History of the Breed
The Tennessee Walking Horse is a breed founded from mixing the Narragansett Pacer and Canadian Pacer horses with the gaited Spanish Mustangs back in the late 1700’s. These horses were originally known as the “Tennessee Pacers”. Eventually Morgan, Standardbred, Thoroughbred and American Saddlebred blood was also added to the breed.
In 1886, Black Allen (later known as Allan F-1) was born out of a Standardbred stallion and Morgan mare. He became the foundation sire of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed. Since he failed to perform as a trotting horse and insisted on “pacing”, he was used for breeding. From his line, a foal named Roan Allen was born in 1904. He was able to perform several ambling gaits and became a successful show horse, and in turn sired several famous Tennessee Walking Horses.
The Tennessee Walking horse is well known for its smooth, natural gaits. The Walking Horse performs 3 distinct gaits: the Flat Walk, Running Walk, and Canter. However, many Walking Horses can also perform a rack, stepping pace, fox-trot, single-foot and other variations of the running walk.
The flat walk is described as a brisk, long-reaching walk that can cover from four to eight miles an hour. It is a four cornered gait with each of the horse’s feet hitting the ground separately at regular intervals. When performing the flat walk, the horse’s back foot should fall beyond the track of the last front footfall. This overstride is unique to the Walking Horse. The walking horse is also well known for its head nod in rhythm with the cadence of its feet.
The running walk is an extra-smooth, gliding gait. It is similar to the flat walk with a noticeable difference in the rate of speed between the two gaits. A horse can cover 10-20 miles per hour at the running walk. As the speed is increased, the horse should overstride the front track with the back by a distance of six to eighteen inches. The more stride the horse has, the better the gait. The running walk is a smooth, easy gait for both horse and rider. (Reference: http://www.twhbea.com/gaits/)
In its early days, the Walking Horses were typically farm horses that were favored in the Plantation fields due to the comfortable, fast gaits which allowed their owners to ride all day without fatigue. They were also trusted with carrying children school and families to church on Sundays.
Today, the Tennessee Walking horse remains truly versatile. You will find Walking Horses in the show ring, on the trail, in the dressage ring, reining, barrel racing, driving, jumping, trail obstacle, Endurance Riding, and just about any other activity where you will find horses gathering.
Its gentleness, endurance, willing nature, surefootedness, and natural desire to please lend this breed to perform well in anything his owner tasks him to do.
Famous Tennessee Walking Horses in History
Perhaps one of the most well-known Walking Horses in history was General E. Lee’s horse, Traveler. Although there is some debate in this history books as to whether he was a true Tennessee Walking Horse or not, one eyewitness account of the general’s horse says all it needs to to prove that Traveler was definitely a gaited horse.
“... was greatly admired in camp for his rapid, springy walk, his high spirit, bold carriage, and muscular strength. He needed neither whip nor spur, and would walk his five or six miles an hour over the rough mountain roads of Western Virginia with his rider sitting firmly in the saddle and holding him in check by a tight rein, such vim and eagerness did he manifest to go right ahead so soon as he was mounted.
— Major Thomas L. Broun”
Roy Rogers also rode quite a famous Tennessee Walking Horse. As many may know, there were several Palamino horses which were used to represent Roy’s horse, Trigger. One of these, Trigger Jr., aka “Allen’s Gold Zephyr”, was a registered Tennessee Walking Horse. Roy Rogers used Trigger Jr at stud for many years.
Fun fact: A horse named "Triggerson" that actor Val Kilmer led on stage as a tribute to Rogers and his cowboy peers during the Academy Awards show in March 1999 was reportedly a grandson of "Trigger Jr. (reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trigger_(horse)
Elvis owned several Tennessee Walking Horses on his Graceland Estate. This article details Elvis' love for horses and his Tennessee Walking Horses.
Walking Horses Worldwide
While still quite prominent in the southern states of the United States, Tennessee Walking Horses can now be found all over the US and the world.
A Sensitive Subject
When some people think of the Tennessee Walking Horse, they picture those big moving, fiery horses with stacks on their front hooves, “prancing” around the show ring with much extreme animation. This division of Walking Horse is also known as the Performance Horse, or Big Lick.
There are many within the Walking Horse community who have turned away from this method of training and showing due to the history of Soring and abuse associated with it.
While I chose not to dive too deeply here into the details or debate (there are many groups and web pages dedicated to this subject), I will state my alliance as a strong supporter of the natural and sound Tennessee Walking Horse. I believe the Walking Horse community needs to come together to repair the breed’s reputation and move toward supporting a Sound and Natural future, and de-valuing the no longer prized Performance horse.
Please feel free to contribute to this discussion.