Tennessee Walking Horse

  • HEIGHT: 14.3–17 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Tennessee
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: Naturally smooth-gaited, known for nodding their head at the running walk
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Trail, pleasure, and showing

The Tennessee Walking Horse is American made. It was bred to work from a number of breeds that are still common, as well as from the Canadian Pacer, now extremely rare, and the Narragansett Pacer, which has vanished. Walking Horses gained fame for their free, smooth, and comfortable gaits, which they passed on to their offspring, as well as for their easy speed and ability to navigate the rocky hills of central Tennessee.

Although many people today know Walkers only as show horses, the breed originated as a highly functional, hardworking horse that could perform every job on small farms and large plantations, from pulling plows to taking the children to school and the family to church. They also raced, and before the Civil War good horses were often shipped by rail to compete in horse shows. Even show horses worked all week at home, however, frequently at very mundane tasks, and attended shows on occasional weekends.

Very early breeders of Walking Horses brought in gaited Spanish Mustangs from Texas to Natchez, Mississippi, and then up to the excellent limestone-based pastures of middle Tennessee. Primary development of the breed centered in about six counties in roughly the center of the state. Breeders crossed these horses on pacing and trotting stock to produce a new breed known for a time as Tennessee Pacers. These horses also owed a great deal to both Canadian and Narragansett Pacers that had been brought in from North Carolina by early pioneers as far back as 1790. North Carolina was quite famous for horses of these breeds, as well as for some fine Thoroughbreds.

In 1886, a cross between the stallion Allendorf from the Hambletonian line of trotters and Maggie Marshall, a Morgan, whose family contained many great Morgan racehorses, produced a black colt with a white blaze, an off-hind coronet, and a near-hind sock. His name was Black Allen. Although he was small, his royal trotting pedigree meant that great things were expected of him as a harness racing horse. He was a complete failure, however, because he would not trot at all. He wanted only to pace, and no amount of training changed that. Although he paced the mile in 2:25, which was very fast for that era, he was never raced and instead was used as a breeding stallion.

Albert Dement, of Wartrace, Tennessee, purchased Black Allen, also known simply as Allen, at the age twenty-three. Dement wanted to produce a breed of horses that would naturally perform the running walk. Allen bred 111 mares the last year of his life, before he died at age twenty-four. Among the mares he bred during his long career was Gertrude, a red roan with four white socks and a bald face. Her pedigree traced back to the great foundation sires of the American Saddlebred, Morgan, and Standardbred breeds.

The Tennessee Walker is a three-gaited horse, performing the flat-foot walk, the running walk, and the canter.

In 1904, this union produced Roan Allen, a strikingly beautiful horse whose natural gaits included the flat-foot walk, the running walk, and the trot, as well as the fox walk, the fox trot, the slow gait, and the rack. He performed superlatively at all gaits, winning many classes in a variety of styles. Observers noted the long overreach of his hind legs in front of the tracks of his front feet at each stride and his habit of nodding his head when he worked, which is now a characteristic of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Roan Allen sired many of the most famous Walking Horses in the breed’s history.

Registry History

Although horses that sometimes performed the running walk had been around since well before the Civil War, the effort to build a true breed did not really start until Dement began his operations in the early 1900s. The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ Association was formed in 1935, at which time it designated the little stallion Black Allen as the foundation sire of the breed. He is now known as Allen F-1. The Tennessee Walking Horse was developed not only through his son Roan Allen, F-38, but also through others of his get that were crosses to Tennessee Pacers.

These horses can now be found in all fifty states and many other countries. The studbook was closed in 1947, and from that point on all Tennessee Walkers had to have two registered Tennessee Walking Horse parents. In 1974, the association’s name was officially changed to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA).

The Tennessee Walker is refined and elegant, yet solid and muscular.

Breed Characteristics

Walkers make excellent family and trail horses and are often ridden at field trials for upland game dogs. Because of their comfortable gaits, they are a good choice for riders with a bad back or bad knees. They generally have a very quiet disposition and are ideal for both young and timid riders, as well as for those with physical limitations.

Conformation

Tennessee Walkers stand between 14.3 and 17 hands high and weigh from 900 to 1,200 pounds. They are refined and elegant, yet solidly built. The coarseness that was once common in the breed has largely disappeared. The modern Walker should have a pretty head with small, well-placed ears, a long neck, long sloping shoulders, a fairly short back with strong coupling, and long sloping hips. The bottom line is longer than the topline, allowing for length of stride.

On this horse, the bottom line is longer than the topline, typical of Tennessee Walkers. This conformation contributes to the long strides of the running walk.

Color

Tennessee Walkers come in all solid colors and roans as well as pintos. No color is discriminated against.

Gait

Tennessee Walkers naturally perform three gaits: the flat-foot walk, the running walk, and the canter. The flat-foot walk is comparable to the walk in other breeds, though Walkers usually effortlessly outwalk other breeds, traveling between four and eight miles an hour. Their famous running walk is an extremely long, fast, gliding walk that can cover from ten to twelve miles an hour. As the speed increases, the hind feet overstep the tracks left by the front feet by six to eighteen inches. The greater the overreach, the better the horse is considered to be, because this gives the rider the feeling of unbelievably smooth gliding power. The horses often relax some muscles while they perform the running walk, so many nod their head and neck, swing their ears, or even click their teeth in rhythm with the gait. The third gait is the canter. Walkers are known for the lift and fall of the forequarters at the canter, producing what is often called a rocking-chair gait.

In the show ring, Tennessee Walkers compete in several divisions of classes. Show horses that compete with built-up pads under heavy shoes, take giant strides, and have astonishing overreach of the hind feet, particularly at the running walk, are sometimes informally known as “Big Lick” Walkers. These horses are also shown in a Plantation division, with moderately heavy shoes, and a Lite Shod division with more typical, ordinary shoes of the type one would use for trail riding.

BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES

According to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association (founded in 1935):

  • Since the registry opened, 450,000 horses have been registered.
  • Between 13,000 and 15,000 new foals are registered each year.
  • The breed is found everywhere in the United States, but is most common in the southern and southeastern states.