The Using Horse
Plantation Horses Emerge as a Pleasure Breed Apart.
In doing the research for this article, many of the stories
to be found about McCurdy Plantation Horses begin with a description
of the Deep South. They speak of Tara-like mansions under
moss-draped oaks and gaited horses gliding along emerald lanes.
I too can wax nostalgic, because the reason behind these fancies
is practical: Plantation life required a lot out of its horses.
And Alabama plantation life is how McCurdy Horses emerged
as a well-protected distinct breed of saddle horses, heralded
by their owners as the perfect combination of strength, temperament
and above all, a comfortable ride.
McCurdy horse is strong, yet refined, with a broad chest,
short back and rounded hip.
ride a McCurdy is to fall instantly and irrevocably in love,”
says Cindy Johnson, president of the South Carolina chapter
of the McCurdy Plantation Horse Association (McPHA). “I’ve
owned so many other breeds, but when it’s time to hook
up the trailer, it’s always a McCurdy that I load.”
Bishop, also of South Carolina, describes himself as an “end-user.”
His McCurdy Rusty is a 14’2” seven-year-old gelding,
who carries this 6’3”, 230 pound, 60-year-old
horseman all day long with safety and ease. “He’s
my ‘using horse’ – short-coupled, strong
and a pleasure to ride.”
idea of “pleasure” doesn’t necessarily concur
with what a show judge might be looking for. In fact, Tommy
(and others throughout the horse world) doesn’t always
agree with the direction some breeders take to achieve the currently
fashionable color, look or way-of-going. That’s not to
say that McCurdys aren’t beautiful or McCurdy owners don’t
show their horses – on the contrary. But it does mean
that the McCurdy philosophy is to keep the bloodline true and
clean of tampering to achieve a certain look, color or form.
And to keep it that way as you’ll see later on, to register
a purebred McCurdy is not as simple as filling out a form and
paying a fee.
While most McCurdy horses are grey or roan, any color except
piebald is acceptable.
Made by God, Not Gimmicks
So goes the slogan on the official website for the McPHA. “McCurdys
were bred for one thing: Transportation,” says Rick McDuffie,
who is carrying on his family’s tradition of breeding
and promoting McCurdys. “There was a time when if you
lived outside of town, horses were a necessity, whether you
owned the plantation or worked the land. The McCurdy was bred
to be the family vehicle, to drive or be ridden to church on
Sunday then to work on the farm all week. An even temperament
and intelligence weighed far more than what the horses looked
like, what color they were or how big or small.”
said, McCurdys range from 14.2 – 16 hands, with 15 hands
the norm. While many are grey, any color except piebald is acceptable
and roans are prevalent. Mane and tails are lush and white markings
are common on face and below knees. Confirmation-wise, McCurdys
are strong but refined with a broad chest, short back and rounded
hip. Well-established since the early 20th century, the breed
reproduces true from generation to next.
are naturally gaited from birth, with no special training
required. According to the McPHA brochure, “They require
little training except to ‘get on and ride off’.
Their natural saddle gait is commonly referred to as the ‘the
McCurdy lick,’ a very smooth, comfortable gait that
literally can be ridden all day without rider fatigue."
brochure goes on to say McCurdys “have a very calm,
easy-going temperament that makes them unequalled as family
horses. They excel at many tasks such as trail riding, field
trailing, driving, and working livestock. Many have natural
‘cow-savvy’ or cow-herding instincts.” Today,
McCurdys are used for every discipline in the field, and show
to great success at gaited shows in English and Western Pleasure.
1999, Cindy Johnson found out about McCurdys while doing an
internet search on gaited horses. Now she describes a typical
day of riding as “five-to-six hours on the trail is a
normal outing, and that’s traveling about seven miles
per hour, non-stop, in hilly terrain. We ride at least two or
three days a week and sometimes more. In organized rides and
endurance trials, we can ride six or seven hours a day, two
to three days in a row and these horses just keep going, passing
their P&R with no problem. Cindy’s mare, Aria Isa
Dream, utilizes her body so well that she can maintain her gait
all day long without tiring, her seven mph gait having been
described as a ‘resting gait.’
natural saddle gait of the McCurdy horse is a straight forward,
lateral, four-beat, single-footing gait that is very smooth
and is commonly referred to as the “McCurdy lick.”
McCurdy horses also can perform the flat walk, running walk,
the natural rack and an ambling stepping pace.
“They are sure-footed and agile – we can ride
up cliffs, traverse two-foot wide paths, take any footing.
