The sturdy Tennessee Walking Horse with its distinctive gaits, can be ridden comfortably for hours!

The Tennessee Walking Horse is a breed which originated in the Southeast United States. Wealthy southern plantation owners had a need for tractable, comfortable, and hardy horses that could stand up to the rigors of hours of daily riding while out inspecting the operations of their enormous plantation properties. The Tennessee Walking Horse served this purpose.

The Tennessee Walker has distinctive gaits which make it easy to ride over long distances at a comfortable and efficient rate of speed. Today they are used for pleasure and trail riding. Pleasure bred, or flat shod walking horses make excellent family and children’s trail horses. They are an excellent choice for riders with physical limitations because of their smooth way of going. Tennessee Walking Horses are also bred for the show arena for shows designed to exhibit the special talents of the gaited breed.

In 1935 the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders Association was formed with ‘Black Allan’ as the foundation sire of the breed. In 1947 the name changed to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association, or TWHBEA. Since then, over 450,000 Tennessee Walking Horses have been registered in all 50 states.

Scientific Classification

Medicine Hat Tennessee Walking Horse in Pasture
Image Credit: Horse Crazy, Shutterstock

Horse Breeds

The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse is a light horse breed, and one of the gaited horses. Light horse breeds generally weigh under 1,500 pounds. They are typically used as riding horses for leisure and trail riding. Being agile and swift, many are also used on the racetrack, in the show ring, and for work on the ranch.
Light horses are grouped in a couple of different ways, one being the continent or country where they originated from. They are also grouped according to training, classified as either a stock type, hunter type, saddle type, or ‘other’. A body type is generally attributed to each class, with the ‘other’ classification being a bit of an odd ball. It includes those that are color breeds or those that may fit a body type of one of the training classes, but not be used for that type of training. The ‘other’ types can also include those that may fit into more than one of the type groups.
The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse as one of the gaited horses, fits into the saddle type class.

Horse Backgrounds

The Tennessee Waking Horse began as a blend of Standardbred, Morgan, Thoroughbred and Saddlebred breeds. Each of these contributed a major asset to the new breed. The Walking Horse displays the Morgan’s remarkable good nature, the Saddlebred’s elegant confirmation, the speed and athleticism of the Thoroughbred, and the distinctive movement and substance of the Standardbred.
In 1886, “Black Allan”, a descendant of the famous Standardbed, Hamboltonian, was born in Lexington, Kentucky. Showing little interest in harness racing, the horse was sold to owners in Tennessee. There, he went on to sire several foundation horses of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed; among them the stallions “Roan Allan” and “Hunter’s Allan” and the mare “Merry Legs”.


The Walking Horse should have a long, straight and well shaped head set on a graceful sloping shoulder. It should be muscular and wide in girth with a longish underbelly and short back with a high set on tail. It stands between 15hh and 16.2hh and weighs between 900 and 1200 pounds. All solid colors are acceptable as well as roans and pintos.
The Walking Horse has distinctive gaits:

  • Slow Gait: The slow gait, also called the single foot, is a steady, gliding four beat walk.
  • Running Walk: The running walk is a faster version in which the hind legs aggressively overstep the front tracks and is accompanied by an expressive nodding of the horses head.
  • Walking Horse Canter: In the Walking Horse Canter, also referred to as a “rocking chair” canter, the horse elevates his front end while the hindquarters remain relatively level.

Walking horses bred for the show ring have gaits that show more exaggerated, defined action. The front shoes are often weighted and the feet are built up with padding and encouraged to grow extremely long.

tennessee walking horse grazing
Image Credit: Courtney Hennegan, Shutterstock

Horse Care and Feeding

Tennessee Walkers tend to be easy keepers and generally do well on fresh grass hay. One to three pounds of 10 to 12 % protein grain supplement is sufficient for most pleasure horses. A dietary hoof supplement containing biotin is also recommended
The Walking horse is a moderate size and has a very good natured temperament making it an excellent candidate for a box stall, as well as a paddock or pasture environment. They are social horses and do best with the company of other livestock.

Horse Training and Activities

The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse is supremely adapted to be a trail horse. Good for pleasure riding, endurance and trail, this is an excellent family horse for kids and adults alike. It is a good choice for new riders and riders with physical limitations as the gaits are smooth and easy to ride.

Common Health Problems

Problems with the feet are the most common complaint because of the extraordinary demands put on these horses in the show arena. Laminitis and Navicular disease are of particular concern. Also, sore back problems may occur resulting from the sometimes disjointed movement of the horse. A well fitted saddle and a horse proportionate to the rider’s size is of extreme importance.

two Tennessee Walking horses in the field
Image Credit: Mohit Chouhan95, Shutterstock


The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse is fairly available throughout the country. In 1947 the studbook was closed to all outside breeding, and all Tennessee Walking Horses were required to have both parents registered to be eligible for registration themselves. Some inbreeding is inevitable, and buyers should investigate a horse’s pedigree to avoid any associated health issues.



Featured Image Credit: WLen, Shutterstock