From a smooth-riding trail mount to a high-powered show horse, the
Tennessee Walking Horse wears many hats. This gentle breed is becoming
the mount of choice for ranchers, endurance riders, field trial
enthusiasts, mounted patrol units, handicapped riding programs and
It began as a hardy utility horse and later became famous under the
bright lights of the show ring. The natural, inherited gaits of the
Tennessee Walking Horse are the flat foot walk, the running walk, and
the easy rolling canter, often called the rocking chair canter. These
gaits can be easily recognized from the time that a young foal starts
to amble along side its mother. The flat foot walk is a smooth and
easy, four-beat diagonal gait that reaches a speed of 5 to 7 miles per
hour. During a properly executed flat walk, three feet remain on the
ground at all times. Unlike the trot, at no time are all four legs
suspended off the ground. The running walk is a more accelerated,
gliding version of the flat walk, and reaches a speed of 8 to 10 miles
per hour. The added speed of the running walk produces a bolder, more
animated look, and is the gait for which the Tennessee Walking Horse is
In the mid- to late 1800s, farmers in the central basin of Tennessee
developed, through selective breeding, a superior strain of saddle
horse that was both an effective utility horse and a smooth-gaited
mount. They crossbred horses that were readily available throughout the
region—Standardbreds, Morgans, American and English
Thoroughbreds, American Saddle Horses, and Canadian and Narragansett
Pacers. It was a standard bred stallion named Allan that laid the
foundation for what became the first breed of horse to bear a state
name—the Tennessee Walking Horse.
Though he possessed quality racing trotter bloodlines, Allan's natural
tendency was to pace. Regardless of the type of mare mated to him, the
resulting offspring almost always performed an easy gliding gait
capable of carrying a rider effortlessly across the farms and rural
roads of middle Tennessee.
When the first breeders' association was formed in 1935 in Lewisburg,
Tenn., its founders were faced with the difficult task of selecting the
foundation stock on which to underpin the breed. Because many of the
more influential horses had long since passed, their pedigrees had to
be researched and established. Ultimately, 115 animals were selected
and designated Foundation Stock.
Because of his profound influence in developing the breed, Allan was
designated the number one foundation horse and became known from that
point forward as Allan F-1. This designation was granted some 25 years
after his death.
In 1939, the first Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration took
place in Shelbyville, Tenn., and it remains today the breed’s
largest showcase and its world championship show. In terms of entries
and spectators, the 11-day event is considered the largest show in the
world, drawing 250,000 spectators and more than 3,000 horses annually.
The Tennessee Walking Horse became an officially recognized breed by
the United States Department of Agriculture in 1950.