Tennessee Walking Horse Information - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 10 Old 12-14-2019, 11:46 AM Thread Starter
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Tennessee Walking Horse Information

Forewarning: This will be a question-laden post.

My horse is a Tennessee Walking Horse. She is my first gaited horse, so I have much to learn about the breed. I have been trying to do some research, but everyone has a different, conflicting opinion. There are also a lot of myths. It is confusing, and at times, overwhelming, for an inexperienced person like me.

Note: For questions about riding, please tailor your answers to outside of the show ring, and most certainly not with the "big-lick."

- What are some of the common conformation faults of the Tennessee Walking Horse? Other than possibly being sickle-hocked, I cannot find any information.

- What are some of the physical problems commonly associated with the Tennessee Walking Horse? Other than possibly having locking stifle syndrome, I cannot find any information.

- Excluding training, how do you ride a Tennessee Walking Horse? There are two different theories that I have compiled; you must ride them in a "special" way, or you can ride them like a non-gaited breed. For those who state that you must ride them in a "special" way, they reason that since they are not like non-gaited breeds, you do not ride them like a non-gaited breed. For those who state that you can ride them like a non-gaited breed, they reason that since they are a naturally gaited breed, you should not need to constantly, artificially modify their movements. Which, if any, of these theories is true?

- What does it mean if a horse does or does not do the signature head nod, ear flop, and teeth click? There are two different theories that I have compiled: if the horse does do the signature moves, then it just means that that particular horse does it; if the horse does not do the signature moves, then it means that the horse is not using itself correctly and is not truly or correctly gaiting. Which, if any, of these theories is true?

- Where should the head and neck be? There are four different theories that I have compiled; it does not matter, it depends, up, and low(er)/down. The first two are understandable. For those who state that the horse's head and neck must be up, they reason that the horse cannot truly or correctly gait with their head and neck low(er)/down. For those who state that the horse's head and neck must be low(er)down, they reason that many force the horse into an inverted, hollow, or otherwise unnatural posture, and that a naturally gaited horse can naturally gait with its head and neck low(er)/down. Which, if any, of these theories is true?

- How does one tell if the horse is naturally high headed and necked (conformationally) or is unnaturally high headed and necked (due to the rider)?

- How do you canter a Tennessee Walking Horse? I have seen two different ways that they can canter: vertically with a head bob; like a non-gaited breed but more laterally.

- What does it mean when the horse cross-canters/cross-fires/is disunited? There are two different theories that I have compiled: it is more prevalent in the breed and that if the horse cross-canters/cross-fires/is disunited, it means that it has been improperly trained; it is a physical problem, meaning that the horse is unbalanced and/or unfit. Which, if any, of these theories is true? My horse sometimes cross-canters/cross-fires/is disunited on the left lead but not on the right lead.

- As an opinion, when referring to the breed in person, do you refer to them as a Tennessee Walking Horse or a Tennessee Walker?

Thank you in advance.
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post #2 of 10 Old 12-14-2019, 12:26 PM
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That was a lot of questions. I have had 2 TWH's in my time. The old Black Horse was show trained. He took a lot of rein when we first got him because he was a ball of fire. Never attitude, never spook, never said no but was very go-ey. He had a lot of gaits and a ton speeds. He refused to back up under saddle but he rode like a dream. He did not canter as far as I can remember but he had about 4-5 speeds. He always rode with his nose tucked. High neck and and nose pointed to the ground. He did not click his teeth but he did have a head bob. You wouldn't believe how many people told me he was lame.

My current one was never professionally trained. She is quiet and never spooks. She will actually trot and canter, she also has a rack and several gaits. She wasn't professionally trained so we can have her carry her head in a nice arch with the nose down and we can have her carry it long and low depending on our rein contact and the amount of leg and seat you use. Now when she gets mad, she will kick her belly. She won't buck, she won't do anything wrong, she just gets mad and smacks her belly like she's kicking a fly. That's her way of throwing a fit. I don't know what you mean about the teeth click.

Also those videos - I HATE the first canters. I don't know if that's the show correct version or not but it looks miserable. I like the second one.

I haven't really had a lot of health issues with the walkers I have dealt with in the past. Black horse had ring bone but he lived to be 38 and we rode him into his 30s. They have great feet and wonderful hearts. They are sweet and kind and loving - they do have a small stubbornness.

Here are some pix of my son at his first horse show on Sierra. He even rode her in barrels.
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post #3 of 10 Old 12-14-2019, 02:29 PM
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Well, that is a lot of questions, lollol and welcome to the forum:)

First - here are two links to two great gaited horse women.

Liz Graves has been the GoTo on gaited horses for many years.

Ivy is fairly new but I have never read any bad reviews about her:)


I am a lifelong trail rider and have had TWH's since 1990.

