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Horse Breeds - Tennessee Walking Horse

Horse Breeds - Tennessee Walking Horse

When you watch a Tennessee Walking Horse high step it around an arena or down a trail, you’re admiring a truly American breed. Its development began in the 1800s, when settlers from Virginia and the Carolinas began moving westward, bringing with them a variety of horses, including the Thoroughbred, the Morgan and the Narragansett, a pacing horse that was popular in the Northeast. As the settlers began breeding the pacers with the Thoroughbreds and Morgans, they noticed that many of these horses were developing a gait that was different to anything they had seen before—a running walk. The running walk was an extra-smooth, gliding gait that was very comfortable for the rider. It’s wasn’t bumpy like the trot. Farm owners liked riding these horses around their properties because they could travel 10 to 20 miles an hour at this easy gait. It wasn’t long before the farmers were trying to breed more of these horses. At first, they called them Plantation Horses or Plantation Walking Horses.

In 1886, a foal was born that would officially become the foundation sire of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed. His name was Black Allen and he was the offspring of a trotting stallion and a Morgan mare. His breeder wanted Black Allen to be a trotting superstar on the racetrack, but unluckily for him, Allen wanted to pace, not trot, so his racing career ended quickly.

Black Allen was sold to a man in Tennessee, Albert Dement, who wanted to use the jet-black stallion to breed his dream horse—a mount that would do the running walk naturally. He bred Allen to many mares, and one of Allen’s sons, Roan Allen, born in 1904, could perform not only the running walk, but many variations of it including the fox walk, slow gait and rack. Roan Allen went on to sire many wonderful Walking Horses that are the ancestors of today’s Tennessee Walking Horses.

In 1935, walking horse enthusiasts joined together to form The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’Association (TWHBEA), a group that continues to promote the versatile breed.

Today there are more than 500,000 registered Tennessee Walking Horses around the world. Tennessee Walking Horses range in height from 14.3 hands to 17 hands. They come in every coat color and pattern under the sun. They have pretty heads, small ears and a fairly short back.

Walking Horses have three distinct gaits, the flat walk, the running walk and the canter, but it’s the running walk that has made them famous. It’s an inherited, natural gait. You can’t teach a horse how to do the running walk, he just does it. Some trainers try to enhance this special gait by putting tall, padded shoes on the horse to make his stride longer in the show ring. Some trainers put chains around a walking horse’s ankles to train him to lift his feet higher.

But, a heavily padded horse can’t go out in a field to graze or canter down a trail with a rider. That’s why there has been a recent movement to reduce the use of pads and chains and to encourage flat shod or unshod walking horses. You can run barrels on a flat shod Walking Horse or take him trail riding. You can pop him over a fence, ride in a parade or compete in a trail class at a local 4-H show. Flat shod Tennessee Walking Horses can do much more than the running walk around a show arena.

For more information about Tennessee Walking Horses, check out The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association at For more information about all the fun you can have with a flat shod or unshod Walking Horse, visit The National Walking Horse Association at



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