Tag: Tennessee Walking Horse

Giddyup! Travel by Horse (and a giveaway)

Kathleen Rice Adams headerHorses are a staple of western fiction. When writing or reading about them, it’s helpful to understand what they look like in motion and how each gait sounds. Whether or not an experienced horseman can see the animal, he or she can determine how fast a horse is moving by the distinctive rhythm of hooves striking the earth..

Muybridge's Belgian horse walking

Belgian horse walking
(moving image: Eadweard Muybridge, 1887)

Walk

A walk is a four-beat gait, meaning each hoof moves independently. The walk is a very comfortable gait for riders because it’s smooth, producing only a slight swaying motion. At a walk, even inexperienced riders have no trouble keeping their butts in the saddle.

Horses can walk all day, even carrying a load, but they don’t move very far very fast. The average horse will cover three to four miles an hour at a walk; some move as slowly as two miles per hour.

Trot and jog

Technically, a jog is slower than a trot, but in the Old West the terms were used interchangeably. Nowadays, at least among the general public, it’s more common to hear both referred to as trotting. Jogging and trotting are two-beat gaits in which diagonal pairs of legs move together: left rear with right front; right rear with left front.

a horse jogging/trotting

Technically, a jog. A trot would look much the same, but the horse would be moving faster.

The technical difference between “trot” and “jog” may be observed as equestrians put their mounts through a variety of competitive maneuvers at horse shows. Probably more familiar is the trotting seen in harness racing. Racing trotters often cover as much ground as quickly as other horses do at a gallop. Some harness races require horses to pace, a two-beat gait in which the legs on one side move forward together. Faster than a trot, pacing is not a particularly comfortable gait for riders. In fact, some report “seasickness” as a result of the horse’s pronounced swaying motion.

Jogging and trotting are a horse’s natural working gaits. If left to his own devices (and not escaping a threat), a horse will jog or trot when he wants to cover distance quickly. At a trot, horses cover an average of about eight miles in an hour.

Muybridge's horse pacing

pace (Muybridge, 1887)

Even under saddle, horses can jog or trot for a long time without tiring, but many riders can’t take the pace. Jogging and trotting can be extremely jarring and put enormous strain on the muscles in a rider’s legs, back, and abdomen. Working cowboys who spend a good deal of time in the saddle may move their horses at a jog or trot, but pleasure riders generally try to avoid the gaits if they value their backsides, which slap the saddle with each step until the rider learns to “move with the horse.”

So-called “gaited horses” like the Tennessee Walking Horse and the American Saddlebred don’t jog or trot. Instead, they “amble” in a natural four-beat middle gait called a “running walk” (Tennessee Walker) or “rack” (American Saddlebred). A horse moving at either gait can cover as many as fifteen miles in an hour. Because all four hooves move independently, the “ambling gaits” are comfortable for riders. Though both Tennessee Walkers and American Saddlebreds were known in the Old West, most were pleasure horses for the gentry.

a horse loping or cantering

lope or canter

Lope or canter

Lope and canter are essentially the same gait, a three-beat movement in which three hooves are off the ground while one rear hoof supports the horse’s weight. Here’s the difference between the two terms: Horses under western (or “stock”) saddles lope; horses under English saddles (or “pancakes”) canter. No self-respecting cowboy would sit a horse that insisted on cantering.

At a lope, horses can cover about ten to fifteen miles in an hour; some can reach speeds of up to twenty-seven miles per hour.

Gallop

The gallop, a four-beat gait, is the horsey equivalent of run and averages about thirty miles per hour. Horses bred for speed, like Thoroughbreds and racing Quarter Horses, can gallop as fast as fifty miles per hour.

Muybridge's horse galloping

gallop (Muybridge, 1878)

In the wild, horses gallop in order to escape a threat. Most horses can gallop for only a mile or two without risking serious injury or death. (Yes, some horses will run themselves to death at the urging of a rider, but the phenomenon is extremely rare.)

