Tennessee Walking Horses

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.



Filed under At Home, Nostalgia

9 responses to “Tennessee Walking Horses

  1. seeing this story in the news over the week has been heartbreaking – but i hadn’t seen the clip from 1945, showing the more traditional gait. wow. taking it to the extreme at the expense of sweet animals…

  2. Why are people so awful?!!!!!! As always, a well-written captivating piece that wowed me in the end because i had no idea that it was going to take a turn for the depressing. (The news didn’t make it to my part of the world, so somewhat unexpected). Hope the abusers are indeed shamed. x

  3. motherk

    Grandma, Lu’s Lulu, Sambo’s Beck of Dallas, Chocolate Drop, Dolly and many other old pets are up in horse heaven crying because you didnt mention them in your article.

  4. Beulah and Polly are such excellent, classic, Southern names. And selling foals for pocket cash is very olde world.

    Was all happy and pleasant until I got to the abuse paragraph. Mankind never fails to disappoint.

  5. Julie

    It’s the kind of news story that makes me turn on a good Beethoven symphony to remind myself what greatness human beings are capable of.

  6. DF – the difference between then and now is just amazing. But if you want to really see what’s horrible look at the video that the SPCA taped. I just couldn’t bring myself to link to it.

    Ellie and UB–interesting that both of you had the same reaction. There has been so much news about this here, that I figured just saying the words Tennessee walking horse would conjure up the abuse issues.

    Mother–I imagine that those horses I never met are crying over the abuse, not my little blog.

    Julie – good to remember that we’re not all bad.

  7. Lynn

    As an older beginner I recently had the opportunity to purchase a walking horse
    She truly is a gentle soul, but you would not believe that 2 Farriers have told me how great her feet are. She has never been shod, and can travel across rough terrain without any problem
    I am blessed to have her

  8. Lynn–and she’s equally blessed to have you! I hope the two of you travel many happy miles together.

  9. the longstanding dispute between trainers and USDA inspectors came to a head. The inspectors disqualified 6 of 10 horses from showing on the night of Friday, August 25, 2006. The trainers denied soring and challenged the monitoring methods. The result was that a number of celebration championship classes were canceled, and there is still considerable controversy over the situation. After a yearlong discussion between the industry and the USDA over the issues raised at the 2006 show, the 2007 championship went off without significant controversy.

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