The Tennessee Walking Horse, also known as the Tennessee Walker, is one of the most refined and elegant horse breeds to come from North America. It is a rare honor for a state to recognize a breed to represent them. Only 12 states have designated an official horse! But, this ideal riding and pleasure equine has served as the state horse of Tennessee since the year 2000.
It is a decisively all-American breed, the composite of many other iconic horses to come out of the States. Known for its graceful gait—particularly the fox-trot and running walk—the Tennessee Walking Horse is truly one of a kind.
Tennessee Walking Horse Characteristics
The Tennessee Walking Horse is a light breed that stands tall and sports a long neck. Its coat comes in all solid equine colors, as well as several pinto patterns. However, the most distinctive characteristic of this equine is not in its appearance, but in its gaited walk.
Gaited horses are bred to walk a certain way. There are several "ambling gaits" that these breeds can perform exceptionally well. One of these ambling gaits is the running walk, which is faster than a normal walking speed but slower than a gallop.
We may be familiar with the concept of "speed-walking," but a horse's running walk is a little more precise. The equine's rear feet must overstep the footprints of its front feet by a certain distance (usually 6-18 inches). The horse must also nod its head in rhythm with each footfall.
Tennessee Walkers excel at the running walk, though they are also decent at the canter, rack, stepping pace, fox-trot, and single-foot ambling gaits.
Tennessee Walking Horse Size
The Tennessee Walking Horse usually reaches a height of 14.3-17 hands (59-68 inches) and weighs around of 900-1,200 pounds. Other features of an ideal Tennessee Walker include:
- A definitive head with small, well-placed ears
- A long sloping shoulder and hip
- A short back and short, strong coupling (the back loin, just before the rump)
Tennessee Walking Horse Personality
The Tennessee Walking Horse is a warm-blooded breed, which influences many of its personality traits. Many hot-blooded horses originated in the Middle East, and they are generally short-tempered and athletic, making them well-suited to racing.
Cold-blooded horses often come from Europe. Their gentleness and larger size made them ideal for farm work. Warm-blooded horses, like the Tennesee Walker, generally have the athleticism of a hot-blood and the calm temperament of a cold-blood. These traits allow them to serve as a work-horse, show horse, or pleasure rider.
Tennessee Walker Horses are typically peaceful and willing to be trained. Their playfulness makes them wonderful family horses, and their love of attention is perfect for shows, like the American Saddlebred. They're personable and fun to be around, making them excellent for first-time horse owners.
Tennessee Walking Horse History
As you may guess, the state horse of Tennessee was locally born and bred in... drumroll please, Tennessee! The line resulted from a mixture of several breeds that were already popular in the southern United States by the nineteenth century: the Narragansett Pacer, Canadian Pacer, Standardbred, Thoroughbred, Morgan, and American Saddlebred.
The foundation sire of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed was born in 1886, and the breed was originally called the Tennessee Pacer. Walkers worked on plantations and farms before they entered any shows. Their running walk was ideal for riding, pulling, racing, and navigating the rough agricultural terrain.
In 1935, the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' Association formed (later changed to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association, or TWHBEA). The United States Department of Agriculture didn't recognize the Walker as a distinct breed until 1950. In 2000, the Tennessee Walking Horse was named the official state horse of Tennessee.
The TWHBEA registers roughly 13,000-15,000 new foals every year, making Walkers the most common breed in the south/southeastern United States. They're also the third most popular breed in the state of Kentucky—the definitive home for horse racing in America.
How to Care for a Tennessee Walking Horse
Tennessee Walking Horses require the same care that the average equine needs. But, specific nutritional guidelines and exercise demands vary among individual horses.
You may use the following information as a guideline to care for your Tennesee Walker. It is best to consult an equine veterinarian if you are uncertain about training, feeding, or grooming your horse.
Tennessee Walking Horse Training
Tennessee Walkers are generally eager to be trained, and it's a great way to exercise them. The right training can foster a unique bond with your new companion, so let's look at some techniques.
Different breeds have different strengths, and the Tennessee Walking Horse's strength lies in its gait. These naturally gaited horses should already demonstrate a good running walk, as well as a decent fox-trot and/or single-foot gait.
These natural talents can be improved upon if the horse's gait is adequately trained. Next time you're riding your Walker, try this routine to refine their walking control.
Refining Your Horse's Gait
- Mount your horse and walk them at a vigorous pace without going fast enough to gallop. If a light trot threatens to quicken, pull back lightly on the reins while using your seat and leg to keep the horse's momentum moving forward.
- Maintain this pace, slowing your horse down as it nears a gallop. Prompt for more speed if it drops to a slow walk. Pay attention to the signs your horse gives as it prepares to change speed. If you can predict their movement, you can keep them at a running walk.
- Teach your horse the limits of this pace. Bring it up to a speed that is just below a gallop and hold them there. The horse may try to break into a faster gait, but keep them as close to the edge as possible without galloping. This improves the animal's form and control.
