Tennessee Walker vs Quarter Horse: Detailed Comparison Guide

When it comes to choosing a horse breed, there are many options to consider. Two popular breeds that often get compared are the Tennessee Walker and the Quarter Horse. If you’re trying to decide between the two, you might be wondering which is right for you. In this detailed comparison guide, we’ll break down the differences between the Tennessee Walker vs Quarter Horse, so you can make an informed decision. Let’s get started!

Tennessee Walking Horse

tennessee walker horse running free


Originally bred in the United States, the Tennessee Walking Horse dates back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These equines were specifically developed to meet the needs of farmers in the southern United States who required a sturdy and comfortable ride for traversing rough terrains. The breed’s ancestry includes Canadian Pacers, Saddlebreds, and Narragansett Pacers, which contributed to its unique gait and characteristics.


Tennessee Walking Horses are known for their elegant and definitive head, which features small, well-placed ears. These horses generally stand between 14.3 and 17 hands tall and weigh between 900 and 1,200 pounds (Twhbea). Their bodies boast a long, sloping shoulder, a fairly short back, and a long, sloping hip. The horses also possess a strong, short coupling that provides them with resilience and durability.

Quarter Horse

The Quarter Horse is an incredibly versatile and popular horse breed that traces its roots to various sources, such as the Barb, mustangs, and other breeds. In this section, we will explore the history, characteristics, and common uses of Quarter Horses.


The origin of the Quarter Horse can be traced back to the 17th century when the English colonists in North America began breeding local mustangs with imported Spanish Barbs. These horses showed remarkable strength, agility, and stamina. Over the years, Quarter Horses were bred to work on ranches, as well as participate in various equestrian disciplines such as cutting, racing, and more. Today, the Quarter Horse is recognized as a versatile breed, excelling in many areas of equine sport.


Quarter Horses have many distinct characteristics that set them apart from other breeds. One of the most noticeable is their short and muscular stature. They typically stand between 14.2 and 16 hands high and possess a compact body with sturdy legs. Their coat color can vary widely, with popular shades including sorrel, bay, black, and even pinto and paint patterns.

Their unique physique and temperament make them well-suited for various disciplines. Quarter Horses are well-regarded for their agility, quick reflexes, and ability to change direction with ease. They’re also known for their calm demeanor, intelligence, and willingness to please their rider, making them a favored breed among equestrian enthusiasts.

Common Uses

Given their versatile nature, Quarter Horses are used in a wide array of equine sports and disciplines. They excel in cutting and reining, as well as racing, where their exceptional speed and powerful hindquarters allow them to outperform many other horses over short distances.

Quarter Horses are also commonly found in the show ring, participating in events such as western pleasure, trail, and horsemanship classes. Their calm and willing nature makes them excellent mounts for riders of all ages and skill levels.

In addition to their presence in sporting events, Quarter Horses are often used for ranch work, thanks to their adeptness at handling cattle and navigating challenging terrain. Furthermore, their exceptional stamina and strong work ethic make them suitable for long-distance trail riding and recreational use. The versatility of this breed ensures that it remains a popular choice among horse enthusiasts worldwide.

Comparing Gaits

Beautiful Tennessee Walker stallion standing in green pasture. outdoors

The Tennessee Walking Horse and the American Quarter Horse, both iconic American breeds, are known for their unique gaits, which make them popular choices for different riders and purposes. This section will explore and compare the gaits of these two breeds, divided into sub-sections covering the Running Walk and Trot, Pace and Canter, and Unique Gaits.

Running Walk and Trot

The Tennessee Walking Horse is renowned for its unique and innate Running Walk, a smooth four-beat gait that can reach speeds of up to 10 mph. The Running Walk offers riders exceptional comfort as it involves minimal vertical movement, making it an ideal choice for individuals with back problems or physical constraints. In contrast, the Quarter Horse has a traditional trot, which is a two-beat gait that involves alternating diagonal pairs of legs. While not as smooth as the Running Walk, the trot is still highly efficient for covering ground.

Unique Gaits

Within the spectrum of gaits, some unique subsets may not be commonly found in these breeds but are worth noting. For Tennessee Walking Horses, the Flat Walk is another gait with a noticeable overstride, where the hind feet travel up ahead of the paths left by the front feet. This gait is smooth and comfortable for the rider, similar to the Running Walk. In comparison, the American Quarter Horse may exhibit gaits such as the Singlefoot, a four-beat gait offering a smooth ride over long distances, and the Foxtrot, a diagonal four-beat gait, providing similar comfort.

