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Tennessee Walking Horse Heritage Society
In October of 2003, six individuals met at the home of Danny and Sherry Taylor east of Lynchburg, Tennessee. They had gathered in concern about the Tennessee Walking Horse breed. They were worried about internet gossip that the breed was undependable as trail horses. They were upset that some ex-show horses with no practical training were being sent out of Tennessee and being sold as trail-wise companion horses. They were anxious that the signature gaits of the breed were being lost or misunderstood. They were understandably upset that many people believed that the only bloodlines available for trail and pleasure showing were the ones produced in the padded horse show ring, that all other bloodlines were either lost or found many generations back in the pedigrees of the 21st century's horses. The individuals in this group represented a combination of over 200 years of experience in the Tennessee Walking Horse breed, with half of them being second and third generation horsemen. They decided to pool their resources and form a group to give voice to their concerns. On that evening, with a little help from Sherry Taylor and an American Heritage dictionary, the Tennessee Walking Horse Heritage Society came into being. A year later, the sixth founder, Sandra van den Hof from Hechtel, Belgium, began her contributions to the Society.
The founders formed the Heritage Society with a twofold purpose of education and promotion. They had no intention of forming a club, since clubs bend to the will of the membership, with rules open to change. This was not the basic concept. Older bloodlines were still alive and viable within the broodstock owned by members of the new Society. All members had at least one horse with at least one TWHBEA foundation animal still showing on the papers. Many of the horses owned by the members had at least a dozen animals on their pedigrees registered in the early years of the TWH registry, before pads and paciness came into vogue, from 1935 to 1949. The founders wanted to let the general horse public know that these bloodlines were still available, and that the individual horses from them continued forward the traits the breed demonstrated in the days when the TWHBAA slogan was "If you ride one today, you'll own one tomorrow." These traits included strong bones, good minds, the desire to please, and the signature running walk gait with no deviation to the pace or swing lick. The founders also wanted to provide information on the history of the breed prior to the padded horse era, since many newer owners within the breed had little access to this sort of information.
It has now been many years since this formative meeting. At the suggestion of our European founder, who joined us in 2004, the TWH Heritage Society maintains its own website, as well as a listing with Walking-Horse.com. The Society produces a monthly electronic newsletter available by subscription and also on the website. Certified Heritage Horses from the founders' programs and others have found new homes all over the United States and in foreign countries as well. These horses are fulfilling their potential on the trails, in endurance and competitive trail events, on working ranches, and occasionally in the show ring. As the Heritage foals arrive each spring, each succeeding crop helps to assure that this gene pool of rare and intelligent Tennessee Walking Horse strains will continue to enrich the breed throughout the 21st century.
All registered Tennessee Walking Horses, in theory at least, are descended from 115 Foundation Sires and Dams designated by the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders Association of America during the earliest years of the registry. During the mid-thirties and early forties, stallions and mares were also accepted on the ability to perform a running walk gait under saddle, or to sire or produce foals with this gaiting ability. As the years passed, registration credentials changed to require all horses recorded in the association to be the offspring of a registered sire and a registered dam, with the exception of geldings of at least 50% recorded TWH blood that were capable of performing a running walk under saddle. That exception was eliminated in the seventies. If all horses are descended from the same sets of bloodlines, however, what is it that makes a Heritage Tennessee Walking Horse different? It is a combination of both bloodlines and ability that sets this group of horses apart from the rest of the breed.
Before the show ring became the Mecca determining the value of a horse, the Tennessee Walker was promoted as the World's Greatest Pleasure Horse. Horses were bred to demonstrate smooth gaits under saddle, to have common sense, to have the stamina to work long hours without breaking down, and to have generally willing attitudes. When the padded show horse stallion began to dominate the breeding world, overshadowing bloodlines from stallions that were used and even shown flatshod, the pacy gait required to produce a high stepping, big striding padded-up show horse found its way into the overall breed gene pool. Breeders who did not break their mares to ride and bred to the trendiest of the champion stallions might or might not get foals that could walk without heavy shoes and special bits.
The return of plantation classes to show rings around the United States in the seventies and the increasing popularity of trail riding during the same period insured the some breeders either continued to focus or or began to shift their focus from the padded show horse to the horse that could walk without pads, boots, or chains. With this new goal, some breeders and buyers during the eighties began to search for old bloodlines that had never been used in the padded show ring. While this was a laudable goal, individuals who purchased horses not broke to ride, from sellers who knew nothing about where the horses they were marketing originated, did not always contribute to the overall growth of the pleasure segment of the breed, as these unproven horses with older papers did not always live up to the promises on the pedigrees that came with the horses.
A concurrent trend during the eighties that continues into the 21st century is the popularity of color. While first becoming evident among people wanting spotted horses and grays, the trend blossomed as palominos and buckskins and even cremellos and other double dilutes enjoyed a brief popularity. Color having been present in the breed since before the organization of the registry in 1935, this was a positive sign of breed growth, unfortunately marred by unscrupulous individuals who engineered pedigrees for colorful grade horses to make money on them. The institution of bloodtyping requirement by TWHBEA stopped this process, but all horses registered before the bloodtyping regulations went into effect were grandfathered into the breed.
During the same period that colors were on the rise in the trail riding world, the show lines of the breed were changing as well. The bloodlines that had prevailed in winning championships in the sixties and early seventies were superseded by a new strain of show horse bred to be heads up, light in the front end, swingier in gait, and fiery in disposition. While this resulted in the desired sort of horse that could wear a heavy package with an energetic show gait, animals from the bloodlines used to produce this show horse often proved unsuited to pleasure uses if they did not "make" in the show ring. Show horse rejects were sent outside of the show segments of the country and sold as trail horses, which they were not. This activity did little to promote the Tennessee Walking Horse breed on a national scope.
Our goal is to preserve the old style of Walking Horse, one that performs the gait that made the breed famous, and does so with a calm mind and willing attitude!
The Tennessee Walking Horse Heritage Society name, as well as the term Heritage Walking Horse(s), are protected by laws governing intellectual property rights or rights of ownership, and are either the property of, or under the direction of, the Founders of the Society. No material contained on this website may be used or duplicated without the consent of the Society. No material contained on this site may be deemed the recipient, even implicitly, of an authorization or right to use a trademark, logo, or other name, particularly those identifying The Tennessee Walking Horse Heritage Society or Heritage Walking Horse(s), without the authorization of the Tennessee Walking Horse Heritage Society.