The Tennessee Walking Horse
The Tennessee Walking Horse's claim to fame is its unique gait, the running walk. This smooth, gliding gait is a fast version of the flat walk in which the back foot glides over the track left by the front foot. The horse's head nods in time to the beat, the ears swing in perfect motion, and some horses will click their teeth. These are very rhythmic horses!
TWHs range in size from 15 to 17 hands, weigh approximately 1000 pounds, and come in a variety of colors. The head is large, with pointed ears, a straight profile, large, gentle eyes and flared nostrils. The neck is muscular and arched and fairly broad at the base.
TWHs are large-boned with a level topline. They are short-coupled and deep through the body, with well-muscled, long shoulders and a wide, deep, muscular chest. The legs are sturdy, with broad joints and good bone structure, and the hooves are well-proportioned and tough. The hindquarters are strong, the limbs powerful, and the hock action is horizontal rather than vertical. The hind legs move well under the body. The tail is high-set and is usually very long.
The TWH is best known for his temperament and its gaits. In addition to the flat walk, running walk and canter that are natural to the breed, the TWH is able to perform variations of the running walk such as the rack, stepping pace, fox-trot, and single-foot. Afficianados of the breed claim it to be "the most naturally good-tempered of all horses", saying it is especially calm, steady and amiable.
The Tennessee Walking Horse evolved from Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Morgan and American Saddlebred bloodlines. He was developed by farmers in Mid Central Tennessee (Eastern US) who required an effective utility horse and an easy gaited mount. Farmers and plantation owners used horses to travel through their vast acreages. Because long days in the saddle were uncomfortable, these riders wanted horses with great endurance and the smoothest of rides.
The first horse acknowledged as performing the characteristic running walk was Bald Stockings, foaled in Kentucky in 1837. It would take over a century to establish this trait in the breed. By the early 1900's, a strain of horse had been developed that combined a gentle, calm disposition with a smooth, gliding gait.
Admirers and breeders of the TWH combined to form a breed association in 1935. This organization selected the 115 horses that would be considered the Foundation Stock. The number one foundation sire was Allan, a small black stallion of Morgan, Thoroughbred and Saddlebred stock who passed on an exceptional temperament and the smooth running walk gait. He was denoted in the stud book as Allan F-1. With nearly 300,000 horses registered, the Tennessee Walking Horse has established itself as one of the top ten recognized horse breeds in the US -- the fastest growing of any horse breed in America. It may surprise you to know that two of the most famous TV cowboys, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, rode TWHs.
For more information contact the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' Association of America.
This article was kindly provided by Michelle Staples, Staples Stables