Characteristics of a Tennessee Walking Horse

by Bonnie Conrad

The high stepping action and fast walk of the Tennessee Walking Horse makes it easy to spot in the show ring and easy to distinguish out on the trail. These horses began as powerful yet easy-to-ride trail horses, able to withstand hours under saddle without complaint. The breed has since evolved into a number of different types, from trail mounts to high-priced show horses, but no matter what their purpose in life, Tennessee Walkers have a number of distinguishing characteristics.

High Head Carriage

The head carriage of the Tennessee Walking horse is quite high, especially compared to quarter horses and other stock horse breeds that tend to carry their necks more in line with the point of the withers. In the show ring the Tennessee Walker moves with its head held high and proud. Part of this head carriage is due to the conformation of the animal; this breed tends to have a neck that ties into the withers at a higher angle, making it easier for the horse to carry its head so high.

High Stepping Action

The exaggerated, high stepping gait is the hallmark of the Tennessee Walking horse breed; and a great deal of the stepping action is inherent in the breed. Trainers work on getting the horses to elevate their front legs further, especially at the racking gait. While some trainers use questionable -- and illegal -- techniques to achieve this desirable high stepping action, it is possible to achieve the perfect gait without abusive methods.

Smooth Gaits

Tennessee Walking Horses are known for their extremely smooth gaits, including their traditional flat-footed walk, the faster running walk and the rack. All three gaits are quite comfortable and easy to ride, with no posting required on the part of the rider. In fact, the smoothness of the Tennessee Walker's gaits makes it an excellent choice for riders with back problems and other infirmities. Many people who are unable to withstand the jarring trot of other breeds find that Tennessee Walkers are quite easy to ride.


In the show ring, Tennessee Walking horses compete successfully in both English and Western pleasure classes, as well as country pleasure, light-shod classes and trail events. Some Tennessee Walkers even compete in speed events and dressage. Tennessee Walking horses are also sturdy and reliable trail horses, with excellent stamina and a calm, easygoing demeanor.

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