Over one hundred years ago, in the Middle Basin of Tennessee, a unique breed was created – the Tennessee Walking Horse. The early settlers of this region who came from Virginia, the Carolinas and other surrounding states, brought with them fine Standardbreds, Morgans, Thoroughbreds, Canadian and Narrangansett Pacers. By combining the traits of these great horse families, the foundation was laid for the Tennessee Walker who developed distinctive qualities of its own.
The most prominent characteristic of Tennessee Walkers is their swift and smooth "running walk." This gait is inherited and cannot be taught to a horse who does not possess it naturally. It is a square four-beat gait with a gliding motion, and a bobbing of the head and swinging of the ears accompany each step. Some Walkers are even known to snap their teeth in time. When performing the running walk, these horses will overstride, placing the back hoof ahead of their forehoof print. Traveling at speeds from 6 to 12 miles per hour, Walkers can sustain this gait for long distances without fatigue to themselves or their passengers.
Tennessee Walkers are also known for two other gaits. They are the "flat-foot walk" which is a slow, bold, and even gait; and the “canter" which is a refined gallop with a slow and high rolling motion. The canter is full of spring, rhythm and grace, and is often referred to as the "rocking chair gait.” All three gaits of the Tennessee Walker are extremely easy on the rider.
Tennessee Walking Horses were developed for the purposes of riding, driving, and light farm work. They also became very popular with Southern plantation owners who called them Plantation Walkers. These men needed horses with comfortable gaits that could carry them the many miles necessary for inspecting immense fields. The Tennessee Walker’s gaits were favored by country doctors who spent many hours on horseback. The traveling preachers, who rode from church to church practicing their sermons on the way, preferred these fast and steady walking horses.
The stallion who was chosen as the foundation sire of the Tennessee Walking Horse, when the registry was formed in 1935, was Allan. This black stallion’s ancestry was a mixture of Morgan and Hambletonian, who was the founding sire of the Standardbred. Allan was considered the greatest contributor to the Walking Horse breed.
In Tennessee the water flows over limestone rocks and the soil is rich in minerals, yielding lush nutritious bluegrass. This in turn produced the hardy Tennessee Walkers making them sound and free from disease. These qualities have been transmitted throughout the breed wherever it’s found today.
Typical Walkers are affectionate, gentle and intelligent animals. The breed is seen in a variety of colors including brown, black, bay, chestnut, roan, palomino, white or gray. Their face, legs and body may also be marked with white. Averaging 15.2 hands, they have a long graceful neck, short back, well-built hindquarters, sloping shoulders, slender but strong legs, and sound feet. The Tennessee Walker’s head is handsome and refined with bright eyes, prominent nostrils, and pointed well-shaped ears. Their manes and tails are usually left long and flowing.
Each year, on the Saturday night before Labor Day, the best walking horses are matched for the title "The Grand Champion Walking Horse of the World." This ten-day show, The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, is held in Shelbyville, Tennessee. It began back in 1939 and is the largest walking horse show in the world.
The Walker is a popular pleasure, trail and show horse throughout the country. Their good manners and remarkably comfortable gaits make them ideal mounts for novice, middle-aged and elderly riders. For quiet relaxed excursions, the beautiful, poised and dignified
Tennessee Walking Horses are indeed a pleasure to ride.
Contributed By: Oklahoma State University