1. Conformation. They can also be a bit cow hocked. Splay footed to varying degrees is very common but no big deal unless they toed out so far that it affects the tendons as they get up in years.

1.1. Some TWH's can develop hock issues in their senior years.

2. The worst health issue that is common is insulin resistance, therefore founder. TWH's are a thrifty breed so not over feeding or filling them full of unhealthy starches (like sweet feed) is important.

3. The only difference in riding (IMO) is what you do to get the horse into its intermediate gait -- which ther ARE different intermediate gaits:)

I am a western style rider, so the reins stay in one hand (my trail Walkers are/were barely touch their necks sensitive at neck reining:). When I want the intermediate gait, I drop the reins down and sit back on my pockets.

I have never had issues with any of my Walking Horses gait u g unless they needed the chiropractor, then they would trot. I've read about a lot of PTWH's that don't gait and I still think it's either skeletal issue, lack of knowledge of the rider, or the TWH isn't 100% TWH.

4. Head Nod: up/down means the horse is performing the signature running walk. It can vary from barely visible to so busy the ears flop. My TWH that performs the best champagne-smooth run walk in the planet barely bobs his head.

4.1. Side-to-side head movement means the horse is performing a stepping pace, pace, saddle rack. Any if which can either shake the chaos off your teeth or be as smooth as a running walk - much depending on the structure of the horse.

5. Head set is whatever the horse was born with - no unnatural man made "peanut rollers".

My 25 year old TWH's registered name is "Ultra's Sky Gazer" because he was born with his head in the air and it's still there; he is also the champagne-smooth run Walker:)

To see any natural movements, head/neck sets, watch the horse in a decent sized pasture:)

6. I hVe never cantered my Walkers simply because I got u to Walking Horses when I was older and wanted to enjoy the glide:). However, my Step pacer was a hard lateral pacer in the pasture and never cantered at Liberty.

The fella who saddle racks and sometimes run-walks at Liberty will lope thrush the pasture like a Walt/trot horse.

The 25 yr old with the champagne-smooth run walk has a breathtaking rocking chair canter, at Liberty, that he was born with.

7. IMO ANY horse that cross canters has a structural health issue that needs addressed. Or it could even be poor trimming or poor shoeing.

8. I live in the "Cradle of Walking Horse Country". Around here, we simply say we have "Walking Horses" when asked:)

9. In conclusion, I can understNd why you are confused and have received/read different theories, lol. Much simply depends on the horse, it's gene pool, and how the horse is built.

The basics of training, hoof and health care re the same as any other horse. It's when one want to engage a gaited horse into their intermediate gait that things become different:)

Also, do NOT let anyone bamboozle you into thinking your Walking Horse needs to be trimmed or shod different because it is a Walking Horse. They get trimmed and shod according to what their hooves are asking for, just like any other horse.

I hate to keep throwing my 25 yr old into this conversation but -- he performs that champagne -smooth running walk barefoot (the bulk of his life) and with one hoof a Less-Than-Grade-1 club hoof (diagnosed by a vet). He's never been lame a day in his life and he's been with me since he was 2-1/2:)

A Good Horseman Doesn't Have To Tell Anyone; The Horse Already Knows.

I CAN'T ride 'em n slide 'em. I HAVE to lead 'em n feed 'em Thnx cowchick77.
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post #4 of 10 Old 12-14-2019, 02:38 PM
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That first canter video is pretty scary to me.. I can understand some natural head bob due to how the legs move when gaiting but why on earth are those horses flinging their heads around at a canter?? That doesn't seem comfortable for the horse or the rider..

Being a trail rider, I ride Walkers no differently than I would any other horse out on a trail.

OP, what is it that you plan to do with your horse? I think that will make the biggest difference in how you do things and what is "right."
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post #5 of 10 Old 12-14-2019, 05:19 PM
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I can't open the videos but, based on the previous posters comments, I think I can guess what they are looking at -- a terribly exaggerated forced "rocking chair canter" for the show ring. The action is flat out ugly if the rider has to mimic the canter motion to keep the horse going. It is also poor training of both horse and rider.

As I stated above, my 25 yr old does a breath taking at Liberty rocking chair canter in the pasture when he feels like it.

Many years ago I trained my Arab/Saddlebred to do the rocking chair canter better than any Walking Horse - I trained him riding bareback. He was supple and relaxed, not like the exaggeration of some horses & riders in the show ring, that the riders were trying to do the canter themselves to keep the poor horse in motion.
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A Good Horseman Doesn't Have To Tell Anyone; The Horse Already Knows.

I CAN'T ride 'em n slide 'em. I HAVE to lead 'em n feed 'em Thnx cowchick77.
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post #6 of 10 Old 12-14-2019, 11:31 PM
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First of all, Welcome to our forum! and Welcome to Walking Horses.

