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Fox Trotters on the Forefront

Forest Service Fox Trotters:  Working in the Service of America

By Josephine Cozean Styron

The Missouri Fox Trotter is considered to be one of the preferred mounts of rangers in the US. Forest Service, especially in the Western districts. If you look up Forest Service information on the internet, you can sometimes find pictures of the rangers riding a horse that has a little different gait, a gait that looks familiar to us.

Fox Trotters weren’t used widely in the U.S. Forest Service until a man named Jack Booth recommended their use. “My father, Jack Booth, was one of, if not the first FS employee to use, and later purchase truckloads of Forest Service-Fox Trotters, at least in the Rocky Mountain Region,” District Ranger Mark Booth said via email. “Back in the early 1960s and throughout his career, he continued to recommend the breed in the agency, and they became the preferred horse on many National Forests.” And, why not? The Fox Trotter offered a ground-covering gait, a calm disposition and willing attitude, and sure-footedness. Perhaps one of our breed’s qualities that endured it to the Forest Service was how quickly a Fox Trotter could “get you there.”

Stories abound about rangers who appreciated the time Fox Trotters saved them when they needed to get to a destination.

Fox Trotters didn’t have that many early converts, though. Some Forest Service employees were not impressed with their smooth musculature and smaller size, especially as compared to Quarter Horses. They doubted that Fox Trotters could hold up in places where you had to dismount on the uphill because the downhill was such a long way off that you’d pull the horse down on top of you. Or, trails that were so narrow you couldn’t stand beside your horse, or so steep you couldn’t stand up when you got off your horse. Sometimes creeks were so deep, the horses had to swim across, and the trails were so tangled that only deer and elk could go through them–and, the Fox Trotters of course.

Fox Trotters managed to navigate all of this and more. They also showed mettle and grit, and in the end proved themselves. Finally they were in demand. “When I was on the Bighorn in R2, we had other folks in that area that would regularly come to Missouri to the big sales and then we bought from them,” emailed Nancy Feakes, Recreation Manager of the Mark Twain National Forest. “For some years the FS actually brought a truck back (to Missouri). When I was on the Beaverhead in R1, we also purchased Fox Trotters directly from Missouri.”

Fox Trotters are still in Forest Service use, especially in areas such as Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Washington, and Idaho. “I am currently a District Ranger on the Bighorn NF in Wyoming, and we still primarily use Fox Trotters for our back country work,” said Mark Booth.