The Tennessee Walking Horse is generally well-boned, deep chested and short-coupled giving an overall impression of balance with legs, neck, back and head in proportion to the size and shape of the body. The angulation in the hocks is sometimes greater than desired in other breed, but slight angulation is acceptable in the Tennessee Walking Horse. The mature horse may range in height from 14.2 to 16.2 hands high with some horses being slightly over or under. Tennessee Walking Horses come in a wide range of colours from solid to dilutes to patterned.
The Tennessee Walking Horse has a head in proportion to the size of the body; functional and well shaped ears; large eyes positioned for good vision; nostrils that are wide and open suitable for breathing; a well defined jaw and a tapering muzzle. There should be clear definition at the throatlatch with no indication of coarseness. The neck should be of a length proportionate to the remainder of the body and should not be heavy or common. The shoulder should be well sloping and the forearm long. The front legs should be straight with the slope of the pastern equal to the slope of the shoulder. The back should tend to be short rather than long with good coupling at the loins giving the impression of strength in conformation. The chest should be of adequate width and depth to allow for ample lung capacity and stamina. The body should be deep in the girth and the ribs well sprung. The croup should generally exhibit a gentle slope. The hips should be well muscled with muscle extending down the leg towards the hocks. The legs should be flat and cordy and should be situated on the corners of the horse. The feet should be of a size sufficient to support the size of the body.
The Tennessee Walking Horse is often called a Walker in reference to the special gait exhibited by the horse. It is capable of doing a Flat Walk and a Running Walk as well as a canter or lope and a gallop.
The flat walk is a bold, ground covering gait that is even and four beat. Each foot both leaves and strikes the ground independently and is accompanied by a pronounced vertical head nod that begins in the vicinity of the shoulder and involves the whole neck and head, not just the head alone. The footfall sequence is left hind, left front, right hind, right front. To create the proper timing, a hind foot is always one-half stride ahead of the front foot. (When the left hind foot first hits the ground the left foreleg is half way through its stride putting the left foreleg hoof even with the right foreleg when the right foreleg is vertical.) The horse appears to pull with the front legs and drive from the rear legs. The rear legs track straight over the tracks of the front feet and appear to move effortlessly. The action of the back foot stepping over the track of the front foot is known as overstride and is preferred over tracking up or capping.
A Tennessee Walking Horse nods its head in rhythm with the cadence of its feet. This head motion, along with overstride, are important factors in evaluating Tennessee Walking Horses. The flat walk is not a speed gait and is much slower than the running walk.
The running walk is a smooth, gliding gait with the same footfall as the flat walk but with an increase in speed and stride. Speed is never more important than form. The gait is natural to the breed and must not appear to be artificial in execution. The running walk is executed freely showing “a looseness in motion.” It appears to be a pleasure for both
horse and rider. The horse pulls with its front feet and drives well under itself
with its hind quarters. The horse continues to nod its head while executing the running walk. The head nod always originates in the shoulder and continues up the neck to the head. If the head merely pecks or remains stationary this is not indicative of a horse doing the Running Walk. When relaxed, some Tennessee Walking Horses flop their ears or click their teeth in rhythm with the gait.
Canter and Lope
The canter (English) or the lope (Western) is a three beat gait. It is smooth, economical and straight on both leads. The horse is not walking behind but cantering on both ends
with a three beat count and a rolling motion. The horse is relaxed and the ride is comfortable. The canter of the Tennessee Walking Horse is often called the rocking chair canter.
Although best recognized for their smooth and ground covering gait, the Tennessee Walking Horse is also prized for their disposition. They are usually tractible, gentle, kind, calm, willing and enjoy working with people.