Tennessee Walking Horse
Flickr/Joe Jaupt

Tennessee Walking Horse: Origins, Coloring & Health Concerns


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An equestrian favorite is the walking horse breed is the Tennessee Walking Horse. Known for its unique gait, the TWH is a wonderful riding horse and dressage competitor. 

The Tennessee Walking Horse is known for its unique running walk and even temperament.

A gaited breed of horse that was developed in the Southern United States during the 18th century, the Tennessee Walker is still a modern-day favorite due to its even disposition and smooth gaits, such as the four-beat "running walk."

The running walk follows the same footfall pattern as a normal walk but is much faster; instead of four to eight miles per hour, the running walk can reach up to twenty miles per hour. The horse's hind feet overstep the front feet by six to eighteen inches in the running walk. This overstep is known as "overstride" and prized among Tennessee Walker owners and trainers.

Initially bred for use on farms and plantations, the breed became the mount of choice for many Civil War generals because of its comfortable gaits. In fact, it is believed that Robert E. Lee's mount, Traveler, was part Tennessee Walker.

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Today Tennessee Walkers are ridden both English and Western and used as both show horses and pleasure mounts. The Tennessee Walker is from the middle Tennessee region and is the official horse of the state of Tennessee. They are the third most common horse in Kentucky.

Differences Between Tennessee Walkers and Quarter Horses

white tennessee walking horse trotting in tan field

Quarter Horses are a tough breed meant for working on ranches and for racing. Tennessee Walking Horses are made to be comfortable riding horses with a smooth gait. They are also nice show horses.

A quarter horse has a standard gait of a walk, trot, canter, lope, and gallop. A Tennessee Walking Horse is a gaited horse  with a smooth gait. Their normal gait is a running walk with a four-beat gait. Their variety of gaits are a flat walk, rack, running walk, stepping pace, single-foot, and saddle gait.

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Known for their incredible gaits, finely chiseled head, large eyes, short, erect ears, short back, and long neck, you should try trail riding this breed of horse. They're also used in the show ring and a popular breed at horse shows. Many members of this breed can even perform the foxtrot!

Common Colors of Tennessee Walkers

The Tennessee Walking Horse is also known as the Plantation Walking Horse. Much of the line was bred from a horse foaled in 1886 named Allan. His bloodline had the biggest amount of influence over the breed overall, making the horse a stout, heavy horse breed. These characteristics make it lack the grace of an American saddle horse.

Tennessee Foals can be born in many different colors, including black, grey, bay, chestnut, palomino, roan, and white.

Health Concerns

These beautiful horses can have some health issues, including back issues, if they are shod incorrectly. They can develop issues if soring is used in walking horse shows. Soring is a practice where toxic chemicals are applied to the horse's limbs, causing pain and suffering. The practice causes the horse to have an exaggerated gait, known as the "Big Lick" gait, and is favored by judges in horse shows. This can also be caused by shoeing tightly and closely to the horse's quick.

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Are There Any Famous Tennessee Walking Horses?

tennessee walking horse brown standing against fence

A lot of famous horses were played by this breed! One of the horses that replaced the original "Trigger" (Roy Rogers' Horse) was by a Tennessee Walker named Allen's Gold Zephyr, aka "Trigger Jr." The Lone Ranger's "Silver" was also played by one, and the mascot of the University of Southern California Trojans, Traveler, was once played by a horse of Tennessee Walker bloodlines. They're a popular parade horse, as you can imagine.

If you're a big fan and live in the south, the historic Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration Grounds in Shelbyville, TN, is home to The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, which takes place each year in late summer for 11 days ending on Saturday night before Labor Day. The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders & Exhibitors Association (TWHBEA) was founded in 1935 and is headquartered in Lewisburg, Tennessee.

If you need a resource for Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders, then this is the organization to reach out to with questions. Their board of directors is listed on their website and is an excellent resource for all things Tennessee Walking Horse.

Do you have a Tennessee Walking Horse? Show us over on our Wide Open Pets Facebook page!

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This article was originally published on February 21, 2019.

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