FARMINGTON — High-stepping Zeus flew over the wooden poles spaced out across the floor of the dirt arena like they weren’t even there.
Rider Dennis Bromley, 39, of Erda, in Tooele County, bounced slightly in the saddle as he took his white horse through the pattern. But the ride was never rough enough to even jiggle the white cowboy hat perched on his head.
“Even while transitioning, they have one leg on the ground, avoiding the jarring (motion of coming in contact with the ground),” Bromley said of his fox-trotting horse.
Bromley, who has been part of the Utah Fox Trotter Horse Association for a decade, is one of 50 riders competing in the Great Western Celebration at the Legacy Events Center, 151 S. 1100 West.
The daylong competition, free to the public, continues today through Saturday, with events beginning at 8 a.m. each day.
The competitive show, offering riders trophies, ribbons, tack and cash prizes, features riders from several Western states, with competitors ranging in age from 9 to 78, officials said.
“They come every year. They are pretty regular,” Davis County Legacy Events Center Director Dave Hansen said of the association, which is paying $2,000 to rent the county’s facilities, including its air-conditioned indoor horse arena, for four days.
Riders compete in four categories, said competitor Mark Goss, of Corvallis, Mont. The categories consist of the model classes, to determine the best-looking fox-trotter; performance classes, to determine the horses with the best gait; versatility classes, which involve both a trail and reining competition; and a ranch horse class, which involves cattle work.
“(The competition) also shows people that these (horses) are not just foo-foo horses,” said Goss, who is with the Big Sky Fox Trotter Horse Association.
All of the horses competing in Farmington are Missouri Fox Trotters, naturally bred to have a fox-trot gait, Goss said. “When they drop out of Mommy, in two days, they are fox-trotting.”
And what is fox-trotting?
It is when the front legs of the horse are walking and the back legs are trotting, giving the animal a high-step gait, said competitor Craig Dansie, of Cody, Wyo.
Fox-trotting horses, when in motion, always have at least one foot on the ground, allowing them to ride “flat,” or “parallel,” preventing the horse from rising up and bringing all four of its feet completely off the ground to gallop, riders explained.
The motion significantly reduces the impact on the rider.
“These horses extend a rider’s riding career,” because their natural gait offers a smoother ride, Goss said.
“Most people get to a certain age and can’t ride anymore because of bad knees or a bad back,” said Goss, 64. Older riders on a fox-trotting horse can go all day with younger riders on stock horses, he said.
One association member described the difference between a fox-trotting horse and a stock horse by comparing the ride of a Cadillac to a Jeep.
Fox-trotting horses, often used as trail horses because of their ride, disposition and stamina, have been in existence for hundreds of years, officials said.
But, Goss said, it is only since 1948, beginning in Ava, Mo., the birthplace of the National Fox Trotter Horse Association, that the horses have been registered.