Secondly, @walkinthewalk knows what she's talking about. You can learn a lot from her.

I, myself, have two TWH. Raven, my mare is almost 17. Her intermediate gate is nice, but not solid. Her canter is to die for. It is the smoothest, most beautiful canter I have ever seen or ridden. She does not do that exaggerated head flinging as in your first video, but she is much more animated and "vertical" than the horse in your second video. She loves to canter because it is easier for her than gaiting.

My gelding, Tucker, is going on 12. His gait is wonderful when he is relaxed and happy, turns into a very uncomfortable pacing mess when he gets in a hurry. We are working on his canter. I've only had him for 2 years. I don't think he has been allowed to canter under saddle before, so he gets really strong if I let him go.
Neither of my horses have a lot of the head nod.

I am a trail rider. We don't show at all. I let my horses carry their heads however they want. I want them to be relaxed and comfortable.

I call mine Walking Horses, usually. I knew NOTHING about the breed until I met Raven. Now they are my breed of choice.

I could go on and on but will stop now and let someone else talk, lol.
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post #7 of 10 Old 12-14-2019, 11:46 PM
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more from me. lol.

I grew up and board and ride with a lot of Quarter Horses. Walking Horses, even when they are just walking, move out much more quickly than almost everyone else. They have a long stride. So when you are trail riding with others, you will leave them in the dust.

It took me a long time to realize that Raven was not rushing or hurrying, but just walking even though it seems so fast.

The most important thing I've learned is that sometimes you just have to stay out of their face and let them move. Both Raven and Tucker get all fired up if I try to make them move too slowly. Here is a picture of us on the trail with my best friend and her Quarter Horse. Both are walking and relaxed and happy. 80368928_3019679928257637_8710704605597532160_n.jpg

ok, I'm done for now, really.
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post #8 of 10 Old 12-15-2019, 01:14 AM
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Don't over complicate it. I grew up riding non-gaited horses. A friend during high school let me borrow her horse for the summer.

The mare was a Standardbred. A trotter, i believe. She was truly one of a kind. I have never seen another horse gait the way she did- there's not even a name for the gaits she did.

Gaits are usually on a spectrum. Trot, troty, foxtrot, then your 4 beat gait, broken pace, and pace. Most horses are somewhere on that spectrum between a trot, 4 beat gait, and pace.

For example, my Paso Fino is supposed to do a 4 beat gait with each foot hitting the ground separately. Instead he does a non-suspended trot (troty). He also paces but never holds it long. Never does he give you a 4 beat gait. Other Pasos can pace or broken pace and rarely foxtrot...Those gaits are incorrect for the breed, but do exist.

My foxtrotter can walk, running walk, foxtrot, trot, pace, and canter.

The Standardbred had a completely undefined gait. She would canter in the front, and do a 2 beat gait with the hind legs. She could do that gait at any speed (from walk speed, trot speed, or canter speed). It was super cool. If you collected her up, she could almost gait in place. It was incredible!

Some gaited breeds like the racking pony i had do a canter/pace. Canter in the front and pace behind, i think what the standardbred was doing was a canter in front and trot behind.

Every gaited horse has slightly different gaits unless they are true to the breed standard. It does give you something to play with. You don't know what gaits the horse has until you ride the horse, sometimes for months before you get a decent gait.

You do not need to ride a gaited horse in a special way. I learned to ride English as a child and that has suited me well. If i want my horse to gait, I give a half halt, collect the horse, and give some leg pressure. Usually they will smooth out and offer a better gait with that cue. When training a gaited horse sometimes a new gait shows up by surprise...You ask for a canter, the young horse picks up a rack instead.

As for headset, i don't care unless I'm working on something in particular. The most comfortable headset depends on the neck conformation of the horse. My Paint mare doesn't have a neck like a dressage horse, but she can easily and happily move like a English pleasure horse. If I had tried to force her into a dressage frame, she would be one unhappy horse. My Paso has a very high headset. We are working on getting him to lower his head and relax. His neck conformation isn't quite right for a show horse frame. He can't quite bend like a dressage horse or put his head low like an English pleasure horse. The best you get is a slightly lower headset, with a relaxed neck. But normally he's a star gazer.

The most desirable headset depends on who you ask. If you are showing you want to go with breed standards. I just want my horses to understand how to give to the bit and give a little bit of vertical flexion.

This guy has some really nice videos breaking down the different gaits.


He has another video on the pace to gait spectrum. Well worth watching.
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post #9 of 10 Old 12-15-2019, 01:26 AM
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This is what my Paso does... Minus the pace.

2 beat non-suspended trot.
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post #10 of 10 Old 12-15-2019, 02:39 AM
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Originally Posted by weeedlady View Post
more from me. lol....ok, I'm done for now, really.
Please come back, @weeedlady ! Encore!
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SueC is time travelling.
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