I always know I’m safe,” she beams. “I will
never have another breed.” She is shopping for her 50
acres now so she can start her breeding operation in earnest
and is now one of the leaders in propagating and promoting
“this marvelous breed.”
Thanks indeed to that internet search, Cindy met Rick’s
Dad, the Reverend Richard McDuffie, Sr., who mentored her
in all things McCurdy, found her horses and became her riding
and training partner. The good pastor McDuffie, who died suddenly
in 2006 (and rode hard until his last days), was one force
of the vital team behind recognizing the century-old saddle
horse line as a distinct breed.
A Brief History
Back in the day before engines and four-wheel-drive, farmers
and plantation owners covered a lot of ground to manage their
acreage, sometimes riding 30-40 miles a day at speed. Their
horses needed power and stamina, and comfort for the rider
was absolutely key. Long before there were registries of any
kind, plantation breeders were crossing all types of Saddlebred
and Walker-type horses to achieve the stated goal –
the world’s best transportation horse.
Plantation Horses began to emerge in antebellum Alabama at
the turn of the 20th century. The life-long horseman Mr. Ed
S. McCurdy Sr. of Lowndesboro, Alabama, owned a plantation
that indeed looks a lot like Tara and still exists today.
He spent his life seeking the right balance of a horse that
was a serious farm cruiser and a pleasure to ride or drive
– hard and far and all day long.
Doctor, who was born in 1905, was destined to become the McCurdy
Plantation Horse foundation sire. When the Tennessee Walker
registry was established in the ‘30s, the McCurdy family
horses were among the first registered foundation members
of that breed. The Doctor and his sons John McCurdy and McCurdy’s
Fox were outstanding stallions in every way and Alabama breeders
clamored to bring their finest gaited mares to tap into the
and over, their enduring qualities of strength, natural gait
and intelligence emerged. Today, you can find the McCurdy
family influence on saddle horses all over Alabama and the
Southeast, and most purebred McCurdys can trace their lineage
back to the Doctor.
plantation horses are naturally gaited from birth.
“The regional aspect is really the phenomenon that created
the true McCurdy,” says Rick McDuffie. “For decades,
Alabama farm owners and workers carefully protected the line,
breeding only for temperament and performance.” The
fact that the Doctor and sons so consistently threw type is
what finally turned an unregistered line into a breed.
For the first part of the 20th century, McCurdys were an Alabama
secret, but in the sixties, a horse trader named Henry James
White established a contact and started bringing them to sell
in North Carolina. That’s when the senior Mr. McDuffie
was introduced to the line.
we had more McCurdys and sometimes less, but from then on,
Dad was never without a McCurdy,” says son Rick. “One
thing I wanted to say about Dad was that he didn't tolerate
mediocrity in himself, in his children, or in his dogs and
horses. It was his love of excellence that drew him to the
McCurdy horses. When I was a boy, we had several breeds but
once he owned the first McCurdy horse, there was no going
back. There was never anything to compare, in Dad's (and my)
estimation, with the McCurdys.”
“Mr. McDuffie often referred to the McCurdy as the perfect
back yard horse,” Cindy continues. “By that he
meant that McCurdys can stand in a pasture for months without
being ridden and you can go out, saddle them up and ride just
as easily as though they had been ridden every day for those
McDuffie became a tireless advocate of the line, making many
buying and “talking” trips to Alabama every year.
He and fellow horsemen Roy Rogers (no, not that one) of Greenville,
Alabama and Ron Mann of Cullen, Alabama banded together with
the vision of protecting the McCurdys as a breed. They developed
own contacts with the McCurdy family and in the early ‘90s,
the McCurdy Registry and Association was born. The requirements
for registry are stringent.
order to achieve a foundation registration of a McCurdy Plantation
Horse, you must provide proof of accepted lineage, a video
tape showing all gaits and way of going, and one of the sitting
Board of Directors must see and approve your horse in person.
Again, temperament and “fortitude of mind” are
the key traits and regardless of lineage, a horse will not
be recognized unless he or she possesses it all. Of course
a purebred McCurdy bred to another purebred McCurdy produces
a purebred McCurdy, eligible for registration like any other
the registry began, several hundred horses have achieved it
and the popularity of the breed has grown. Most McCurdys still
reside in the Southeast, but member farms and stallions can
be found as far as Oregon and Minnesota.
Johnson sums it up: “There’s simply none better
for versatility and pleasure. As my equine vet, Lisa Handy,
tells everyone: ‘When you buy a McCurdy, you buy a brain.”
her spare time Terry Temple enjoys riding her two arabians
Ayla and Khody. Terry owns Temple Media, a full service