Tennessee Walking Horse Training Tips For Pleasure Riding

When you think of Tennessee Walking Horses, you may think of the extremely stylized, unnatural gaits and high pressure competition known as the “Big Lick”. If participating in this monetarily driven, cruel activity is your goal, this is not the article for you.

In this article, we share smart tips to help you make the most of partnering with a smooth gaited, intelligent, plain shod Tennessee Walker for pleasure and trail riding. Read on to learn more about Tennessee Walking Horse training tips.

Is It Possible To Reform A Big Lick Show Horse For Trail Riding?

Unfortunately, these poor, tormented horses also make poor candidates as trail riding horses.

Horses that have been abused in this type of showing typically have ruined feet and pasterns because of the stacked shoes, harsh training and actual torture that are involved in forcing them to perform the high-stepping, unnatural gaits required for this cruel event.

If you want to rescue one of these horses, you are best off rescuing him or her as a pasture ornament and providing the rest, relaxation and love they so greatly need and deserve.


Why Choose A Tennessee Walker For Pleasure Or Trail Riding?

If you ride for pleasure and/or if you enjoy trail riding, you cannot do better than a Tennessee Walking Horse.

These gaited horses are smart, sensible and smooth to ride. In short, they are pleasing and can deliver extreme comfort when covering long distances.

The difference between riding a stock horse and riding a Tennessee Walking Horse for these activities is night and day.

A Tennessee Walker can deliver what is often termed a “glide ride” or a “Cadillac ride” that you are sure to find comfortable and enjoyable.

In addition to smooth, comfortable gaits, a Tennessee Walker also offers a great deal of intelligence and good horse sense, along with the superior endurance that comes along with an easy, measured gait.

How Do You Train A Tennessee Walker For Pleasure Riding?

How Do You Train A Tennessee Walker For Pleasure Riding

One of the best things about riding a Tennessee Walker for pleasure is that they naturally have lots of smooth, easy gaits. When participating in a show, the gaits that are highlighted are:

  • Running Walk
  • Flatfoot Walk
  • Canter

When you’re out on the trail, you’ll find that your Walking Horse has lots of comfortable gaits to suit any situation that may arise. Among these are:

  • Stepping Pace
  • Single Foot
  • Hard Pace
  • Dog Walk
  • Amble
  • Trot
  • Rack

Furthermore, a good Tennessee Walker has the ability to develop even more smooth, comfortable gaits to match the circumstances.

The best way to “train” is to allow your horse to explore his natural gaits and encourage them.

There are Walking Horses who perform with long, easy strides, and there are also short striding horses. Both display smooth, easy, comfortable gaits that require little or no training from you.

Don’t Rely On Bloodlines

Top trail performance from a Tennessee Walker is not necessarily dependent upon his bloodlines.

When you’re looking for a Tennessee Walking Horse for pleasure and trail riding, you are best off choosing a horse who already exhibits the traits you desire rather than studying the bloodlines of a younger horse and expecting his performance to replicate that of his sire or dam.

For pleasure or trail riding, look for a mature horse who is experienced and already displays or shows and aptitude for the gaits that you desire.

How Do You Encourage A Horse To Perform His Gaits?

How Do You Encourage A Horse To Perform His Gaits?

A Tennessee Walking Horse is naturally gaited, but you should understand that all Tennessee Walking Horses are not gaited in the same way.

Each horse is an individual, and will display different gaits differently and/or more willingly.

Rather than try to force your horse to display a certain gait, it’s best to facilitate his making the most of the gaits that come naturally. To do this you must:

  • Know your horse well to work with him successfully.
  • Make sure your tack fits correctly.
  • Keep your horse in good health.
  • Be competent and consistent.
  • Keep your own skills tip top.
  • Provide proper hoof care.

Light Hands Encourage Gaitedness

You’ll need to be light handed to allow your Walking Horse to use the natural head nodding motion, which is absolutely necessary to perform a running walk and other gaited movements.

If you’re heavy-handed and restrict head nodding, you’ll also change or restrict your horse’s gaits.

An Easy Seat Encourages Gaitedness

To ride a gaited horse, you need to soften your seat, relax and allow your body to move along with the horse.

If you tense against the horse’s movement, you’ll inhibit it. Relax and go with the flow and your horse will be able to move freely.

Conformation, Temperament And Basic Training Do The Trick!

Most Tennessee Walking Horses who have basic riding training, have what it takes to succeed as pleasure and trail horses.