In conclusion, although both breeds offer their own unique and smooth gaits, the Tennessee Walking Horse is renowned for its Running Walk, while the American Quarter Horse is known for its versatility in performance disciplines. The choice between these breeds depends on the rider’s preferences and requirements for comfort, speed, and the specific equestrian disciplines they wish to engage in.

Appearance and Temperament

Size and Build

The Tennessee Walking Horse and the American Quarter Horse are both distinct breeds, each with unique characteristics regarding their size and build. Tennessee Walking Horses are generally taller, often standing at about 17 hands high, and exhibit a well-proportioned and elegant appearance1. They possess a long neck, sloping shoulders, and a well-defined head with smaller ears2.

In contrast, the American Quarter Horse is a more compact and muscular breed. Although their size varies, they typically have a shorter and more powerful body than the Tennessee Walking Horse. This breed is renowned for its strength and athleticism, making them an ideal choice for a variety of equestrian activities, such as racing and rodeo events3.

Color Variations

Both breeds offer a diverse range of coat colors, adding to their visual appeal. Tennessee Walking Horses can be found in various colors, including bay, black, chestnut, cream, and grey, and they often display a unique pinto pattern4. On the other hand, American Quarter Horses also exhibit a wide variety of coat colors, with some of the most common ones being chestnut, bay, black, grey, and palomino5. Additionally, they may feature unique markings, such as blazes, stockings, or white spots, which further enhance their appearance6.


The temperament of these two breeds also differs, which can influence an individual’s preference when selecting a horse for various activities. Tennessee Walking Horses are known for their docile and easy-going nature, making them a popular choice for family and leisure riding7. Their smooth gait and calm demeanor also make them suitable for ranch work, driving, and even jumping events8.

American Quarter Horses, however, are recognized for their versatility and strong work ethic. They exhibit a spirited yet manageable temperament, which has made them popular choices for racing, rodeo events, and other demanding equestrian sports9. Despite their energetic disposition, Quarter Horses can be quite affectionate and develop a strong bond with their riders, making them a suitable companion for both competitive and recreational riders alike10.

Citations: 1 Pet Keen 2 The Spruce Pets 3 Horse Illustrated 4 Pet Keen 5 Horse Illustrated 6 Helpful Horse Hints 7 Prezi 8 Prezi 9 Horse Illustrated 10 Helpful Horse Hints

Health and Care

purebred tennessee walker standing on road in leather halter

The health and care of Tennessee Walking Horses and Quarter Horses are crucial for their well-being and performance. In this section, we will discuss the dietary requirements, common health issues, and shoeing and soring concerns for both breeds.

Diet and Nutrition

To ensure optimal health and energy levels, Tennessee Walking Horses and Quarter Horses require a well-balanced diet consisting of essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins, and water. Fresh grass, hay, rolled oats, barley, and bran are some of the grains that can be included in their diet. While treats like carrots and apples can be given in moderation, it is crucial to monitor their weight as overweight horses are prone to developing health problems. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are key to maintaining an ideal weight and overall well-being for both breeds.

Health Issues

The Tennessee Walking Horse is known for being a hardy breed with few health problems, and it can have a lifespan of up to 30 years (source). However, lameness can occur in both breeds, making it essential to monitor their health and consult a veterinarian if any signs of discomfort arise.

Common health issues in Quarter Horses include navicular disease, tendon and ligament injuries, and degenerative joint diseases. Early detection and intervention are crucial in addressing such health concerns.

Shoeing and Soring

Proper shoeing is necessary to maintain the health and comfort of a horse’s hooves. Both Tennessee Walking Horses and Quarter Horses require regular hoof trimming and shoeing to prevent lameness and other foot-related issues.

Soring, a painful and illegal practice to accentuate the high-stepping gait of Tennessee Walking Horses, involves applying chemicals, weights, or other means to create a painful sensation in their legs. It is crucial always to adopt humane training methods and avoid practices like soring to ensure animal welfare and ethical treatment.

Riding and Performance

Portrait of alert Tennessee Walker gelding

Riding Styles

Tennessee Walking Horses are versatile and suitable for various riding styles, such as Western, English, and trail riding. Their smooth gait makes them a popular choice for all levels of riders. Quarter Horses, on the other hand, excel in competitive Western events, such as cutting, reining, and barrel racing, due to their athleticism and speed. However, they can also be used for English disciplines and trail riding.

