What is a Tennessee Walking Horse

What is a Tennessee Walking Horse [21 facts about this horse you may not know]

Called the “Cadillac” of the horses because of their smooth ride (gait), the Tennessee Walking horse is one of the most popular breeds in the United States. This American breed is recognized as having a calm demeanor, awesome to ride, and an impressive show horse. 

The Tennessee Walker has style combined with strength and an ambling, smooth gait.

Tennessee Walking Horse Description
Tennessee Walking Horse Description

The Walker is a sought-after popular breed that’s perfect for beginning riders and they are also widely used as performance horses.

Tennessee Walking Horse Description 

What is a Tennessee Walking Horse?

(1) The Tennessee Walker is a gaited horse breed that first originated in the southern United States as a farm horse.

(2) Used on plantations, this horse was sure-footed for riding rough trails or paths. 

Eventually, Tennessee Walkers became more popular as a riding horse. The breed has a reputation for its smooth four legged gait.

(3) Gaited horses have a four-beat gait in which each foot hits the ground individually making the ride smoother than a horse that trots. 

Tennessee Walkers’ gait is called smooth and elegant and they are often compared to the Paso Fino (famous for a smooth gait) in this regard. 

Tennessee Walking Horse History

The Tennesee Walker is a light horse breed, which means it is used primarily for riding or light work.

The breed is a composite of the Canadian Pacer and Narragansett Pacer (now extinct), Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Morgan, and Spanish Mustang lines.  

Back in 1886, the Hambletonian family crossed their trotter stallion named Allendorf with a Morgan mare named Maggie Marshall producing a colt called Black Allan.

This foal became the designated sire for Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders. It was a cross between Black Allan and the Tennessee Pacer that created what is known today as a Tennessee Walking Horse.

(4) This is the first horse christened with a state name!  

Tennessee Walking Horse History
Tennessee Walking Horse History

At first, Tennessee Walkers were used as a utility animal and for pleasure riding on farms. Farmers valued them for their sure-footed gait and docile temperament, even while navigating rocky Tennessee terrain. 

Today, the modern Tennessee Walking horse can be found throughout the United States and in other countries.

Whether Western or English mount, beginning riders, or experienced riders, all find these horses excellent for trail riding as well as show horses. 

Are Tennessee Walking Horses Illegal?

(5) No, these beautiful animals are not illegal to own. The practice of ‘soring’ which forces them to raise their legs in an unnatural manner (described below) is illegal.

Tennessee Walking Horse Characteristics

Are Tennessee Walking Horses Smart?

Yes, they are a very intelligent horse breed.

Long known as horses that can perform at a high level in horse shows, work around the farm doing a variety of tasks, and navigate with ease the toughest of trails.

Tennessee Walking Horse Colors

(6) Tennessee Walkers come in many shapes, colors, and sizes so it’s easy to find one with a look that appeals to you.

Tennessee Walking Horse Colors
Tennessee Walking Horse Colors
  • Black – Their flanks, legs, and muzzle must be black, but they can have white markings. The coat gets darker as the foal gets older. 
  • Bay – Bay is reddish-brown coat color. Usually, there are black points on the mane, tail, or ear edges. The horse’s color can range from dark to light, reddish-brown in hue.

    Bays can have white markings on their legs or face. Bay is the most common color in this breed. 
  • Gray – A horse of this color has a mixture of dark and white hairs growing out of dark skin on the horse’s body.

    Foals aren’t born looking gray, but their coat grays as they get older. Dappling is common for older gray horses. 
  • Sorrel – Light chestnut is often the name used instead of sorrel for Tennessee Walkers.

    This is a light to dark golden color mixed with blonde mane and tail. Sorrels are often confused with palominos. 
  • Roan – The roan horse is a mixture of white hairs mixed with dark hairs on the face and lower legs. Roan horses are born with a pattern that gets shed as the foal gets older.
  • Chestnut – A horse that is chestnut will have a reddish to brown color with a lighter colored mane and tail. There are no black hairs on the coat.

    This is one of the most common horse coat colors found in most horse breeds. A chestnut Tennesee Walker will have brown eyes, black skin with some reddish-brown shades. 
  • Palomino – A palomino can be golden to tan coat with a white main and tail. 
  • Champagne – This horse has a pale color that is pinkish or light brown with amber eyes. They’re often born dark and get lighter when the foal sheds its coat. 

Tennessee Walkers also come in solids or pinto (paint) patterns. Pinto patterns consist of a dark coat color with large patches of white or other colors on top.

