The Flatfoot Walk
...is a bold, elaborate walk where the Tennessee Walking Horse use their huge stride to cover the ground on average of 3 - 5 mph. It is carried with level posture that enables each hoof to lift and place independently in even, 4-beat cadence producing a smooth weight transfer where hooves land flat giving this gait its name. This creates a smooth and energy efficient gait to ride.
Watch as the front hooves reach and pull at the ground. The shoulder roll is what gives the impression of climbing a ladder with those front feet.
Note the famous Tennessee Walking horse headnod. The headnod provides counterbalanced weight and power to the driving backend, much as we swing our arms to power our own walk. It should always originate from the shoulder, never the poll.
See how the back feet drive far under the horse with very little hock action, the hooves barely clearing the ground, and overstriding the hoofprints of the front feet anywhere from 6 to 18 inches in a correctly timed flatwalk.
All of these parts work together elegantly, and the complete picture of the correctly moving horse should always appear flowing and graceful; coming together with ease and as much a pleasure for the horse as for the rider. The flatwalk is an energy efficient gait that can be maintained for many miles in the well conditioned walking horse. Many walkers remain so relaxed in their topline and jaw muscles, they will actually flop their ears or snap their teeth in rhythm to their walks.
The Running Walk
While most gaited breeds can carry or learn to carry this fluid and efficient gait, it is a signature gait of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Many gaited horses have the inherent ability to carry their walking posture to greater stride and speed than non-gaited horses. As such the running walk becomes a very efficient gait for both pleasure and utility.
The overall form of the running walk remains the same as that of the flatfoot walk, but the reach and tempo extends to intermediate speeds of 8 – 10 mph. NOTE: the running walk is *not* a speed gait, but an intermediate gait. It should always remain fluid with all impulsion forward moving, wasting nothing for upward suspension. Proper form of the running walk must never be sacrificed for excessive speed. As with the flatfoot walk, the hooves should continue to lift and place independently as the weight transfer becomes more rolling with the increased tempo and stride.
Overstride will increase with the flatfoot walk to running walk transition, averaging from 10 to 24 inches while remaining in that desired, even timing. Total stride will (hoof pick up to plant) often range anywhere from 6 to as much as 10 feet depending on the size and abilities of the horse. It is this deep stride with its driving propulsion that creates a feeling of acceleration and gliding across the ground. The Tennessee Walking horse was bred to carry this gait with fluid lightness, however it is a wonderful pleasure gait for any horse. With conditioning and in keeping all energy forward moving, gaited horses are able utilize the running walk to cover great distances in comfort for both horse and rider. Because it is still a walking gait, the distinctive headnod should always remain evident, even though it will become more compact at the increased tempo. Like the flatwalk, the running walk should remain a relaxed and easy gait for both horse and rider.
The Rocking Chair Canter
The canter is performed much as with other breeds, but the walking horses use their huge stride to carry this relaxed gait to new, ground-covering speeds and collection.
Always three-beat, the canter must remain forward moving while performed in a diagonal manner on the right or left leads. The gaited horse engages their deep backend reach to elegantly lift and gracefully flow forward and down in a controlled and collected manor. Thus, this collected canter gives us an easy rise and falling motion of the rocking chair from which the gait takes its name. The western gaited horse performs a comparable three beat lope with the same ground covering smoothness, but with slightly less elevation. It should remain economical, straight and efficient on both leads.