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The Tennessee Walking Horse

Tennessee Walking Horses exhibit tremendous range and versatility. Individuals often possess extreme talent, heart and kindness.

The legacy of the Tennessee Walking Horse dates back to the 18th century. Canadian Pacers and Narragansett Pacers, among others, were well noted in the Tennessee area by the late 1700s. These, along with sturdy, gaited Spanish stock, and later, Morgan crosses, formed the backbone of the breed that was to come.

When the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' Association of America formed in 1935, the fledgling organization set out to determine which stallion to credit as the foundation sire of the breed. They had their work cut out for them, as the breed had already enjoyed a long history, and many outstanding sires were considered.

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Tennessee Walker Horse

Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association Natural Walking Horse Association
Walking/Racking Horse Registry

Looking back, they recognized MCMEENS TRAVELER as a highly prized, outstanding, pre-potent sire. One pre-Civil War cavalry unit had boasted forty-seven offspring of this great horse, all of which survived the war. Some of the horses under consideration had been commended by General Andrew Jackson, including the stallions FREE AND EASY and COPPERBOTTOM, a Canadian Pacer/Thoroughbred cross. Ultimately, the honor of foundation sire (F-1) went to a descendant of two renowned stallions: Standardbred pacer, HAMBLETONIAN 10, and JUSTIN MORGAN, foundation sire of the Morgan breed.

Foaled in 1886, BLACK ALLEN (later renamed ALLEN F-1) sired by ALLANDORF, great-grandson of HAMBLETONIAN, was the epitome of harness breeding. His dam was MAGGIE MARSHALL, granddaughter of the famed Morgan, BLACK HAWK, and of the best Narragansett pacing lines. Bred in hopes of getting a great trotting harness racer, ALLEN F-1 could trot, but preferred to pace. His racing career never got off the ground, but at the age of 23, he was purchased by a man with a dream.

Albert Dement of Wartrace, Tennessee, envisioned a breed of horse that would perform the running walk gait naturally. He bred the old stallion to well over 100 mares that year. Sadly the horse passed away the next year, but his legacy lives on in the hundreds of thousands of registered Tennessee Walking Horses that have built on his strength and gait.

The hallmark of the Tennessee Walking Horse is that head-bobbing, ear swinging, ground-covering running-walk gait. Some of the best snap their teeth in time to that unmistakable rhythm. Performed to perfection, the gait is a square, four-beat gait that glides along at speeds up to 12 miles per hour as the horse pulls forward from the shoulder and drives in behind with his rear legs. The horse alternates between two and three hooves on the ground at all times, which is what makes this gait so smooth to ride. It is, in fact, an animated walk at speed. Characteristic of the gait is the overstride in which each hind foot strikes the ground ahead of the same side's front hoofprint. This is the gait that covered vast stretches of frontier, carrying country doctors, parsons and snake oil salesmen along in fine, comfortable style.

In certain show ring circles the gait is pushed to the extreme in what is referred to as the "Big Lick", in which tall, "padded" shoes are used. Some of the training methods used to elicit this exaggerated motion are the source of much discord among breed fanciers and criticism from horsemen and animal lovers in general.

The Tennessee Walker of years gone by was a utilitarian animal. He plowed the fields or pulled a wagon during the week, hauled the family to town on Saturday, and to church on Sunday. As a family horse, docile disposition was treasured. Endurance and hardiness, credited in part to the rich soils and pasture of his native Tennessee, were also cultivated. In time, polish and refinement of conformation were bred into the Walking Horse, through selective breeding and outcrosses with such elegant horses as GIOVANNI, an American Saddlebred.

This breed has grown phenomenally and sets many standards for others to follow. With only 208 horses registered in its first year, the association, which was changed in 1974 to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders'and Exhibitors' Association (TWHBEA), has registered over 400,000 horses to date. TWHBEA reigned as the only registry until 1999 when the Part Walking Horse Registry, and the International Plantation Walking Horse Registry were formed to serve those in the Walking Horse industry dissatisfied with the direction TWHBEA had taken on key issues. But through all the politics, the horse itself continues to gain in popularity.

Today, the Tennessee Walking Horse, averages 15 to 16 hands in height, has good bone and substance, with a long graceful neck, sloping shoulder, strong short back, and good feet. All colors are allowed, and some pretty unusual colors are found in the breed, from gleaming champagnes to sparkling sabinos. Long, full manes and tails are the norm. Some lines are noted for somewhat heavy heads and long ears, but others show increased style and refinement. An unfortunate aspect of Big Lick showring preferences is the loss of the natural running walk gait - the very trait that founded the breed - in those lines. But the average the Tennessee Walking Horse is a smooth-gaited saddle horse with tremendous forgiveness and heart, a success hundreds of years in the making.