In various cultures throughout history, pintos have been the preferred breed. 

Tennessee Walking Horse Size

Their height ranges from 14.3 to 17 hands. One hand is equivalent to 4 inches. Tennessee Walkers weigh anywhere from 900 to 1200 pounds. 

They have a graceful long neck with short backs, sloping shoulders, and well- shaped built hindquarters. Their legs are strong, but slender. 

(7) Tennesse Walkers are also noted for their beautifully shaped head with small ears, large eyes, and prominent nostrils.

A flowing tail and mane give this horse a handsome appearance. 

Tennessee Walking Horse Markings

(8) Tennessee Walking horses can have several white markings or none. Common facial markings in this breed include:

  • Blaze – This is simply a white stripe that runs down the majority of their face
  • Stripe – Sometimes called a ‘race’. A long, narrow white stripe down the middle of their face
  • Bald face – A wide blaze shape that extends past their eyes

Tennessee Walking Horse Temperament 

The Tennessee Walker has a docile temperament characterized as gentle, calm and peaceful. They’re athletic and enjoy staying active.

Tennessee Walking Horse Temperament
Tennessee Walking Horse Temperament

Some people say they can be stubborn and independent (what horse is not!) choosing themselves how fast they want to run or walk.

But most people feel they’re easy to deal with and easy to train.

(9) They love attention such as being brushed and pampered. They want to please their riders and don’t get agitated by long rides or inexperienced riders. 

Tennessee Walking Horse Facts

(10) Tennessee Walkers have a reputation for being a refined yet practical breed. Here are some interesting facts about this unique horse you may not know. 

  1. Official State Horse of Tennessee

    In 2000, the Tennessee Walking Horse earned the title.
  2. Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration

    In 1939, the first Special Celebration just for the Tennessee Walking Horse was held complete with a parade and pageant.

    This annual celebration occurs in Shelbyville, Tennessee, called the “Walking Horse Capital of the World”.

    Today, it’s the largest horse show for this breed spanning 11 days and nights in late August and early September.

    Every year on the last Saturday night before Labor Day the celebration crowns the World Grand Champion Tennesee Walker.

    It’s estimated that 250,000 people attend this event every year with over 2,000 horses competing. 
  3. Tennessee Walking Horse Museum

    There is a museum for this special horse! Located in Wartrace, Tennessee, this is actually a small storefront museum that celebrates the Tennesee Walker.

    There are lots of photos, information, and memorabilia. Very cool place! 
  4. Nod their heads

    A Tennessee Walker nods its head as it walks as if in rhythm with its steps. It’s an inherited characteristic of walking horses which is fun to watch.
  5. Rocking Horse

    This is a real-life rocking horse! The Tennessee Walker has what they call a “rocking chair” canter. This canter is a relaxed gait and seems to glide along.

Tennessee Walking Horse Gaits

(11) This unique horse has three defined gaits.

  • Flat-foot walk where each foot hits the ground individually
  • Running walk – faster-paced walk
  • Canter – a more relaxed walk

What is Soring?

(12) Soring has been a common and highly controversial practice concerning Tennessee Walking Horses and performance shows for years. 

This practice is how trainers created the distinctive gait of the Tennessee Walker. It’s an intentional pain inflicted on the horses’ front feet or legs to motivate them to lift their step high off the ground.

Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse Show

(13) This famous Tennessee Walking Horse gait is also called the “big lick.”

Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse Show
Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse Show

Chemicals such as mustard oil, or diesel fuel are used to cause blisters on the horse’s feet so they’ll feel pain when they take a step.

This ‘big lick’ gait impresses judges at horse shows but causes horses pain and suffering. 

(14) In 1970, The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented The Horse Protection Act as law.

This was designed to stop horses that have endured soaring from competing in shows but widespread enforcement has not taken place.

In 2019, Congress approved a bill to end the practice of soring. It’s now up to the Senate to vote to ban soring completely.

Until then, soring continues among many Tennessee Walking horse owners. 

Tennessee Walking Horse Characteristics 

(15) Here is a list of Tennessee Walking Horse characteristics to consider before deciding if you should buy one. 

  • Calm Disposition

    These horses are unflappable, easy-going, and peaceful.

    This makes them great for beginning riders or older riders who enjoy hitting the trails with a lower risk of getting injured. 
  • Not Easily Scared

    It is hard to scare a Tennesse Walker! They’re so docile and stay calm even if the rider isn’t as calm. They keep their cool on the most difficult terrains. 
  • They Want To Please

    These horses are great learners and not stubborn or hard-headed like some horses can be. They want to please their rider and will respond to your commands and praise. 
  • Great Endurance

    On the trails, a Tennesse Walking horse just likes to go for hours. They have an amazing ability to endure. Physically strong and sure-footed for long rides.

