After traveling over three continents and riding countless trails on every breed of horse, gaited and non-gaited, (gaited being the original true trail horse), Iíd like to share my most recent trip to the Northwest Coast with you. Itís there that I found the end of the rainbow nestled among the Redwoods, Rogue River and Illinois River in a small town with two caution lights called Selma, Oregon. While there, I discovered hundreds of miles of the most wonderful trails, scenery and weather anyone could ask for. Among the treasures of Selma, Oregon is a place called La Flamme Farms, owned and operated by a real horseman, breeder, and trainer named Kim La Flamme.
Surrounded by a postcard view of the mountains also within riding distance of the beautiful coastal beaches, and right next to Lake Selmac on a 120 acres, La Flamme raises and breeds the American Indian Dog and the Peruvian Mountain Horse. He breeds for their natural athletic ability, instincts and their surefootedness.
If youíve never ridden a Classic Mountain Saddle Horse, youíve missed out on one of lifeís biggest pleasures. The Peruvian Mountain Horse is by far the smoothest riding horse Iíve ever found, bar none, itís like having four of your own feet underneath you. Iíve ridden them all and believe me this is it! Any horseman, novice or professional that hasnít ridden one on the trail should do so, then you will truly understand the meaning of "that fluid catty movement" people talk about, but rarely experience.
The Classic Mountain Saddle Horses were created for trails, or at least thatís the way Kim La Flammeís horses were bred and trained. In reality the Peruvian Mountain Horse is an Old Spanish Colonial traveling saddle horse. This incredibly smooooooth breed is around 14.2 to 15.2 hands tall, and its balanced conformation and size gives it amazing agility.
In La Flammeís breeding program, he uses a theory he calls "breeding backwards" to recreate that energy saving, surefooted four beat gait. By selecting the best of all the best gaited breeds and breeding them together he strengthens the qualities desired for bringing back the true all terrain traveling saddle horse of the past.
Just one example is a big horse bred for halter showing does not have the agility of a smaller working cutting horse type. Nor does it have the same conformation or ability to move around the objects you encounter on the trail, but the Peruvian Mountain Horse is as agile as a cat. Iím telling you, you must try one of La Flammeís horses and see for yourself what I mean.
I donít want to sound prejudice, but when youíve experienced the difference itís hard not to be. I own a large gaited horse, but for the kind of rugged trail riding I do, thereís nothing like that smaller athletic old classic Spanish Colonial type that seems to have been bred out of most of our gaited breeds of today.
We rode some of the most beautiful trails in the world through areas where it seemed like time stood still, and no man had set foot before. Along on the ride, we were accompanied by Kimís American Indian Dogs that he has worked to save from extinction for over 30 years. These remarkable dogs were thought to be extinct, but through years of research, a few dogs that had been passed down from his family, and by collecting them from all over North and South America he was able to "breed backwards" to what the dogs originally were, loyal working companions of the Plains Indian Groups. La Flammeís Great Grandmother was a Blackfoot Indian and her dowry was her Indian Dogs. This is how Kim got some of his original breeding stock. As a child, he grew up around these dogs and horses along with the stories and myths. His Grandfather used to herd up Indian mustangs with the Indian Dogs. His Grandfather said, "One Indian Dog could take the place of 5 or 6 wranglers." His Grandfather also saved all of the gaited mustangs and bred them together. At that time about one out of five were gaited. Now, you would be lucky to find one out of one hundred that will single-foot.
I also fell in love with this breed of dog on our rides. At first glance you might think they are coyote and dingo bred together, but as Kim explained, breeding coyote and dingo might give you the look of the American Indian Dog, but it would never give you the temperament and the thousands of years of domestication. Kim La Flamme is the founder and president of the American Indian Dog Registry which is growing and now also exists in England, the Netherlands, and Scotland where they have appeared in the old renaissance movies, such as Rob Roy, The Bruce, McBeth and Braveheart.
Starting with just 17 dogs, there are now over 100 Pure Bred Indian Dogs in the registry. By research and breeding he was able to recreate the dogs, as they were thousands of years ago when the Plains Indians traded with all the surrounding nations, including dogs and later horses. By finding and breeding the remaining few dogs that were left he was able to recreate and bring back the old Indian Dogs, as they were (i.e.) Breeding Backwards.
The agility of these amazing dogs is something to marvel at. While on one of our rides, I saw these dogs do unbelievable things. One of them leaped 10 feet straight up an embankment as if it were nothing, and began climbing trees like a cats. Kim said it was all the years he spent on researching and breeding the American Indian Dogs that helped him with his breeding program of the Classic Mountain Saddle Horse.
The original Spanish War Horse was left in Peru after conquering the Inca Indians and for the next 500 years they were selectively bred further for their working and athletic abilities. Since their were no other breeds crossed in their bloodlines remained pure. Most of the Peruvian Horses used in his breeding program also had been worked and bred for 40 years on a 3,000-acre ranch in the U.S.A. They were of the old Zenero and Bolero working northern lines from Peru. These horses were left in a semi-natural state where only the strong survived. This condition will tell you what a horses conformation should be, not a judge in some show ring or what people find pleasing to the eye. Unlike horses bred for the show ring, a true trail horse has a different conformation. They are slightly cow hocked, long stifles (not bulky), sickle hocked with a lower tail set (tucked under) and long angular shoulders. All of these are considered faults in the show ring, but they are the attributes in a working horse. They allow them to keep their feet loosely and fluidly under themselves. This is true of both dogs and horses. Take a look at any coyote, wolf, dingo or feral horse, and you can see my point and understand natural functional conformation.
The trail horse is bred to perform, not just to look at. However, La Flammeís breeding program also includes some of the most beautiful colors you have ever seen. To Kim, the horseís mind, its athletic ability and its surefootedness are the most important. Itís like stepping back in time to the old Indian and Colonel type ultimate traveling saddle horse with the extraordinary rare Indian and Spanish horse colors that start returning when they are combined and bred backwards, being the icing on the cake. He trains his horses over rocks, through water, over bridges, you ask and these horses do it. They are around dogs, cars, farm equipment and used in their vineyards, nothing bothers them! Through all the rough terrain these horses have tractability as well as energy and spirit called, "Brio" that make the horse and the rider feel like one.
His horses are mostly Peruvian, however, he has chosen some of the more Spanish Morgan type from the Rocky Mountain, Spotted Saddle, Tennessee Walker and the Fox Trotter breeds which allows his fifty or so horses to be double and triple registered. One of the main registries, N.A.S.H.A (North American Single Foot Horse Assoc.) is a registry that is doing great things for the truly working four beat gaited horse. Promoting agility and versatility from Renaissance Baroque Dressage to competitive trail, jumping, endurance, gaited racing, and field trial.
Itís high time the gaited horses are making their comeback along with the American Indian Dogs. Through research and education, we can drop all the old wives tails, prejudice, and silly show fads and get back to responsible breeding practices for functional healthy domestic animals. Like our native dogs these incredible single-footiní horses have almost been lost,---letís bring umí back!