The Tennessee Walking Horse performs three distinct gaits: the flat foot walk, running walk, and canter. These three are the gaits for which the Tennessee Walking Horse is famous, with the running walk being an inherited, natural gait unique to this breed. Many Tennessee Walking Horses are able to perform the rack, stepping pace, fox-trot, single-foot and other variations of the famous running walk. While not desirable in the show ring, the above mentioned gaits are smooth, easy, trail riding gaits.
The Trail Pleasure Walk is the slowest of the gaits and is mentioned here only because of its’ use in show to exhibit a few classes. This gait is not a customary or traditionally pure Tennessee Walking Horse gait like the succeeding three typical gaits. It is also commonly known as a “dog walk.” It is a smooth four beat gait that should be performed in a very relaxed manner. The horse should be alert, but never nervous. This gait should be conducted on a loose rein in both English & Western divisions.
The Flat Walk is a brisk, long-reaching walk that can cover from four to eight miles an hour. This is a four cornered gait with each of the horse’s feet hitting the ground separately at regular intervals. The horse will glide over the track left by the front foot with his hind foot: right rear over right front, left rear over left front. The action of the back foot slipping over the front track is known as overstride. Overstride is unique to the walking horse breed. The hock should show only forward motion; vertical hock action is highly undesirable. A Tennessee Walking Horse will nod its head in rhythm with the cadence of its feet. This nodding head motion, along with overstride, are two features that are unique to the Tennessee Walking Horse. This distinctive head motion along with overstride are both things the judge should take into consideration when judging a Tennessee Walking Horse.
The Running Walk is the gait for which the walking horse is most noted. This extra-smooth, gliding gait is basically the same as the flat walk with a noticeable difference in the rate of speed between the two gaits. Proper form should never be sacrificed for excessive speed in a good running walk. The breed can travel 10 to 20 miles per hour at this gait. As the speed is increased, the horse over-steps the front track with the back by a distance of six to eighteen inches. The more “stride” the horse has, the better “walker” it is considered to be. It is this motion that gives the rider a feeling of gliding through the air as if propelled by some powerful but smooth-running machine. The running walk is a smooth, easy gait for both horse and rider. A true Tennessee Walking Horse will continue to nod while performing the running walk.
The third gait is The Canter. The canter is performed in much the same way as other breeds, but the walking horse seems to have a more relaxed way of performing this gait. The canter is a forward movement performed in a diagonal manner to the right or to the left. On the right lead, the horse should start the gait in this order: left hind, right hind and left fore together, then right fore. The footfall for the left lead is right hind, left hind and right fore, then left fore. When performed in a ring, the animal should lead his canter with the foreleg to the inside of the ring. In the canter, the horse gives one the abundance of ease with lots of spring and rhythm, with proper rise and fall to afford a thrill from sitting in the saddle. Thus, the canter lifts the front end giving an easy rise and fall motion much like a rocking chair. This is often referred to as the “rocking-chair” gait.