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What is a Tennessee Walking Horse?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 December 2016
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A Tennessee Walking Horse or Tennessee Walker is a naturally gaited horse which is capable of the running walk, a specialized gait which is famed for its smoothness. These horses are the result of over a century of breeding in the United States, combining several breeds to produce the desired traits, and as of 1947, the Tennessee Walking Horse studbook has been closed, which means that in order to be considered a Tennessee Walker, both of a horse's parents must be registered.

Several breeds of horse influenced the development of the Tennessee Walking Horse, including Morgans, standardbreds, and pacers. These horses were originally bred for plantation owners, with the running walk being comfortable during long trips to inspect the plantation. Tennessee Walkers are also famous for their endurance, as the running walk does not require huge amounts of energy. Over time, the breed came to be refined and recognized in its own right, and by the 1930s, breeders had established a studbook with standards for the Tennessee Walking Horse.

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A classic Tennessee Walker is very tall, with a long neck and sloping shoulders. Black is a common color, but the horses may also be roan, chestnut, pinto, bay, sorrel, or other colors. In order to be considered a true Tennessee Walking Horse, the horse must exhibit the running walk, a natural gait which can be refined, but not taught; in the running walk, the back hoof overreaches the print of the front hoof with each stride, creating a gliding motion. Many Tennessee Walkers are also capable of other unusual gaits, such as the rack or foxtrot.

These horses are often used as pleasure horses, since they are amiable, easy to train, and relaxed, making them suitable for a wide variety of riders. They also appear in horse shows, both in specialized gaited divisions and in more general show divisions. When Tennessee Walking Horses compete in gaited divisions, also known as saddle seat divisions, they can be shown as flat shod or big lick horses, depending on their training.

Big lick horses are horses which have been trained to have an especially showy, high-stepping gait. Historically, devious tactics have sometimes been used on big lick horses, such as planting tacks in their shoes to get them to lift their feet high; these tactics are frowned upon today. Flat shod Walkers have more sedate, though still beautiful, gaits and a more relaxed appearance. Both are known for bobbing their heads as they walk, and some may click their teeth in time with their gaits.

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Rotergirl
Post 2

From what I know, the gait is natural to the horse; the built up shoes just exaggerate it. The people I know who know the sport say the flat shod (just regular horseshoes) horses also have a defined gait -- you just can't see it as well without the built up shoes.

Pippinwhite
Post 1

I know sometimes that Walkers are shown with special shoes that enhance their gait. The shoes are really built up. If you look at photos of Walkers at competitions, you can see the shoes. So I'm not sure if the gait is that natural, if they have to use special shoes to get the horse to move a certain way. I don't know if that really ought to be legal or not.

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