Tennessee Walking Horse Vs American Saddlebred

If you are looking to get yourself an unusual horse, with a very comfortable pace of riding for long distances, why not have a look at the Tennessee Walking Horse vs American Saddlebred? Both these horses were developed into what we know and love today in America, and they share some similar ancestry and characteristics. Both have some very interesting paces which you will struggle to find in any other horse, so they are well worth looking into!

History

tennessee walking horse
Tennessee Walking Horse; Source: Wikimedia

The Tennessee Walking Horse was developed in America in the late 18th century, when two types of Pacer were crossed with gaited Spanish Mustangs. In 1886 the foundation sire, known as Black Allan, was born and thus began the breed we know and love today.

This horse’s unusual gait has caused the breed some controversy, as for many years the practise of “soring” (adding devices to the front feet to cause the horses pain when their feet touch the ground, making them lift their feet higher) was permitted, and weights and “stacks” were added to the horse’s feet to exaggerate their movements. This type of movement is known as the “Big Lick” style, something which is now considered to be animal cruelty.

The Tennessee Walking Horse is the third most popular breed in the US, behind only the Thoroughbred and the Quarter Horse.

Described as “the horse that America made”, the American Saddlebred is descended from riding horses bred around the time of the American Revolution. Also known as the “Kentucky saddler”, the American Saddlebred was used extensively as an officer’s mount during the American Civil War.

The Saddlebred’s origins actually lie in the UK and Ireland, which produced two now-extinct horses, the Galloway and Hobby horse, that the early settlers brought to The New World with them. The breed has been a prominent part of the show scene in the US since it was developed, featuring heavily in the very first national horse show in 1856. It is known as “the peacock of the horse world” and it does live up to its name!

Size

The Tennessee Walking Horse ranges in size from 14.3 hands to 17 hands, and even the smaller ones appear “tall” because of their slender, elegant shape.

The American Saddlebred stands between 15 and 16 hands high on average, though some individuals have been known to reach 17 hands.

Color

Tennessee Walking Horses come in a diverse range of colors; all the solid colors are permitted, as are pinto patterns. Dun, champagne and silver dapples are found when dilution genes occur.

American Saddlebreds are allowed to be any color, especially since the 1930s when breeders stopped simply marking the base color of a horse’s coat if it was spotted or pinto and began to register the “coloreds” as well as the solid colors. The most common colors are chestnut, bay, brown and black.

Conformation

The Tennessee Walking Horse is a tall horse with a long neck, and is described as being refined and elegant, yet solidly built. The shoulders and hip are also long, and tend to be sloping, with a short back and well muscled hind quarters. Unlike many other breeds, it is acceptable for this one to have over-angulated “cow hocks”.

The American Saddlebred’s head is well shaped with a straight profile and leads to a long, slim, arched neck. The withers are well defined and the shoulder sloping, the legs are correct and the back is strong and level with well sprung ribs. The tail is carried high.

Gait

American Saddlebred
American Saddlebred; Source: Pixabay.com

The gait is one of the most interesting and defining characteristics of the Tennessee Walking Horse. While the overall riding gait is considered to be comfortable and smooth, it is the running-walk that this horse is best known for. This is a four beat gait with the same footfall pattern as a flat walk, but significantly faster – the standard flat walk averages at about 4 to 8 miles per hour, the running-walk can cover 10 to 20 miles per hour.

In the running-walk, the horse’s hind feet overstep the prints left by the front feet by 6 to 18 inches, and the horse nods his head in time with his gait. Tennessee Walking Horses can also trot and canter, and some members of the breed perform other lateral ambling gaits, such as the rack, stepping pace, fox trot and single foot.

The American Saddlebred is capable of the main three gaits, walk trot and canter, as well as two four beat ambling gaits known as the rack and the slow gait. The slow gait is a four beat gait where the lateral pairs of legs leave the ground together, but strike it at different times, with the hind foot connecting slightly before the fore foot. The rack is a similar four beat gait, but has equal intervals between each footfall, making it a smooth comfortable pace to sit.

Temperament

The Tennessee Walking Horse is almost as well known for its quiet, even disposition as its eye catching gait. They are generally docile and easy to train.

The American Saddlebred is a calm, friendly horse which is amiable and happy to learn new things.

Uses

Because of its fantastically comfortable paces, the Tennessee Walking Horse is very popular for trail and endurance riding. They are great in the show ring, being flashy and gorgeous, and because of this they have also often featured in films and on TV. The Lone Ranger’s horse Silver was played by a Tennessee Walking Horse, and the mascot of the University of Southern California Trojans was variously held by one of these eye catching horses and by a Tennessee Walker/Arabian cross.

The American Saddlebred is suitable for just about any disciple, from family horses to showing, through cutting and roping. They are most popular in the show ring, where their interesting gaits can be exhibited to their fullest. Interestingly, the hairstyles are adapted depending on which type of gait they are showing – in five gaited competition they are shown with a full mane and tail, often with a switch to enhance the tail, while in three gait competition the mane is “roached” while the tail is left full.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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