As an aside, Eadweard Muybridge created Sallie Gardner at a Gallop (right) in June 1878 by stringing together images captured in sequence by a line of twelve automatically triggered cameras placed beside a racetrack. The moving image and the zoopraxiscope Muybridge invented to play it are considered the “bridge” between still photography and cinematography. The experiment was designed to settle an ages-old debate about whether all four of a galloping horse’s hooves are off the ground simultaneously at any point. The moving image confirmed they are, at the moment the horse collects its legs under its belly.

How far can a horse travel?

How far a horse can travel in a day depends on the horse’s condition, the availability of food and water, and the terrain the animal is asked to cover. At a combination of lope and walk, a young horse in optimal condition can travel fifty to sixty miles a day in good weather over level terrain, as long as he is allowed to drink and graze every couple of hours. The faster a horse moves, the more often he will need to rest, eat, and drink.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, the longer a horse moves fast, the shorter the distance it can cover in a day. Pony Express riders galloped about 10 miles (or about half an hour) before changing horses and usually covered 60-70 miles a day, but that was an exceptionally grueling pace for the rider. An average mounted pace is about 40 miles per day, which is the progress the U.S. Cavalry aimed for during the nineteenth century. Over uneven terrain or in bad weather, a horse and rider would do well to cover twenty miles per day. In the mountains, ten miles per day would be a good pace.

Many cowboys carried grain—usually corn or oats—in order to get more out of their horses. Grain provides increased carbohydrate-based energy. Sweet feed, which contains molasses, was not common unless a horse was stabled. Horses love sweet feed, but it’s not good for them except as a treat.

Remember, too, that most working cowboys preferred—and still prefer—to ride geldings over mares or stallions. Although there are exceptions to every rule, geldings usually are much more tractable than intact horses. Stallions can be a handful at best and a nightmare if a mare anywhere in the vicinity is in season. Mares establish a pecking order within a herd and can be cranky. In the wild, a mare runs the herd; stallions are tolerated only for breeding and protection.

What do you find most fascinating about horses? Tell us in the comments, and you could win a KINDLE copy of the four-novel boxed set A Cowboy’s Touch, which includesThe Half-Breed’s Woman by Cheryl Pierson, Spirit Catcher by Livia J. Washburn, Wild Texas Winds by Kit Prate, and Prodigal Gun by Kathleen Rice Adams. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)

A Horse is a Horse: Breeds Common in the Old West

Kathleen Rice Adams headerIn the Old West, a horse was a horse, right? As long as it had four hooves and a modicum of “horse sense,” nobody really cared about its pedigree, did they?

Wild horses in Arizona

wild horses in Arizona (photo by John Harwood)

Yes and no. Just as in the modern world, folks used different horse breeds for different purposes—and a broader spectrum of horse breeds and purposes existed than most people realize.

Without considering draft horses, ponies, and mules (which are fodder for other posts), here are some of the more common horse breeds found west of the Mississippi River. This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination—just an accounting of the breeds most folks would have recognized.

 

American Quarter Horse mare

Mara, an American Quarter Horse mare (photo by Derrick Coetzee)

American Quarter Horse

A truly American breed, the Quarter Horse was essential to life on the frontier for very good reasons: They could do almost everything. Heavily muscled, hardy, and acutely intelligent, Quarter Horses were the horses that won the West.

Steel Dust, the first recognized Quarter Horse, was foaled in Kentucky from stock developed in the Colonies by crossing English stock with animals left behind by the Spanish conquistadors. After his arrival in Texas in 1844, the breed came into its own. Originally called “Steeldusts,” the horses quickly became a favorite of Texas ranchers, who admired their “cow sense,” calm disposition, and the short-coupled bodies that made them maneuverable in a variety of terrain. Found in every remuda and pasture from the southern tip of Texas to Canada and from the East Coast to California, the horses worked cattle, broke sod, pulled wagons and buggies…and raced. Racing was as common in the old west as cattle drives and quilting bees. Quarter Horses came by their enduring breed name because on a straight, level quarter-mile track, they can outrun any other horse on the planet—including Thoroughbreds.