- If the horse breaks into a gallop, halt them and ask for a few backward steps. These backward steps will help train the Walker to keep their weight rearward, which assists speed and timing.
- If your horse is not responding well to the reins, try pulling with a little less pressure. Be cautious of the reins getting too loose, however, because the horse may shift its weight forward. A horse that's heavy on the forehand won't be able to maintain a gait while riding.
- Once your Tennessee Walking Horse is riding well, try using a half-halt. A halt brings a horse to a full stop, while a half-halt is like a fake-out. You pull back lightly on the reins, and the horse begins to come to a stop. Before they can stop, ask them to continue moving forward. It is similar to tapping the brakes on a car instead of coming to a stop.
Nutrition and Feeding for Tennessee Walking Horse
Tennessee Walking Horses generally need about 15,100 calories daily, meaning 12lbs of fresh grass, hay, or rolled oats. Their diet should maintain a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, and vitamins. You can provide treats like carrots and apples in moderation.
Some horses might need additional nutritional concentrates to support their diet. Concentrates can be any combination of grains, cereals, minerals, and other beneficial ingredients. For example, CBD horse pellets can help balance their system and improve their wellbeing.
Concentrates and supplements are commonly used for weight gain, energy, or general health. Not all horses need concentrates, so it is a good idea to consult a veterinarian before adding them to your equine's diet.
Coat Color And Grooming
Tennessee Walkers can come in any solid color and several pinto patterns. As often as you can, spot-clean your horse and their stall to minimize flies and the risk of infection. Establish a regular grooming routine for your horse based on their activity level.
Show horses may need daily grooming, while those used for pleasure riding might need just two or three grooming sessions a week. Ensure that you're grooming your Tennessee Walking Horse at least weekly. Fortunately, grooming can be an enjoyable bonding experience for both horse and owner.
After riding or training, hose your Walker down to prevent hovering flies. Use a curry comb on the horse's body, brushing in circular motions to eliminate dust, mud, and other debris. Next, run mane and tail combs through the Walker's hair, freeing any matted or dead hair.
A body brush will remove anything on the horse's coat that the curry comb did not catch. Next, use a finishing brush to bring out even more shine. Finally, gently wipe the horse's face with a dampened sponge or cloth, paying extra attention to the muzzle and eyes.
It is always a good idea to check a Tennessee Walker's hooves for any rocks or dirt that need to be picked out. Leaving rocks and other debris in their hooves or horseshoes can cause damage and pain to your horse, and even an infection later down the road.
Tennessee Walkers are typically healthy, but they are prone to certain health issues, including:
Navicular Disease is a complex condition that can eventually lead to lameness. The exaggerated gaits of Tennessee Walking Horses make them more susceptible to this disease.
Consider using cushion shoes or pads on your Walker's hooves to minimize the risk of Navicular disease. This condition is incurable, but corrective shoeing, medication, and surgery can help relieve a horse in pain.
Laminitis refers to inflammation of the tissue between the hoof wall and pedal bone. This condition is common but extremely painful for the horse. Symptoms include lameness, unusual hoof growth rings, shifting weight between feet when resting, or increased digital pulses.
The condition is not often fatal, and medicines can reduce the pain. Because carbohydrates can aggravate the problem, it is a good idea to feed affected horses hay low in carbs.
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Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis
Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis manifests as uncontrollable muscle twitches, weakness, or paralysis. This is an inherited condition, but dietary changes could spur improvement.
If you notice repeated shaking or trembling in your Walker, avoid high potassium feeds (alfalfa hay, brome hay, canola oil, etc.). Try replacing them with grains such as oats, corn, wheat, and barley. If the problems persist, consult an equine veterinarian.
Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy
Polysaccharide storage myopathy damages muscle tissue and causes stiffness or pain. There is no cure for this inherited disease, but a proper diet can help manage the problem.
An affected Walker should have 10% of its daily digestible energy coming from non-structural carbohydrates. Their fat intake should also be increased to 15-20% of daily digestible energy.
Malignant hyperthermia causes abnormally high metabolic activity, potentially resulting in a fever, quickened heart rate, or rapid breathing. If you catch the disease early enough, supporting measures can be taken. Unfortunately, the disease is commonly fatal.
How To Get a Tennessee Walking Horse
The Tennessee Walker will generally cost between a few hundred dollars and $10,000. Equine prices often depend on a horse's discipline. Because Walkers are so versatile, some are bred for shows while others have only been used for riding.
Check out Equine.com or EquineNow.com to browse Tennessee Walkers and see if any are a good match for you. If you're interested in a registry or events, check out the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association or the National Walking Horse Association.
More About This Horse Breed
Whether they be a work-horse, show horse, or used for pleasure riding, Tennessee Walking Horses are a graceful and amicable breed that will show you just as much love as you show them. They are relatively low-maintenance, athletic yet mellow. Plus, they're great at any ambling gaits you can challenge them with. So grab your saddle and go meet the horse breed that proves Tennessee can perfect more than whiskey!