Before meeting Marley, we didn’t have any hands on experience with Tennessee Walkers. As Marley has progressed in his training and totally won us all over, we’ve become big fans of the breed.
Marley’s ancestors originated in Tennessee, where Narragansett and Canadian Pacers from Kentucky crossed with gaited Spanish Mustangs from Texas to create ‘Tennessee Pacers.’ Prized for their smooth gaits and calm dispositions, these sure-footed horses were originally used on farms and southern plantations. Tennessee Walkers are best known for their ‘running walk,’ which Marley naturally does under saddle. Their other main gaits are the flat walk and canter, and we’ve seen Marley trot and pace as well.
While Tennessee Walkers are often associated with dramatic movement in the show ring, they also make wonderful pleasure and trail horses. In competition, Tennessee Walkers are shown in two basic categories, “flat-shod,” (with regular shoes and a more natural way of going) and “performance” (where layers of front hoof pads known as “stacks,” and other weighted devices create the high-stepping “Big Lick” style). This controversial form of shoeing is now prohibited at many shows. Tennessee Walkers are the breed most affected by the Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970 which prohibits the practice of ‘soring.’ These abusive practices inflict pain in the legs to help create exaggerated gaits in the show ring, and can still occur today despite the law.