American Saddlebred yearling horses

American Saddlebred yearlings (photo by Heather Moreton)

American Saddlebred

A cross between the now-extinct Narragansett Pacer and Thoroughbreds, American Saddlebreds were common by the time of the American Revolution, when they were called simply American horses. Tall and graceful like Thoroughbreds, they also exhibited the Pacer’s easy-to-ride gait. Known as Kentucky Saddlers by the early 1800s, owners and breeders prized the animals for their beauty, pleasant temperament, eagerness, strength, and stamina. Although used in the West primarily to pull carriages and provide snazzy mounts for the wealthy, they also did their share of hard work on ranches and farms.

Nez-Perce men with Appaloosa horse

Nez-Perce men with an Appaloosa, 1895

Appaloosa

The Appaloosa arose among the Nez-Perce Indians of the Pacific Northwest. The Nez-Perce were skilled horse breeders, and by selecting the best animals from among the wild herds, they produced equines especially suited to war and hunting. The horses were practical, hardy, and versatile with the additional advantages of tractability, good sense, and almost endless stamina.

Unfortunately, the color pattern that made the horses distinctive also led to the downfall of their creators. To escape continuously broken treaties and the U.S. government’s Indian extermination policies, the Nez-Perce headed for Canada under relentless pursuit, only to surrender several miles from the border when starvation and ceaseless battle prevented their continued flight. The government confiscated their horses—a symbol of the people—and sold them to local settlers, hunting and killing the animals that got away. Today, the annual Chief Joseph ride, open only to Appaloosas, travels the last 100 miles of the Nez-Perce trail marking the battles of Chief Joseph’s band with the U.S. Cavalry nearly 140 years ago.

Arabian horse

Mirage, an Arabian stallion (photo by Trescastillos)

Arabian

Prior to the first Arabian’s arrival in the U.S. as a gift to President George Washington, the world’s oldest true breed enjoyed a long and storied history as prized mounts of royalty and European war horses. In 1877, the Sultan of Turkey presented a pair of stallions to General Ulysses S. Grant, who bred them to Arabian mares imported from England. Celebrated for their beauty, intelligence, loyalty, and stamina, a few were used as cavalry mounts in the Civil War but the majority saw lives of leisure among the wealthy in the Old West.

Missouri Fox Trotter Horse

Quick Trigger, a Missouri Fox Trotter (photo by Kayla Oakes)

Missouri Fox Trotter

Developed around 1821 in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri, the Fox Trotting Horse comprised a mixture of Morgan, Thoroughbred, and Arabian bloodlines. The horses excelled at plowing, hauling logs, and working cattle in the rugged, rocky terrain. After adding Tennessee Walker and Standardbred blood, the horses became known as Missouri Fox Trotters and went West as stylish buggy and riding horses. Because of the breed’s ability to travel long distances at a speed of five to eight miles an hour, Missouri Fox Trotters quickly became a favorite of sheriffs and marshals, country doctors, and others who needed a quick, comfortable ride.

Known for their surefootedness, sweet nature, and comfortable seat, today Missouri Fox Trotters are the horse of choice for the National Park Service.

Morgan horse

Morgan colt (photo by Laura Behning)

Morgan

America’s first recognized horse breed descended from a two-year-old stallion of unknown ancestry acquired by a teacher in 1791 as settlement of a debt. The horse famously passed along his extraordinary traits, including sweet disposition, cobby and well-muscled body, and hardiness. Morgans were official cavalry mounts on both sides during the American Civil War. Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and Union General Philip Sheridan both rode Morgans they personally owned.

Both before and after the war, Morgans served as draft horses, stock horses, and speedy, durable mounts, playing roles on farms and ranches, among the miners during the California Gold Rush, as favored mounts of the Pony Express, and racing horses. Morgan blood heavily influenced the development of Quarter Horses in Texas. Although the breed almost died out in the 1870s, a few diligent breeders revived the bloodlines that continue today.

