Morgan, Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Canadian Pacer, American Saddlebred, Narragansett and gaited Spanish Mustang bloodlines all contributed to the development of the Tennessee Walking Horse in the late 18th century. Originally bred as a utility animal for the farms in central Tennessee for riding, pulling and racing, the breed’s smooth four-beat running walk made it a comfortable and flashy conveyance for plantation owners to traverse their expansive estates.
A horse named Black Allan from the Hambletonian family of Standardbreds, foaled in 1886, became the foundation sire of the breed. The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ Association was formed in 1935; they closed the studbook to outside breeds in 1947.
Tennessee Walking Horses have been at the centre of controversy for decades. The use of weighted action devices to create the so-called “big lick” movement desired in performance horses, as well as the abusive practice of “soring,” has drawn loud criticism. The United States Equestrian Federation and many Tennessee Walker breed organizations now prohibit the use action-enhancing devices at shows they sanction. The Horse Protection Act, passes in 1970, prohibits soring, but despite the law it still unfortunately continues to be used among unscrupulous trainers.
In 2000, the Tennessee Walking Horse was named the official state horse of Tennessee.
The Tennessee Walker is a refined yet solidly-built horse with a long neck and head that is carried high, gentle eyes, small pointed ears, a strong back, long, sloping shoulders and hips, and hind legs that are often slightly sickle-hocked (over-angulated). Typically standing between 15-17 hands, the breed performs three characteristic gaits: the flat-footed walk, the running walk, and the canter. Some horses add the rack, stepping pace, fox-trot and single-foot to their running walk repertoire. All are very smooth, resulting in a comfortable ride.
This breed can be seen in most solid colours and pinto patterns, but the most common include bay, black, roan, brown, chestnut, and grey, as well as dun, champagne, cream and silver dapple.
Tennessee Walkers usually possess a calm and gentle temperament, and are known for their dependability.
While many Tennessee Walking Horses are bred for the show ring as pleasure or performance athletes, they are also used as harness horses and can be found in reining and other Western events, jumping, dressage, and therapeutic riding. They also make superior trail riding mounts.
Because of their flashy gaits, the breed has often been featured in television and movies. The Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver, was sometimes played by a Tennessee Walker, while Trigger Jr., the successor of Roy Roger’s original palomino Trigger, was a Tennessee Walker named Allen’s Gold Zephyr.
For more information, visit:
Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association