    Take your horse on a quick ride on paths around your house or town. They will enjoy the challenge of navigating the twists and turns without wavering even if there is traffic nearby.

    There are lots of stories of people who have ridden their Tennessee Walker through the most rugged imaginable with no problem. 

Tennessee Walking Horse Training Ring 

Experts suggest a circular training area is best for your Tennessee Walker. The ring should be at least 50 to 65 feet in diameter so you can easily ride and train your horse.

Larger rings will allow your horse to run faster and prevent strain on its joints. Some farms also have indoor riding rings or have a roof over them.

Horse Stable

You’ll also need to have a stable or barn for your horse so they can get out of the weather. A horse stable is just kind of like the horses bedroom if you relate it to your home.

The stable should be at least 12 feet by 12 feet. A three-sided enclosure works well if you live in a mild climate.

Horse Stable Bedding

Possible items that make good horse bedding are:

  • Straw
  • Wood Shavings
  • Wood Pellets
  • Wood Chips
  • Rubber Stall Mats

Also, make sure to install a good-sized water tank because your horse needs to drink five to ten gallons of water every day. 

Tennessee Walking Horse Health Issues

This hardy breed has very few health problems if well-taken care of.

They need to be active so give them lots of time outside to avoid muscle atrophy which can cause falls and injuries.

(16) Problems with their feet are their biggest health issue. This happens if a horse is in high demand for riding, especially in the show arena.

Tennessee Walkers may also develop a sore back if they don’t have a proper saddle that is in proportion to their riders. 

Tennessee Walking Horse Lifespan

(17) Provide your horse with a healthy diet along with lots of exercise and proper medical care and they can live up to 30 years.

Famous Tennessee Walking Horses in Movies

(18) World-renowned actor, Roy Rogers had a found horse named Trigger who some say was a Tennessee Walking horse or at least part Walker.

Trigger starred in over 80 movies and many television shows as Roy’s sidekick. 

Trigger jr. was a confirmed full blooded Tennessee Walking horse originally named Allen’s Gold Zephyr.

And the Lone Ranger’s famous horse “Silver” was sometimes played by a Tennessee Walker.

Tennessee Walking Horse Questions

How Much is a Tennessee Walking Horse? 

(19) On average, you’ll spend around $2,000 for a Tennessee Walking Horse, but the cost will vary depending upon the breeder, demand at the time, and where you live.

If you want a horse that is well trained when you purchase it, you’ll spend more money. A professionally trained horse can cost up to $10,000 or more. 

Do Tennessee Walking Horses Get Along with Other Pets?

(20) Tennessee Walkers are social horses that do well with other horses, pets, and people.

Even high-energy herding dogs that bark a lot don’t seem to agitate this cool-headed breed. 

What do Tennessee Walking Horses Eat?

They like the same food any horse likes.

  • Pasture Grass
  • Hay
  • A wide variety of fruit and vegetables
  • Salt Licks
  • Grains
  • Treats! Horses love sweets and will eat candy but we don’t recommend that.

    (21) I do admit to having a horse once that loved peppermints!

    Apples, carrots, and bananas are the best sweet treats for your horse.

Feeding your horse good hay (Alfalfa is the most popular) and grass is natural to them as they like to graze.

During the winter, if your horse is inside more, keep them well-fed and well-watered.

They like to eat vegetables which are good for them, but fruit should only be an occasional special treat.  

Never overfeed your Tennesse Walker since this causes them to become overweight, which could lead to muscle problems, lameness, and other health issues. 

Is a Tennessee Walking Horse for You? 

This horse’s docile personality combined with its strength and smooth gait makes it the perfect choice for any kind of rider, beginner or experienced, young or old.

Characterized as a sure-footed horse, you won’t worry about your Tennessee Walker stumbling on an uneven trail and they won’t spook even with traffic present.

The Tennessee Walking Horse would be a great choice for anyone looking for a great trail riding horse. 

Tennessee Walking Horse Resources

If you want to learn more about this popular breed of horse check out the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association website.

Their website is loaded with great information and interesting facts about the Tennessee Walker.

Another great resource for the Tennessee Walker is the Walking Horse Owners Association.

The Voice of the Tennessee Walking Horse is a bimonthly magazine published for the Tennessee Walker industry.

Tennessee walking horse

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