This showy breed is known for its cool, calm and collected temperament and though they have a highly animated rocking-horse movement they are known for smooth riding gaits. Tennessee Walking Horse specific shows can be found around the United States year round and are the official state horse of Tennessee. Their high heads along with their four-beat stride makes them an unmistakable breed.
Originating in middle Tennessee this breed is a combination of Standardbred, Morgan, Narragansett and Canadian Pacer, Thoroughbred and American Saddlebred. The horse was first bred as a working horse, to pull carriages or carry prestigious plantation owners around their property. It was first officially acknowledged as a breed in 1935 and has become a popular breed for a wide range of riders using English or Western tack and techniques. This breed is called the "world's greatest show, trail, and pleasure horse" by the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (TWHBEA). Some families immerse their entire lives in the presentation of this breed. The Johnson Family is in its third generation of showing Tennessee Walking Horses and has won world championships.
Tennessee Walkers perform in three unique gaits: the flat walk, running walk and canter. The movement of this breed is made quite different from other breeds in part due to their natural four-beat gait. Performance horses are shown saddle seat style and use a bit specific to their breed which is designed to incorporate both curb and snaffle purposes. Performance show horses are shod with plastic or leather pads on the front two hooves. Some of these are nearly half the height of a natural hoof, creating an extra tall front and an exaggerated movement when the horse picks up his feet. They are also shown with a bracelet like device called an action device on the front pastern. These are not to weigh more than 6 ounces and must not have any rough or unprotected edges. Action devices are used to make a horse lift up his feet even more.
The conformation of this sleek and slender breed has a refined head with small ears and chiseled features. According to TWHBEA these horses have "a long sloping shoulder, a long sloping hip, a fairly short back and short, strong coupling. The bottom line is longer than the top, allowing for a long stride." Tennessee Walkers are born in a variety of colors including Black, Bay, Chestnut or Sorrell and White. Some of these horses fur appears in patterns known as Sabino, Tobiano, Overo, or Tobiano/Sabino.
The Tennessee Walking Horse is a light breed ranging from 13.2 to 18 hands though they average from 14.3 to 17 hands and weigh anywhere from 900 to 1200 pounds.
There are five divisions for showing Tennessee Walking Horses which create many different types of horses and riders within the breed. These are the Performance Show Horse Division, the Show and Park Pleasure Division, the Flat Shod Pleasure Division in which pads, action devices or tail braces are not allowed, the Halter Division and the Equitation Division. Though many riders choose to show their Tennessee Walkers this breed is also valued on trail rides and out of the show ring.
Performance horses are shown with a braced tail but not all Tennessee Walking horses have braced tails. Some owners who choose to ride their horses for only for pleasure may choose not to brace or break their tails. Auburn University's school of veterinary medicine conducted an 11-year study which determined that regulation shoes or action devices under 6 ounces do not inflict pain upon the horse. According to TWHBEA, "At affiliated shows, all Tennessee Walking Horses are inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure the horses meet standards of welfare, safety and health specific to the Horse Protection Act."