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The Missouri Fox Trotter originated in the early 1800s, and today the horse breed remains a source of pride and economic opportunity for the state.

Just a decade ago, the Fox Trotter became the Official State Horse, and more recently the Missouri legislature named a 12-mile stretch ofState Highway 5 the Missouri Fox Trotting Highway. The designated route connects Mansfield and Ava, home to the breed’s registry.

The breed, which includes nearly 100,000 registered horses, brings people from all over the United States and several foreign countries to Missouri.

“I think that tourism is important. We get a lot of visitors who just want to see the grounds at our headquarters,” says Cathy Lansdown, registry manager for the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association in Ava. “I am amazed at the number of Fox Trotter owners who have moved from other states to Missouri. It’s a very important part of our state’s history.”

Settlers developed Missouri’s Fox Trotting horse breed in the rugged Ozark hills during the early 19th century while seeking a smooth ride for transportation and cattle work. Now a pleasure horse, the breed’s distinction lies in its gentle demeanor and signature gait. The horse appears to walk with its front feet and trot with its hind feet. Its diagonal, four-beat fox trot offers a smooth ride, as one foot always is on the ground, says Donna Watson, events and facilities manager for the association. Most other gaited breeds have lateral gaits.

The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association was founded in Ava, Mo. in 1948. A group of only 15 men came together to preserve the breed and its genetics. In 2012, the association registered 98,400 horses from the United States and 13 foreign countries.

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The Association’s home sits on a large, 130-acre facility in southern Missouri where it was founded more than 60 years ago. The site includes 17 barns, 850 stalls, five arenas, 334 full-service RV sites and a restaurant. The Association also maintains a museum that displays memorabilia, trophies and photographs of champion Fox Trotters from 1959 to present.

The facility also hosts the Association’s national and world shows including the Three-Year-Old Futurity/Spring Show in June and the Fall Show & Celebration in September.

The Fall Show & Celebration brings on average 500 horses to the Association’s facility. Those horses and their exhibitors combine for a total of as many as 1,600 entries, Watson says. The seven-day show attracts competitors from all over the continental United States and Europe.

“There are a lot of people who come just to watch,” Watson says. “They consider it their vacation.”

The breed also generates some agritourism opportunities for Missouri. Besides the shows, the annual Missouri Fox Trotter Stallion Tour attracts in- and out-of-state visitors on a bus trip to tour farms in the state.

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