by Janet Esther

Old Fox

Over 54,000 Missouri Fox Trotters have been registered since MFTHBA was founded in 1948. Out of that number, thirty-eight have won the title of World Grand Champion in open competition under saddle. Descendants of Old Fox have captured twenty-five of the thirty-eight titles. Since 1975, all of the World Grand Champions but three have carried Old Fox blood.

Old Fox mouthed eleven years of age when he arrived in Springfield Mo. in a load of horses shipped in on the Frisco Railroad in 1924. Some claimed that he came from Kentucky because he was undeniably cast in the mold of saddle horses from that region, but nobody really knew where he came from.

The stallion had sleek chestnut hair and stood slightly under 15 hands. In motion, he gave the impression of being much larger. He was ridden too hard to ever get fat, and his head was described as sensible rather than pretty. His photo reveals large, intelligent eyes and a long neck tapering into a fine throat. His stylish, high tail complimented a long, level rump. He was flat boned with correct feet and legs that survived a lifetime of hard use without developing a blemish.

The first man to buy Old Fox after his arrival in Springfield kept him for a short time, then sold him to Ellis Kissee, a stockman looking for a tough mount to use driving cattle. Ellis took the stallion home to the 1,000 acre Kissee Ranch near Ozark, Mo., a small town a few miles south of Springfield. His father, Richard Clell Kissee, operated a horse and mule barn in Ozark. The elder Kissee and his four sons were widely known throughout southwestern Missouri and northern Arkansas as expert horsemen and livestock dealers. Ellis and his younger brother, Kniel, shared a passion for fine horses but expressed it in different ways. Kniel loved show horses and show ring competition. Ellis, on the other hand, prided himself on his ability to break horses that others couldn't and scoffed at, artificial practices like cutting tails on show horses.

Stockman who earned their living by driving semi-wild cattle through the unfenced hill country tended to be very choosy about the horses they rode, and Fox Trotters were the mounts of choice.

Since ropes were useless in timberland, they looked for horses with, the ability to head and haze, give a safe, smooth ride, and remain sound.

It usually took Ellis and two or three other men about a week to drive a hundred head of cattle from northern Arkansas to Ozark, Mo He would telegraph his wife their expected location on a certain day, then she would load her Model T roadster with food and drive to meet them in stretches of country where there was no place to buy anything to eat. Old Fox established a sterling reputation on the cattle trails of Missouri and Arkansas. As a result, there was a big demand for his service.

The breeding fee on Old Fox was $10.00, due and payable when the foal stood and nursed. Mares were customarily ridden to the stallion bred, then ridden home. Ellis instituted a policy that reduced the number of miles that mare owners had to travel.

When someone notified Ellis that they wanted a mare bred on a certain day, he would ride Old Fox to meet the customer. Wherever they met, he would strip off the tack and turn his stallion loose to service the mare. Afterward, Old Fox would walk up to Ellis and put his head in the bridle. One man told of his surprise when it was Ellis's young son who showed up astride Old Fox at one of these country road rendezvous. He went into a panic when the kid pulled off the bridle and turned the stallion loose. While he was trying to figure out what to do, Old Fox went through his usual routine like clockwork for the boy.

The Kissee's son, R.C., took up with Old Fox at a very young age. When he got big enough to ride, Ellis bought him a little saddle. Thereafter, it became R.C.'s job to ride Old Fox two and a half miles through the hills to the Swain Sale Barn in Shadrick where the stallion stood at stud once a week on auction day.

In 1934, when Old Fox was twenty-one years old, Ellis Kissee sold him on a note for $150.00 to Lloyd "Scoot" McCoy, a young horseman in the community. Despite the hard times of the Great Depression, Scoot paid for the horse out of stud fees.

Scoot McCoy described Old Fox's memorable characteristics as an outstanding fox trot, a lot of heart, and an unflappable disposition. He fox trotted with a driving, head shaking, ear flopping rhythm. When he got exactly right, he would pop his teeth to the rhythm of his gait.

Old Fox was never trained to canter; he jumped from a fox trot directly into a run, which made him very effective at heading cattle. Since his riders preferred to adjust the speed of his fox trot to suit whatever they were doing, nobody paid much attention to his flat walk. There was some swing in his walk so it was necessary for him to move pretty fast to walk squarely.

Scoot stood Old Fox at stud every Thursday at the sale barn in Ozark which was six and a half miles from his house. Old Fox knew the routine very well. Every Thursday evening he turned on the speed as he headed home, fox trotting the distance in twenty-five minutes flat. Scoot would check his watch and the time seldom varied.

Scoot rode Old Fox in the first horse show either one of them ever entered. Instead of being ridden in a circle as they are today, each horse was ridden away from the judge to a designated point, then back. There was plenty of time to survey the competition while awaiting their turn, and Scoot decided that he had never seen so many fat, slick horses. The Kissee brothers were there, along with every man in Christian County who owned a good saddle horse. Scoot was awful proud of his mount, but Old Fox was up in his twenties and no amount of feed could put a cosmetic layer of fat over his tough old muscles.

After Old Fox performed, the judge motioned for him to park away from the rest of the horses. Humiliation swept over Scoot in a sickening wave, but there was no way to escape gracefully, so he positioned Old Fox where the judge indicated and waited.

When every horse had been ridden, the judge walked over and told Scoot to ride Old Fox again. Fox trotting back toward the judge, Scoot could see him pointing and talking to the other contestants. Suddenly, he realized that the judge was instructing the other riders on the old stallion's stride and action.

Old Fox won first prize. They received a little blue ribbon and three dollars. It was the only time Old Fox was ever shown.

Notes

Old Fox sired Ozark Golden King, who sired Golden Governor F-107.

Old Fox also sired the B. Mills mare, dam of Nancy Ann F-166.

Golden Governor sired 1966 world Grand Champion Golden Rawhide F-407 and Lady Anne F-2555 out of Nancy Ann.

Lady Anne produced 1968 World Grand Champion Zane Grey F-2815, Missouri Traveler E. 6408, and Sun Dust E. 80-18217.

The Esther brothers, Dale and Dean, are the sons of a Laclede County livestock dealer. Dale, of Lebanon, Mo., owned Golden Governor, Nancy Ann, Golden Rawhide, and Zane Grey. Dean, of Bolivar, Mo., owned Lady Anne, Missouri Traveler, and Sun Dust E. When you see any of these horses' names in pedigrees, you're looking at Old Fox blood.

Send note of appreciation to:
Janet Esther
35511 Olathe Drive
Lebanon, Mo. 65536

 

Copyright 1998 Missouri Fox Trotters from the Past
All rights are reserved and can not be used without permission from Dale & Janet Esther.