One of the most unique horse breeds in the world is the Tennessee Walking Horse. Not only do they have an interesting history and foundation, but they also have one of the most uncommon gaits among horses. They are of a unique build which helps them to step out in the running walk and rolling canter that has made them so famous.
The Tennessee Walker was originally bred in Tennessee during the 19th century. As settlers arrived in the area, they were in need of a horse that they could use for work, riding and pulling. They needed a horse that was full of stamina, that was also comfortable to ride for long hours. Breeders crossed bloodlines of established breeds such as the Narragansett Pacer, the Canadian Pacer and gaited Spanish horses.
In the year 1886, a black horse by the name of Black Allen or Allen F-1 was born. His father was a stallion named Allandorf, who was of the Hambletonian trotting line, and his mother was a Morgan named Maggie Marshall. Black Allen was supposed to be used as a trotting horse, but had a gait that made this impossible. This unique gait was passed on to all of his offspring, and he became the founding sire of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed.
In 1935 the Tennesse Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association was formed to promote and preserve the purity of the breed. The TWHBEA is the largest and most prestigious association for Tennessee Walking Horse enthusiasts.
Currently there are over 500,000 Tennessee Walkers registered throughout the world.
The Tennessee Walkers are best known for three gaits, the flat walk, the running walk and the rolling canter.
The flat walk is a natural gait that was inherited from the breeds foundation horses. It is a quick stepping, long reaching walk that can cover from 4 to 8 miles per hour. It is a four beat gait in which the horse over strides his front feet with his hind. This means that the hind feet glide over the tracks of the front feet and land a few inches in front of them. The horses bob their head in rhythm with their footfalls.
The running walk is an extremely smooth and gliding gait, and is the one the horses are most famous for. It is much the same as the flat walk, but is much faster. The horses can travel up to 20 miles per hour at this gait. The horse still nods its head in rhythm with the cadence of the footfalls. In both the flat walk and the running walk, there is very little vertical movement of the hock. In fact it almost appears that the hock never even extends, it only moves forward. At the running walk, the horses hind end resembles that of a German Sheppard, very crouched and low to the ground.
The canter is a very collected three beat gait. It differs from a regular canter in that the Tennessee Walkers lift their front ends much more than average. They almost appear to be hopping in the front end. This is supposed to be a smooth gait as well. The head bob is very important in this gait as well, and it should be said in regard to the head bob “no head bob, no gait”.
It should also be noted that there is much controversy as to the shoeing and training methods used to achieve the “show ring”quality gaits of the Tennessee Walking Horse. While the associations do not condone this behavior, it nevertheless continues. The use of very large pads and other shoeing methods do contribute to the exaggerated gaits.
On average, the Tennessee Walking horse stands 14.3 to 17 hands tall and weighs 900 to 1200 pounds. The shoulder and hip are both sloping, with a 45 degree angle being most preferable. They have a shorter top line and a longer underline to aid in developing a longer stride. They should be balanced in appearance, though they tend to look more rectangular and lack the roundness and muscle definition common in other horse breeds. They should have a nice head and a neck that ties into the body at a good angle. Pasterns should be at an approximate 45 degree angle in both the front and hind ends. They should also have good hoof and bone structure. Common colors include black, bay, chestnut and white, but any color is acceptable. They have a good temperament in general, and are very popular trail horses due to their comfortable gaits.