Tennessee Walking Horses generally range from 14.3 to 17 hands and weigh 900 to 1200 pounds. The modern Tennessee Walking Horse possesses a definitive head with small, well-placed ears. The horse has a long sloping shoulder, a long sloping hip, a fairly short back and short, strong coupling. The bottom line is longer than the top line, allowing for a long stride.
History and Description
A light horse breed founded in middle Tennessee, the Tennessee Walking Horse is a composition of Narragansett and Canadian Pacer, Standardbred, Thoroughbred, Morgan and American Saddlebred stock. Originally bred as a utility horse, this breed is an ideal mount for riders of all ages and levels of experience. The breed easily adapts to English or Western gear, and its calm, docile temperament combined with naturally smooth and easy gaits insure the popularity of the Tennessee Walking Horse as the “world’s greatest show, trail, and pleasure horse.”
The Tennessee Walking Horse performs three distinct gaits: the flat foot walk, the running walk and the canter. These are the gaits for which the Tennessee Walking Horse is famous, with the running walk being an inherited, natural gait, unique to this breed. Many Tennessee Walking Horses are able to perform the rack, stepping pace, fox-trot, single-foot and other variations of the famous running walk. While not desirable in the show ring, these are smooth easy, trail riding gaits.
The flat walk is a brisk, long-reaching walk that can cover from four to eight miles per hour. It is a four-cornered gait, with each of the horse’s feet hitting the ground separately at regular intervals. The horse’s hind foot will glide over the track left by the front foot: right rear over right front, left rear over left front. The action of the back foot slipping over the front track is known as “overstride”. The hock should show only forward motion, as vertical hock action is highly undesirable. A Tennessee Walking Horse will also nod its head in rhythm with the cadence of its feet. The nodding-head motion, along with overstride, are two unique characteristics which a judge will consider when evaluating the Tennessee Walking Horse and its performance.
The running walk is the gait for which the Walking Horse is most noted. This extra-smooth, gliding gait is basically the same as the flat walk, with a noticeable difference in the rate of speed between the two gaits. Proper form should never be sacrificed for excessive speed in the running walk. The breed can travel ten to twenty miles per hour at this gait. As the speed is increased, the horse over-steps the front track with the back by a distance of six to eighteen inches. The more “stride” the horse has, the better “walker” it is considered to be. It is this motion that gives the rider a feeling of “gliding” through the air, as if propelled by a powerful but smooth-running machine. The running walk is a smooth, easy gait for both horse and rider. A true Tennessee Walking Horse will continue to nod while performing the running walk.
The canter is the third gait, a forward movement performed in a diagonal manner to the right or to the left. The Tennessee Walking Horse canter is performed in much the same way as other breeds but the Walker seems to have a more relaxed way of performing the gait. On the right, the horse should start with the left hind, followed by the right hind and left fore together, then the right fore; on the left, the footfall is right hind, followed by left hind and right fore, then left fore. When performed in a ring, the Walking Horse will lead his canter with the foreleg to the inside of the ring. In the canter, the horse lifts its front end with an easy rise and fall motion, giving the rider a sense of ease with lots of spring and rhythm, and a thrill from sitting in the saddle. This is often referred to as the “rocking horse” gait.
Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders & Exhibitors Association of Washington