A Brief History of the Rocky Mountain Horse Association
The Rocky Mountain Horse Association (RMHA) is a recognized breed association, incorporated in the state of Kentucky as a non-profit corporation, and formed for the explicit purpose of preserving, promoting, breeding, and developing the Rocky Mountain Horse®. The Rocky Mountain Horse® breed has been issued a Certification mark by the U.S. Patent Office and only those horses registered by the RMHA may use this name.
From its small beginnings, the RMHA has developed into a thriving organization with over 25,000 registered horses, as of 2019. The RMHA Headquarters Office is a primary source of Rocky Mountain Horse information, promotes membership in the organization, assists owners with registration, certification, and DNA processing, and offers association merchandise for sale.
Of all the mountain horse breed registries, the first “breed-specific” registry to be formed was the RMHA registry in 1986. The RMHA was established as a direct result of the efforts of Rea Swan of Lexington, Kentucky. Realizing that a systematic preservation of the characteristics of the Rocky Mountain Horse was necessary, from 1980 through 1985 Rea diligently worked on gathering the few remaining breeders of the strain. A total of twenty-six people representing thirty-three horses attended the first RMHA meeting in May 1986 in Winchester, Kentucky. Among the original members of the association were Rea and David Swan, Charles Kilburn, Carl Vivian, Larry Blakemore, Larry Combs, Kenneth Pitts, Wendell Johnson, Kenneth Woosley, Heskle Back, Cecil McCall, Dan Weber, Paul Darrell Vance, Jerry Dixon, Arley Hatton, Anna Faye Townsend, Charlie Centers, and Roger Neace.
Following the first RMHA meeting in May of 1986, a small, self-appointed committee of approximately a dozen members took on the task of meeting each month to develop the breed standards necessary for the registration process. Through various media including newspaper articles, the association’s intentions were made known to the general public. This was paramount for the RMHA to grow in membership and registrations.
In October 1986, the first-ever “open” registration for Rocky Mountain Horses was held at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Kentucky. People who were concerned with keeping the breed alive came from seven different counties. The association was able to register thirty horses that met breed standards that day. These were in addition to the original thirty-three horses from the RMHA meeting in May of the same year.
For the next few years, members like Carl Vivian, Robert Robinson Jr., and Larry Combs had the daunting task of locating and determining which horses qualified for registration as foundation stock. Rea Swan, Ray Smith, and Kenny Pitts, who were appointed as examiners, assisted these judges. All of these judges and examiners were mandated to qualify only those horses that met the breed standards previously approved by the majority of the RMHA membership. After locating a horse that qualified as far as its appearance, gait, and disposition, the process for ascertaining and recording its lineage was an arduous task due to the lack of prior documentation of mountain horse parentage.
The recording process was like putting pieces of a puzzle together. However, after talking to enough people, much of the missing information evolved and the association was able to fill in the blanks. Any vague or unsubstantiated information about parentage was denoted by prefacing the sire or dam’s name on the registration paperwork with “STBB”, which stands for “said to be by”.
In 1989, the consensus of the RMHA members was to close the books for registrations of foundation stock. In doing so, the members were preserving the traits of the breed by limiting further unknown lineage.
One of the ways the RMHA controls selective breeding is through its certification process. The Rocky Mountain Horse is one of the few American breeds that require certification before breeding to produce offspring eligible for registration. This concept is unique and serves the purpose of limiting undesired variations in the foundation stock, which in turn achieves true breed uniformity. It is this certification requirement that allows the breed to be issued a certification mark by the U.S. Patent Office. Consequently, only a horse that is registered and has met RMHA breed standards can be known by the name “Rocky Mountain Horse®”.
Most American breed associations allow the breeding of any horses that are registered, without prior certification requirements. Their requirements for registration of their horses are defined by one of two conditions; either by heritage (the parent stock are fully registered, e.g. Arabian), or by characteristics such as color or gait (the breed standards are met, e.g. Palomino, Paint). The Rocky Mountain Horse® meets both conditions.
Prior certification is required for any Rocky Mountain Horse over the age of three to compete in RMHA shows. The reason for this is because the goal of the RMHA is to select show ring champions according to which horse best meets or represents the standards of the breed.
To be certified, a Rocky Mountain Horse must be at least twenty-three months old and pass inspection by three official RMHA Examiners for:
- Correct gait under saddle, with a graceful way of going
- Conformation and color that meets the breed standards
- Possessing good temperament
- Verification of parentage by an appropriate laboratory testing method
- Stallions must have both testicles below the external (inguinal) ring
- The only exception to the minimum height requirement of 14.2 hands is for mares that are under three years old at the time of certification, and are from two certified to breed parents. These mares can be certified at a minimum of 14 hands.
When certification is complete, the registration paperwork is duly amended to reflect certification status.
Until 2004, there were allowances made for foals born with only one registered Rocky Mountain Horse parent, as long as parentage was verified by appropriate laboratory testing. If this foal was a colt, a Temporary Certificate of Potential Registration was issued that expired when he reached three years old, unless he was castrated and certified by then. After certification, this horse was classified as a registered and certified RMHA Foundation Gelding. When registration paperwork is noted as RMHA Foundation Gelding, it is denoting the gelding was not from two registered and certified parents.
If this foal was a filly, she was eligible to qualify for certification upon reaching twenty-three months of age. In the meantime, if the owner submitted the proper paperwork, DNA samples, and breeding certificates to the RMHA, then a temporary paper indicating eligibility to be a Certified To Breed Grade Mare (CTBGM) was issued if the filly qualified. If the owner wished, all of this paperwork could be done at the time of certification, and if she passed the certification requirements she was classified as a CTBGM. Papers would then be issued stating the offspring of this CTBGM and a registered and certified RMHA stallion could be registered as filly or gelding only.
It is important to note the RMHA By-Laws have always stated a CTBGM is simply a female horse that meets the breed standards of a foundation mare, but is not registered by the RMHA. She remains as only grade status, never meeting the purebred requirements for registration because of parentage.
In 2004, the RMHA passed an amendment to systematically close the books on the Certified to Breed Grade Mare program. Any breeding that was to result in the birth of a candidate grade mare had to occur prior to May 18, 2004. All grade mares resulting from a breeding that occurred on or after that date were not accepted for certification. Additionally, certification of any and all pending grade mare candidates was slated to end by November 18, 2007.
All grade mares certified by November 18, 2007 will remain as CTBGM’s. The rules pertaining to their offspring remains basically the same as in the past. The female offspring of a CTBGM and a registered and certified RMHA stallion are eligible to be fully registered and certified to breed. The male offspring of a CTBGM and a registered and certified RMHA stallion are eligible to be certified by the time they are three years old, but only if proof of castration is provided. It is then that they can be registered as “RMHA Certified Geldings”.
In summary, the Rocky Mountain Horse Association and registry has experienced many encumbrances over the years, but has always emerged intact. The desire to preserve the future of the Rocky Mountain Horse is the driving force to continue through the most difficult of times. The spirit of commitment to this cause is as strong today as it was at the inception of the Rocky Mountain Horse Association and its registry.
This brief summary of the RMHA is provided by Lifetime member, Bonnie Hodge.