Tennessee Walking Horse Breed – Expert Advice on Horse Care and Riding
Evolution of the breed: In the mid-1800s, a new breed of horse began to emerge from the rich bluegrass region of mid-Tennessee. Raised by farmers to plow fields during the week, these horses also had to provide them with a comfortable ride on weekends and pull their strollers around town. These farmers crossed horses that already populated the area: Morgans, Standardbreds, American Saddle Horses, Canadian and Narragansett Pacers, and Thoroughbreds. The most popular feature was running, a floor covering gait known to be as soft as silk.
When the first Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association was formed in 1935 in Lewisburg, its founders designated 115 animals as Foundation Stock. The Tennessee Walking Horse became an officially recognized breed in 1950. Horses are particularly appreciated for their three gentle gaits.
Flat running is a brisk, four-stroke gait, clocked at four to seven miles per hour. The horse protrudes; that is, his right rear foot crosses the trail left by the right front foot; and the left rear over the left front. The horse nods gently to the rhythm of his step.
Walking, the breed’s great claim to fame, is a four-stroke lateral gait. In this gait, the Walking Horse can withstand speeds of up to 10 miles per hour, while the rider feels no bounce. At high speed, the horse can protrude six to 18 inches. This natural gait is easily maintained over long distances, a tremendous boon for the trail runner.
The gallop is done diagonally, like other breeds, but with exceptional spring and lift. It is the gallop of the walking horse that inspired the expression “rocking chair looks”. Aficionados suggest you sit back and enjoy.
In 1998, people with a mission to preserve, protect and promote the natural looking, flat iron Tennessee Walking Horse joined to form the National Walking Horse Association. Their enthusiasm was contagious and the association grew rapidly.
The owners tell us: In the late 1990s, Silicon Valley executive Hosam (“Sam”) Haggag visited a resort town on the California coast that featured a small group of Walking Horses. He suffered from back pain from an old football injury and regularly spent long hours at a desk. When he heard of the breed’s “rocking chair movement”, he went for a painless ride – and got hit.
Soon after, Haggag learned that the complex had closed and the horses had to be dispersed, so he impulsively bought the seven horses. His new company, The Walkers of Blue Sky, was born. Today, he owns 15 geldings, all Walking Horses, and runs guided horseback tours along the northern California coast.
“I’ve always liked to ride a horse, but I never really liked it until I rode a Tennessee Walking Horse,” he says. Haggag is just one of the many more and more riders to discover the gentle temperament and gentle gait of the Walking Horse.
Years ago Diane Sczepanski of Whitehall, Wisconsin owned a Walking Horse that took her up hill and down hill. After her death, she suffered a work-related neck and back injury that compromised her balance. She had almost given up on her search to find another smooth-walking horse when she met Leon Oliver.
For more than 70 years, three generations of Oliver’s family have bred usable and good-spirited Tennessee walking horses. He and his wife, Mary Lou, own Brown Shop Road Farm in Corversville, Tennessee, and are founding members of the Tennessee Walking Horse Heritage Society.
“Something about Leon’s little red mare, a daughter of his stallion, spoke to me,” Sczepanski recalls. “I wasn’t really looking to buy a horse the day I saw her, but I brought her home.
“On our first hike Lady took great care of me and I lost much of the fear I had developed. At one point my friends wanted to gallop through a vast pasture and I told them said to go ahead. A few horses would panic to be left behind, but Lady calmly continued to walk. Finally, I feel like I have a horse watching over me, a horse that I can be confident: a safe, gentle and sane walking horse. “
On the track: Trail Rider contributor Dan Aadland and his wife, Emily, raise Tennessee walking horses at their Montana ranch. “These are naturally looking horses that use horses, the kind that three generations of Emily’s ranch family enjoyed,” Dan says. “We bought our first Walking Horse mare in 1980 from an outfitter who used her for years in the mountains, and we’ve never looked back.
“We have worked hard to adapt our herd to the mountains and collect broodmares with natural gaits, good bone structure and the athletic ability to do most of the tasks required of backcountry horses, including breeding. our cattle, ”he continues. “Today we have several generations of these horses ranched on our pastures.”
On two occasions, Ginger Bailey’s 12-year-old gelding, Traveler, has been the Tennessee Walking Horse, the national highlight of the North American Trail Ride Conference. Bailey, of Longview, Texas, fell in love with the breed when she saw a “big, old, gentle-eyed horse” staring at it in a magazine.
The rider admits: “I had never taken horseback riding seriously, but always wanted to be an accomplished rider. “
So Bailey turned to NATRC. Each year, the organization sanctions dozens of competitive trail races across the country. Rider teams compile scores based on arrival within a predetermined time frame; the strength, track ability and condition of the horse; and rider trail riding, ongoing courtesy, stable, and more. Unlike endurance hikes, competitive trail running is not a race.
“At the end of the ride, you find out how you got in each area, and it becomes invaluable in teaching a rider to be a better track partner for his horse,” says Bailey. “The traveler is really good on natural obstacles – a testament to his willpower and composure. He listens to me and fits into spaces you wouldn’t think possible for a 16.1 hand high horse – my nice giant, and its walk and run flat is very energy efficient and comfortable for both of us.
“A walk in the Kissatchie National Forest in Louisiana was magical. There were cute little babbling coves and dogwoods blooming along the trail. When the breeze blew, the flowers fell on us like falling snow.”
Direction of selection: Avoid show horses, especially those trained for “Big Lick” classes. You will likely get a horse that is bred to be “rhythmic” (with two-stroke rather than four-stroke gaits) and trained in the “bit charge” tradition. Look for a calm horse with a benevolent eye; one with good bone and healthy feet shod without heavy shoes or pads.
Check the saddle fit: A bad saddle can throw your horse off balance and he may lose his ability to run smoothly. Walkers usually have a wide back and need a saddle with a wide or extra-wide tree. If you prefer a western saddle, look for one whose shaft features flared bars (which run along either side of the horse’s spine) to accommodate the slope of the shoulders and a short, rounded skirt that doesn’t intrude. not on the movement of the horse’s hips.
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