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Origins of the Tennessee walking horse

Saturday, August 25, 2012

You might call the Tennessee walking horse the melting pot of the east -- it seems like every early breed established east of the Mississippi contributed to its genetic makeup somewhere.

Here are some of the breeds that have contributed to the Tennessee walker gene pool, create a truly American horse.


One of the oldest established registries, the thoroughbred can trace its ancestry back for centuries. Because of the infusion of Arabian and Barb bloodlines that created the modern thoroughbred, some can trace their bloodlines as far back as the ancient scrolls of Bedouin breeders in the Arabian desert.

Primarily bred for speed, thoroughbreds have also proven formidable in jump racing, three-day eventing, dressage, show jumping and other similar events. The height, heart and proud carriage of the head are its legacy to the Tennessee walking horse.

Narragansett pacer

The Narragansett pacer is considered to be the first breed to be developed in the New World -- even though it no longer exists. It first appeared in the area of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island sometime before 1676. Sure-footed with an easy gait, it is said to be the breed that carried Paul Revere on his famous ride and George Washington on his campaigns.

It was not, some say, considered to be a raving beauty. It's more admirable traits -- a natural pace, calm temperament and agility, made it the foundation stock for many other breeds, from paso finos to Tennessee walking horses, and there

is not a pacing horse in the harness world that doesn't carry some of the Narragansett blood in it somewhere.

But small -- pony sized -- and somewhat homely, it disappeared as a distinctive breed by 1800.


There are few breeds that can point to one sire and say, "This is where it all began." The Tennessee walking horse industry has Allen-F1. The Morgans have a small bay stallion named "Figure" owned by Justin Morgan.

Thought to be of Dutch, Thoroughbred, or Arabian bloodlines, no one knew for sure. All they knew was that they liked the small horse's straight clean legs; deep muscling over his quarters and shoulders; and fine, intelligent head with large expressive eyes and short, pricked ears.

And they liked the fact that no matter what kind of mare "That Morgan horse" was bred to, he bred true. Draft mare or light saddle horse, the dam would almost always produce a strong, sturdy, courageous but gentle little horse that moved with style.

The carriage of his tail and the set of his head are reflected in his walker descendents, as are his easy going nature and willingness to work -- and his style.


The thoroughbred brought height and hearty, the pacer brought the pace and gentle nature. The Morgan brought a work ethic and style.

The saddlebred brought pizzazz.

Plantation walkers developed as family work horses. They had to pull the plow in the morning, drive the family to church on Sunday, and show off for Pa at the county fair. The saddlebred came from the same basic roots as the walking horse, the Narragansett pacer and the thoroughbred, and it contributed style, step, and especially versatility to the evolution of the walking horse breed.

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