Breeding single-foot horses is truly a labor of love Animals admired for their smooth ride

EQUINE SPORTS

June 17, 1992|By Muphen R. Whitney

KEYMAR -- Many qualities go into the makeup of the Appalachian single-foot horse. The greatest of these is love.

Love of the Appalachian single-foot has helped to define the life of James Grant Betts, who founded the Appalachian Single-foot Horse Breed Association (ASHBA) in 1981.

The single-foot horse and its unique gait had virtually disappeared from this country, but Betts has helped spur a revival of the breed.

Betts, a veterinarian from Asheville, N.C., was introduced to the single-foot gait 66 years ago as a boy of 10 in north central Kansas. That was the beginning of this love affair.

"I rode the mare out to the water trough, and I had to look down zTC to see if I was moving," Betts said of his first ride aboard a horse that possessed the single-foot gait. "I asked my granddad what kind of a horse this was, and he told me she was a mustang.

"When I said that she was such a smooth mover, my granddad said that was because she single-footed, but he didn't know precisely what that was."

With the help of an old Indian friend who was a font of knowledge about horses, the young Betts determined that the single-foot gait is a diagonally moving gait that is basically a broken trot.

When a horse single-foots, he moves both legs diagonally at the same time, as in a trot, but the front foot comes down before the hind foot instead of at the same time.

The horse always has one, and only one, foot on the ground. Each foot bears the weight evenly and the time between each footfall is always the same. This way of going makes for the a very smooth ride on a horse.

Last Friday and Saturday, I had the pleasure of riding Kim's Baby, a Betts horse on loan to Bill and Mary Mellin of Pennsylvania. The horse was spending the weekend in Maryland.

It took about two seconds to realize the joy of riding a single-footer.

You don't have any feeling that the horse is moving at all. The closest thing I have ever felt to this is sailing, although the paso fino horses I have ridden had a similar feel.

Riding an Appalachian single-foot horse is a sensation of love at first stride.

Watching the horses, you quickly catch on to the fact that absolutely no artificial means at all are used in their training.

"They either have the gait or they don't," says Betts. "We don't allow any shoes, pads, chains, long hooves, whips or anything else with these horses. Not even spurs on the riders. You can't do anything that might destroy their trust or cause them pain."

Love of these unique horses and love of their unique gait was in abundant evidence at last weekend's breed approval held at the Keymar-area farm of Marie and Roy Propst.

Three examiners from the Appalachian Single-foot Horse Breed Association assessed a dozen horses from Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The examiners passed four mares of varying breeds (one paint, one buckskin, one Appaloosa and one American quarter horse) as approved to breed; four mares (a Morgan/quarter horse cross, an American quarter horse, a Missouri fox-trotter and a grade horse) were admitted as foundation mares; and one stallion (a paso fino) was admitted as a foundation stallion.

One of the mares admitted as a foundation mare belonged to Carroll resident Anna May Schnell of Hampstead. Schnell brought 3-year-old Miss Personality for the examiners' assessment.

The filly -- "She really does have a 'Missy' personality," says her owner -- is a black horse of unknown breeding who was spotted by Schnell's daughter, Marie Propst, as having the single-foot gait.

As they did with all of the horses, the three examiners -- William and Joanne McCraw and Earl McElreath, all North Carolina residents -- carefully measured Miss Personality to make sure that she complied with the ASHBA breed standard for conformation. They assessed the filly's temperament and watched her move to judge the purity of her single-footing.

Miss Personality passed with flying colors. She scored 80 points out of a possible 100. Mares are required to score at least 60; stallions need to make an 80.

Schnell was visibly pleased with her filly's performance.

"I bought her on a chance, and it all came true," Schnell beamed. "I want to stay involved with this. I like the gait, it's so comfortable."

Betts, in explaining the special quality of the horses, said they all have five traits in common. They love people, they are very gentle, they have this special gait, they are easy keepers and they have lots of stamina.

You can add that they inspire love and devotion.

UPCOMING SCHEDULE

June 20: Mid-Maryland Horse and Pony Show Association at 8 a.m. at York Springs, Pa., 875-0964.

June 27-28: Fifth annual Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Center Benefit Horse Show at Foxfield Farm in Woodbine, (301) 854-6505.

June 28: Lehigh Pony Club English Horse Show, 756-6057.

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