Look for a horse with a strong back, long, free moving, sloping shoulders and hips, clean, strong legs and hooves that are sound enough to go barefoot.

If the horse you are considering purchasing for trail riding is shod at all, it should be with plain, simple shoes.

Thanks to their natural intelligence and tendency to want to cooperate and partner with the rider, a Tennessee Walking Horse who is well-trained and sound will require little more than solid experience to become an excellent trail and pleasure horse.

Do Tennessee Walking Horses Need Special Shoes To Perform Their Gaits?

Tennessee Walkers are naturally gaited, so when their hooves are properly cared for and well-balanced, they will perform those gaits successfully and effortlessly.

Locate a good farrier who is skilled in delivering a sturdy, barefoot trim. If your horse needs shoes to protect his feet from harsh conditions or to provide good traction in a slick setting, consult with your farrier about having him shod with simple, ordinary shoes or use removable boots.

Do Tennessee Walking Horses Need Special Tack To Perform Their Gaits?

The right tack can help your horse move his best and most comfortably. You do not need the dramatic and cruel tack (long shank bit, plastic brow band and flat saddle) you’ll see in Big Lick competitions.

Here’s what you do need:

  1. A wide or extra-wide tree saddle that allows you to sit well back of the horse’s shoulder. The front of the saddle should allow plenty of shoulder room, and the skirts in back should be short and rounded to allow free movement. Stirrups should be so placed that your legs hang naturally rather than pressing your knees forward.
  2. Full size or horse size bridle to accommodate a Tennessee Walker’s slightly longer and wider head size.
  3. Long reins to accommodate a Tennessee walkers longer neck.
  4. A gentle bit or a bitless option.

Why Do Walking Horses Require So Little Training For Pleasure And Trail Riding?

Tennessee Walking Horses and other gaited Walking Horses were originally bred for all day partnership with riders who worked in the saddle.

They are cooperative, calm and built to cover lots of ground over lots of hours. That’s why they are a favorite among riders such as mounted police, Park Rangers and search and rescue professionals.

They are also ideally suited for situations in which a calm temperament is required, such as handicapped riding programs.

A Tennessee Walker is a natural choice as a mount for anyone who wants to enjoy riding without a lot of drama and discomfort.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best uses, disciplines and riding styles for Tennessee walking horses?

Tennessee walkers are excellent horses for use in many diverse tasks, activities, riding styles and disciplines, such as:

  • Therapeutic Riding
  • Obstacle Driving
  • Western Riding
  • Trail Obstacle
  • Service Horse
  • Ranch Horse
  • Over Fences
  • Field Trial
  • Dressage
  • Reining

A well-trained Tennessee Walker should be comfortable with any well-fitted tack, and you should be able to ride English, Western, bareback or with a bareback pad, Australian saddle or any other tack you choose.

Can Tennessee Walkers run barrels?

Yes, these horses are very good at all sorts of rodeo activities, including barrel racing and pole bending.

Are Tennessee walking horses good jumpers?

A well-cared-for, healthy, well-trained Tennessee walker should have no trouble learning to jump as long as the jump height conforms with the size of the horse. These smaller horses may not be able to take on very high jumps, but they should be able to perform well within reason.

Are Tennessee Walkers easy to feed and care for?

These sturdy horses typically do very well kept on good pasture with a supplement of hay. In fact, use of rich feeds and hay is discouraged because problems with laminitis and navicular disease present some cause for concern.

How long can a Tennessee Walking horse live?

Tennessee Walkers are typically long lived and, when well-cared-for, live to be around thirty years old. Older horses may develop a condition known as congenital stationary night blindness (CSNB), which makes it difficult for them to see well in low-light conditions.

4 thoughts on “Tennessee Walking Horse Training Tips For Pleasure Riding”

  1. Thankyou so much for clarifying how to enjoy my Tennessee Walkers on trails. They do move differently from each other and you really took the stress off of me by teaching me to just enjoy each horse the way they are! I also really was struck by your advice for light hands and long reins! Why had I never figured that out before?? I hope I can continue learning from you as I am very isolated and on a limited budget like everyone else. You have been a real blessing for me!!

  2. Any suggestions on re-training a horse that had padded shoes and is now flat shod. He seems a little awkward and unsure or will this correct itself over time?

    • I’m sorry, this is not a topic I’m well-versed on, and it’s really something that should have the attention of a good farrier and/or veterinarian. I think that, generally speaking, consistent farrier care should correct the situation you describe, but don’t take my word for it. Work closely with your vet and farrier.


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