gait. With the modernization of farm equipment and the invention of vehicles, Rocky Mountain Horses became obsolete. They stopped being bred for those purposes and the numbers suffered. They weren't really known anywhere else, either. The biggest population of the breed still exists in Eastern Kentucky.
They since have been taken off the endangered species list, according to www.rmhorse.com, and a little more than 16,500 Rocky Mountain Horses are registered as of 2008.
Rocky Mountain Horses aren't really used for work anymore. They're primarily used now for showing or for leisure. With 19 Rocky Mountain Horses, the Gordons said this "labor of love" is a lifestyle the whole family stays involved with.
The Gordons became involved with raising Rocky Mountain Horses after their then-teenage daughter showed interest in showing horses. Mark took a liking to the Rocky Mountain Horse breed and decided to invest. The government recently had bought out his tobacco farming operation, and he was looking for a way to supplement his income. He bought a stallion and a mare of this breed, and has multiplied his numbers since then.
Mark said they occasionally still show their horses, which is influenced by the economy. They mainly trail ride their horses on the 100-plus acres of land they have access to and raise them to sell for riding. They're picky about who gets their foals, though.
"You want them to go to someone who enjoys them as much as you do," Mark said.
The uniqueness of the breed makes them appealing for different reasons. The rarity makes them intriguing. Their temperament makes them pleasant.
"I like that, really, about them," Debbie said their gentle disposition.
She said she's not afraid to walk around them or to bathe them.
"They're so much easier to deal with," Mark added, calling them an "easy keeper."
Mark said they are the easiest breed of horse he's ever broke. With other breeds, such as Walking or Quarter horses, standard or mules, it may take two weeks to get them under a saddle. He can get a Rocky Mountain Horse under in about three or four days. Also, he said they don't require "the best of the best" regarding feed or hay.
The breed generally is smaller in stature, too, making them ideal for beginners, children or older riders. Mark added that the aging Baby Boomer generation of riders may prefer them for their size and disposition. Plus, their naturally-smooth gait makes them ideal for riding - and for showing.
"They get popular pretty quick once people get educated on them," Mark said. "They're just as stout (as a bigger horse breed) and will pack you just as long. When you get older you get tired of climbing up on tall horses."
Rocky Mountain Horses have a natural gait that often has to be learned by other breeds for the purpose of showing. The gait of the Rocky Mountain Horse is divided into four categories, which makes competitions nice, Mark said. The Gordons have two of the four gait categories covered with their horses, which include trail pleasure gait, classic, country trail pleasure and park pleasure.
"Nothing is taught, they just automatically do it for the most part," Mark added.
These horses have opened up a world of relationships for the Gordons as well, they said. Through shows and competitions, they have met people from all over the world with the same interest in the breed as them.
Thanks, in part, to the implementation of a registry for this breed, they will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come with assurance that the bloodline is being kept pure. The Gordons said they enjoy talking about their horses, and will share their knowledge with anyone interested in the breed. Send an e-mail to email@example.com.
For more information on Rocky Mountain Horses and their history, log on to www.rmhorse.com.