Comfort and Smoothness

Tennessee Walkers are known for their distinctive smooth gaits, which make them comfortable to ride for long periods. These gaits include the flat walk, running walk, and canter (The Spruce Pets). Meanwhile, Quarter Horses are known for their powerful sprinting capabilities but may not be as smooth as Tennessee Walkers in terms of gaits. Quarter Horses have a more typical walk, trot, and canter, whereas the Tennessee Walker’s unique gaits provide exceptional smoothness and comfort during rides (Pets on Mom.com).

For Children and Beginners

Both Tennessee Walking Horses and Quarter Horses are considered good choices for children and beginner riders due to their easy-going nature and trainable temperament. Tennessee Walking Horses, with their gentle demeanor and smooth gaits, are often considered ideal for beginners and make lovely family horses. Quarter Horses also have a suitable temperament and size for children and novice riders, as they are typically friendly, intelligent, and adaptable (Horse Racing Sense).

When choosing a riding horse for children or beginners, it’s essential to consider the individual horse’s temperament and the rider’s needs. Some riders may prefer the comfort and smoothness of a Tennessee Walker, while others might enjoy the versatility and athletic nature of a Quarter Horse. Both breeds have qualities that make them suitable for various riding styles and suitable for all levels of equestrians.

Choosing the Right Horse

Medicine Hat White Tennessee Walker in Pasture

When considering a horse for riding or other activities, the Tennessee Walker and Quarter Horse are two popular breeds. Each has its own unique qualities and characteristics that make them well-suited for specific tasks and rider preferences. In this section, we will discuss the factors to consider when choosing between these two breeds and provide tips for selecting the right horse for your needs.

Deciding Factors

The Tennessee Walker, also called the Tennessee Walking Horse, is known for its smooth, easy ride and calm, docile temperament. Originating from the bluegrass region of central Tennessee, it is a gaited breed with a combination of Morgan, Standardbred, Narragansett Pacer, and Thoroughbred genetics (source). The breed is well-suited for trail riding and flat walk, as well as other disciplines such as driving, jumping, and western-style gaming events (source). Tennessee Walkers have a sloping shoulder and possess a unique overstride, where their hind feet step over their front footprints, producing a relaxed, rhythmic gait.

Conversely, the Quarter Horse is a versatile and strong breed, often used in various equestrian sports and ranch work. This breed excels in activities like reining and cutting, and its muscular build and compact body make it well-suited for short-distance, high-speed races. Quarter Horses have a more pronounced shoulder, which contributes to their power and agility.

Breed Selection Tips

Here are some factors to consider when choosing between a Tennessee Walker and a Quarter Horse:

  • Riding Experience: For beginner riders, Tennessee Walking Horses with their calm disposition and smooth gaits are a better choice (source). Experienced riders may prefer the agility and versatility of a Quarter Horse.
  • Intended Use: If your primary interest is in trail riding or flat walk, a Tennessee Walker may be more suitable. For ranch work, cutting, reining, or short-distance racing, a Quarter Horse would be a better option.
  • Size: Both breeds typically stand around 15-17 hands, but the Tennessee Walker often has a more elegant appearance, while the Quarter Horse is known for its muscular, compact build (source).
  • Color: Both breeds come in a variety of solid colors, including bay, chestnut, and black. Tennessee Walkers can also appear in pinto or paint patterns (source).

Remember, it’s important to consider individual temperament, training, and physical condition when selecting a horse, regardless of breed. A well-trained and properly cared for mare or gelding from either breed can make a wonderful companion for the right rider.


In conclusion, when comparing the Tennessee Walking Horse and the American Quarter Horse, it is essential to consider their different characteristics, strengths, and purposes. The Tennessee Walking Horse is known for its smooth and comfortable ride, making it an excellent fit for families and riders who seek a calm and versatile horse. This breed is suitable for various activities like ranch work, reining, cutting, driving, and jumping.

On the other hand, the American Quarter Horse has established its reputation as a working ranch horse, excelling in tasks like cutting and reining. This breed is versatile and can be used in various disciplines, including racing. When choosing between these two breeds, potential owners should consider their specific needs, preferences, and the activities they plan to pursue with their horse.

Both the Tennessee Walking Horse and the American Quarter Horse have unique traits and features that make them desirable choices for different riders. The Quarter Horse tends to be more muscular and powerful, while the Tennessee Walking Horse is commonly known for its graceful and smooth gait. Regardless of which horse is chosen, it is crucial to provide them with proper care, a healthy diet, and sufficient exercise, as these breeds can live up to 30 years when well-maintained.

Ultimately, the choice between a Tennessee Walking Horse and an American Quarter Horse depends on individual preferences and the desired use of the horse. Both breeds have their unique strengths and characteristics, contributing to their popularity and widespread use in various equestrian activities.