Tennessee Walking Horses have always been part of the fabric of life in Franklin. When I was growing up, horses were all around. And not just walkers, but hunter/jumpers, draft horses and ponies of all varieties were common sights. My aunt had two walking horses–Beulah and Polly. She’d breed them once a year to one of the local studs and the money she got from selling the foals always came in handy.
One of the most famous walking worse barns in the world was just a few blocks from the square. Harlinsdale Farm was home to Midnight Sun, a legendary horse and quite literally the foundation bloodline for most champions today. From a website about the horse:
He was the first stallion to become world champion of his kind. That was in 1945 and 1946 at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration at Shelbyville, Tennessee. Then he sired horses that were grand champions there seven times; grand-sired the supreme winner five times; and was the great-grandsire of nearly EVERY year’s champion since that time. On only FOUR occasions since 1949, have horses NOT descended from Midnight Sun, in a straight male line, been world champions of this breed.
Walking Horses were first bred by Southern planters looking for an easy-going horse with enough stamina to cover large tracts of land in a day. Variations with pacers, thoroughbred and Morgans eventually led to the breed we know today. The prized gait of the walking horse is its running walk. Here’s Midnight Sun several decades ago performing the gait that made him champion. Notice how his head bobs and how the rider doesn’t even move–he’s just gliding along.
Over the years, the running walk became more and more prized and more and more outlandish. It’s known as the “Big Lick” and truly, the bigger the better. Bigger prize money. Bigger stud fees.
And, unfortunately, a bigger temptation to abuse these animals. In past couple of weeks, a video has surfaced of a top trainer abusing his horses. Harsh chemicals are put on their feet to make them lift their legs higher. Weighted shoes and chains add to the pain. Even sadder, the horses are beaten when they can’t even stand.
I hope that once and for all the abusers are disgraced. It’s easy to say that everyone connected with walking horses is part of the problem, but I just don’t believe that. I’ve been at the shows and I’ve been in the barns.
As a lifelong horse-lover, and someone who grew up around Tennessee Walking Horses, this abuse makes sick and sad. Because you want to know what else walkers are known for other than their stamina and naturally flashy gait–they’re known for their sweet temperaments.
Like all gentle souls, they’re easily taken advantage of.