The Tennessee Walking Horse in motion, with its overstriding hind legs, in a perfectly square four beat gait, moves its head and neck, nodding or shaking up and down, to help balance the driving hind end. The head shake/nod is a distinctive motion that keeps in rhythm with the cadence of its feet.
The head shake/nod is natural. Because even newborn foals are born with an overstride (hind legs reach past the front legs), they also exhibit a head shake/nod when just walking around in the pasture.
Equine enthusiast and owners of other breeds, often wonder what’s wrong with that horse walking across a pasture because of the unique overstride and head shake/nod. The answer is nothing is wrong if it’s a Tennessee Walking Horse! It’s their natural inherent gait that causes them to move differently than other breeds.
In other equine breeds, when evaluating them for lameness issues, a rule of thumb is “down on sound”. “Down on Sound” means the horse’s head goes down when the sound limb hits the ground and, conversely, the head goes up when the problem limb hits the ground. This type of head nod associated with other breeds is a sign of a possible lameness issue. However, with a Tennessee Walking Horse, it is natural and a sign of a healthy horse that is wonderfully a Tennessee Walking Horse.
While a head nod may be an indicator of lameness in other equine breeds, when it comes to the Tennessee Walking Horse, always remember that if it isn’t nodding, it isn’t walking.