Mustang horses in Nevada

Mustangs in Nevada (Bureau of Land Management photo)

Mustang

America’s feral horses are living history and an enduring reminder of the country’s Wild West past. Descended from escaped and abandoned horses brought to the New World by the Spanish in the 1500s, Mustangs claim Barb, Sorraia, and Andalusian blood, along with traits inherited from all other American breeds. “Hot” horses (meaning they love to run), their intelligence and intuition made them notoriously difficult to catch, contain, and tame, but once domesticated, Mustangs became strong, loyal, reliable, and sturdy mounts and draft animals, performing all sorts of tasks in the American West.

In 1900, approximately 2 million Mustangs roamed 17 western states; by 1970, thanks to an extermination program undertaken by stockmen who considered the wild horses a threat to their range and purebred herds, fewer than 17,000 remained. The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 protects the animals now. Under the auspices of the Bureau of Land Management, herds thrive on open rangeland in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, and several other western states. Without natural predators, herds can double in four years, so the BLM periodically conducts roundups and places the detainees up for adoption. Those not adopted are re-released. (The BLM program is controversial and way beyond the scope of this post.)

Paint Horse

Paints, also called pintos during the period, were favored by the Comanche Indians not only for their speed and endurance, but also because their “loud” color patterns gave the horses and their riders “magic” in battle. Reportedly brought to the New World by Hernando Cortés, the first “horses with white splotches” appeared on the American continent in 1519. Some escaped, others were left behind when the explorers returned to Spain, but eventually the animals interbred with other wild horses and produced entire herds with paint markings.

Similar to American Quarter Horses in body type, appearance, and versatility, modern Paints also are considered quintessential stock and rodeo horses.

Rocky Mountain Horse

Rocky Mountain Horse (photo by Heather Moreton)

Rocky Mountain Horse

Somewhat of a latecomer, the Rocky Mountain horse originated in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. Largely a secret outside that area until about 1880, the horses were surefooted, easy-gaited, and versatile. In the Old West, postmen, doctors, and traveling preachers favored the horses. Because the breed also is strong and tough, Rocky Mountain Horses were used to plow fields, herd cattle, and pull buggies and wagons.

Tennessee Walking Horse

Tennessee Walking Horse (photo by Jean)

Tennessee Walking Horse

Known today primarily for its “running walk” gait and flashy, high-stepping movement, the original Tennessee Walking Horses were developed in the American South for use on plantations in all sorts of capacities. The breed’s ancestors include Narrgansett Pacers, Canadian Pacers, and Spanish Mustangs from Texas. Today’s breed arose in the late 1800s after interbreeding with Morgan stock.

Primarily a pleasure-riding horse for well-to-do city dwellers, a few Tennessee Walkers were employed by Old West doctors and others who required a mount that wouldn’t jar all their bones loose during lengthy trips.

Canadian Horse

Canadian Horse (photo: Rare Breeds Canada)

Canadian Horse

One last breed deserves mention, not because people would have encountered it in the Old West, but because it contributed a great deal to other breeds. Descended from draft and riding horses imported to Canada in the late 1600s, the Canadian Horse became popular in the American Northeast during the late 1700s. Due to massive exportation to the U.S. and Caribbean, along with extensive and often fatal service during the American Civil War, the breed nearly became extinct in the mid-19th Century. In the mid-20th Century, a group of dedicated breeders began a repopulation program, but the horse remains a rare breed.

 

 

Are you especially fond of a particular horse breed? Which one? Why? Share with us in the comments, and you just might win a KINDLE copy of the four-novel boxed set A Cowboy’s Touch. The set includes Cheryl Pierson’s The Half-Breed’s Woman, Livia J. Washburn’s Spirit Catcher, Kit Prate’s Wild Texas Winds, and Kathleen Rice Adams’s Prodigal Gun. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)

 

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