"Today, Tennessee Walking Horses are known throughout the industry
as the breed that shows abused and tortured horses."

~ Jim Heird, Ph.D., Do Right By The Horse, February 2010

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."

~ St. Francis of Assisi

Friday, July 1, 2011

RESEARCH - The Current TWH vs. the Original TWH: A Great Blog About the History of the TWH

I was directed to a fun blog by a friend that details the history of the Tennessee Walking Horse. It's great because it has old photos, articles, and stories about the old days, which includes long before soring became the way to "train" the TWH. Click here for Walking Horse Trivia. "Smitty" is the person making the posts, kudos to his research and well put together blog! The photos are great--you can really see how well the horses moved and learn why exactly the gait was cultivated. And check out that gorgeous horse Honey Gold as the April Photo of the Month! WOW! Who wouldn't want a mane and tail like that. These were amazing animals that didn't need pads, chains, bands, or heavy shoes to be brilliant, gorgeous, and crowd-pleasing. I haven't read everything yet, but I started from the beginning and have really been enjoying the posts.

I particularly enjoyed the first article posted on the blog. It's titled The Unmistakable Walking Horse. Smitty posted this note about the article:

NOTE: the following excerpts are taken from AMERICA'S TENNESSEE WALKING HORSE, published in 1973 by Jack Knox, a nationally know editorial cartoonist, who had a long and lasting interest in horses of all breeds. For many years, he was a familiar figure at the Celebration, where many of his sketches of Tennessee Walking Horses were done. He spent much of his early life in the cowboy country of Texas and New Mexico and in later years, he took leave of his drawing board to spend vacations as a working cowboy. His studies of the Tennessee Walking Horse included both plantation pleasure and show horses.

I have seen a lot of Jack Knox's illustrations and they are dynamite. They really capture what the TWH was all about, the fluidity of gait and the ease of movement that the horse is known for.

Since I don't have permission from Smitty to save any of the photos in the article, I want to draw your attention to the second and third sets of drawings. Take a look at what the Big Lick used to be. A free flowing animal, without tall and heavy pads, and he sometimes wore bell boots to protect his heel bulbs from accidentally being kicked by his hind feet. The height of the knee is not higher than the shoulder, and the horse reaching and pulls with his front end while driving with his hind end, all while keeping his back level.

Now take a look at the conformation section. They talk about pads, but note how they aren't abnormally tall, nor is the heel sheered off with abnormally long toes. Now note the notes concerning the hocks.

Some "old timers" will argue that a "goose rump" and crooked hind legs are essential to the way a horse scoots his hind legs up under himself. But the Arab, longest striding horse ever bred, had an almost level croup, and "straight" hind legs. The Arab has but two natural gaits, a long-striding flat walk, a gallop - though easily trained to execute other gaits. Light horse breeds get their stride and refinement from "the royal drop" of blood from the ancient Arab. A few Arabs are listed "foundation" stock in the Walking Horse stud book.

Knox also points out: "Crooked hind legs are subject to bog spavins and other hock ailments."

Knox is actually saying that those conformation faults that are sought after in today's show horses ARE WRONG. He shows it even more so in the next paragraph and the following illustrations of faults.

Next is form. Form is a horse's "way of going" and is extremely important. A beautiful horse with perfection conformation will appear to show poor conformation if his "way of going" is not in honest form in his flat-walk, running-walk and canter, or with an "artificial" touch in his gaits.

So what is artificial? In the faults section, Knox has drawings that look very familiar. In fact they look just like the TWH Big Lick horse of today. The faults include:

1. Show horses should go straight, front and back. Faults are winging, where the front feet swing outward, or crossing in front and moving wide behind.

2. Over reaching and hitting the ground with the heel. This is not to be confused with the heel first step that all horses should have--this is an actual banging of the heels on the ground because the horse is moving too fast and is off balance.

3. "On the toes" or digging behind. This is obvious when horses fling dirt behind.

4. Lifting the horse to canter or "pumping" the horse to force the canter. "More of a 'crow hop' than a collected gallop!"

5. Wobbling and twisting hind legs when riding a sore horse.

Most importantly, Knox writes: "Behind the scenes or in the ring, whether front feet are sore from founder, laminitis, sand cracks, thrush or sored intentionally, unsound horses are easily detected."

I'm sure Knox would probably be pretty upset with how the show horse looks today. We can find nearly all of those faults in any Big Lick video you can find on YouTube. So why has the horse come to be like this? Why are the faults that are so clearly stated in such brilliant illustrations now the norm? The desire for more lift and reach, more crouch behind, and wanting the horse to be "doing something" without care for the horse's welfare has created this. We must understand that all of this is clearly to satisfy the vanity and pride of the horse owners, trainers, exhibitors, and even the judges. It is time for the industry to realize this has gotten out of hand. These illustrations alone should make all of us stop and think about what's going on.

I hope everyone takes time to read Smitty's blog. We can learn so much from it and how to get back the breed we seem to have lost. I think Smitty's got a great thing going so we can all learn about the roots of this horse and realize why we need to go back to what this horse used to be about. Let's all have pride in the natural gait and versatility of this wonderful breed!

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