Meet the Tennessee Walking Horse – The Rocky Top Symbol

The Tennessee Walking Horse is a warmblood equine most known for its smooth gaits, making it a great riding horse. Sure-footed and easy to handle by a more experienced rider, a Tennessee Walker has a calm and likable personality. The breed was declared the official state horse of Tennessee in 2000, being one of the most common horses in the southern US.

History and Origins

The Tennessee Walking horse originates from the southern part of the US where, in the late 18th century, Narragansett and Canadian Pacers were crossed with Texan gaited Spanish Mustangs and Standardbred, Thoroughbred, Morgan, and American Saddlebred. Initially used for labor on the difficult Tennessee terrain, the Tennessee Walking horses quickly proved their pacing abilities and their mild temperament.

The foundation sire was born in 1886. Although not used in competitions or events because of his lack of success as a trotting horse, he sired the famous Road Allen. He quickly became successful as a show horse for his unique and energetic gaits and was used to breed other known Tennessee Walking Horses. In 1935, the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ Association was formed. It is now known as the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association since its name change back in 1974.

The Tennessee Walking horse has been recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture as a distinct breed in 1950. Around 14,000 foals are registered as Tennessee walkers every year, most of them in the US.

Breed Particularities

Heavier and taller than the average breed, the Tennessee Walking horse can be easily identified at shows by its flashy movements and the unique running-walk rhythm of four steps.

Physical Characteristics of a Tennessee Walking Horse

The Tennessee Walker is a vigorous horse: well-muscled, long neck, and clearly outlined head, with small ears. The back is usually short and the legs can sometimes be over-angulated to a certain degree.

Height: 14.3 – 17 hands

Weight:  900 – 1,200 pounds

Life expectancy: 30 years

The most common colors of a Tennessee Walking horse are bay, chestnut, and black. However, horses with dun, champagne, cream, or silver dapple coat are not atypical. Apart from solid colors, Tennessee Walkers can also exhibit pinto patterns, like overo, sabino, or tobiano.

A Tennessee Walking Horse’s Temperament

Although warm-blooded, the Tennessee Walker’s temperament resembles that of a cold-blooded equine. It is a calm and docile horse making it a great family horse both for work and for pleasure riding. They are gentle and loving horses who long the company of humans and are among the most naturally good-tempered horses, making professional training optional for owners who acquire them for pleasure riding.

Having a Tennessee Walking Horse

The purchase of a Tennessee Walking Horse comes with certain expenses:

  • A trailer – from $1,500 to $50,000.
  • Tack – $600 on the low end (for used equipment), ten times that value for new, high-end products.
  • Vet check – between $250 and $550.
  • Grooming equipment – $52 on the low end, does not exceed $100.

Because professional training is not mandatory, the yearly maintenance costs of having a Tennessee Walking Horse can be lower than usual. However, this means the owners have to invest some time in training the horse by themselves. While it is not a difficult task, this requires patience and commitment and is recommended for horses to be used in household activities because it also creates a trusting relationship with the owner.

The yearly expenses of having a Tennessee Walking Horse start at $4,400 and can reach as much as $20,000 without training, depending on:

  • Type of boarding.
  • Food.
  • Pasture.

Training a Tennessee Walking horse by a professional can cost $250 for basics and up to $11,000. Other expenses that do not show significant variations are:

  • Farrier.
  • Type of insurance.
  • Bedding.
  • Medical care.

Because its studbook was dissolved in 1947, registering a foal as a Tennessee Walking horse can only be possible if both its parents are registered as well.

Common Uses for Tennessee Walking Horses

The Tennessee Walking horse is most famous for its unique gait and the orderly fashion it carries itself. Over time, two types of Tennessee Walkers have been developed: flat-shod and performance horses. Judges appreciate a flat-shod walker by its charisma and manners. Performance walkers have been a source of controversy because of their double or triple-nailed pads during training and eventing to make their gaits energetic and flashy.

Due to their mild temperament and affectionate character, walkers are often used in equine-assisted therapy. You can check this page on our website to find out more about it.

Tennessee Walking Horse Abuse and Cruelty Issues

The cruel training and use of performance Tennessee Walking Horses has revolted the Humane Society and other organizations. Owners often used heavy build up pads which are nailed through the horse’s shoe pads as an added weight, in order to exaggerate the horse’s movements. This results in a flamboyant gait, but also in sores and pain.

This treatment is considered inhumane and has been banned in most events and competitions by the Horse Protection Act of 1970 and thorough inspections were introduced, but many owners continued to mistreat their Tennessee Walkers. To avoid criminal charges, they would use abusive training techniques like punishing the horse if it flinched when the sore area was touched.

The Tennessee Walking Horse is a breed that stands out in competitions thanks to its sure-footed manner of strolling and the elegant appearance. These horses are the highlight of equine-related events all over the world. If not used in competitions, a Tennessee walker is a reliable help to farmers and other countryside households thanks to its resistance and eagerness. Its likable character makes the southern-US walker a friendly and dependable pet if given the chance and the necessary attention.

Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4.

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