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
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 www.twhbea.com. 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 www.nwha.com.