MS-CL-MR-2-Horse-tales81One of the most colorful breeds of horse world is the Appaloosa. With its bold spots, striped hooves and contrast of dark and white, the Appaloosa horse is easily recognized, and is prized for its showy colors. And while the Spanish are credited for bringing the forerunner of these impressive horses to Mexico in the 1500s, which spread to the American West and Native American lands by the 1700s, “spotted horses” had roamed the earth during the ice age, and were painted on cave walls across Europe by ancient cave-dwellers — as far back as 20,000 years ago in parts of France!
And in China, small statues of spotted horses were found in tombs dating back to the Han Dynasty, from 206 B.C. to 221 A.D. One such statue from around the seventh century A.D. depicts a horse with the light ‘blanket’ and dark spots characteristic of today’s Appaloosa.
Interestingly, in the 16th through 18th centuries, the Lipizzaner Horses of Western Europe often had spots and mottled skin similar to the Appaloosa, and some exhibit the same today.
The Spanish Andalusian horses (many of which had spotted coats) that were brought to North America by the Spanish explorers in the 1500s were eagerly utilized by the indigenous peoples; most notably the Nez Perce of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The Nez Perce became expert horsemen, and selectively bred the colorful horses for their unusual markings, as well as for their courage, intelligence, speed and strength, which were needed when employed as War Horses. Their coloration acted as camouflage, as the irregular spotting and coat patterns broke up the outline of horse and rider, and made it difficult to see them, especially when the riders painted themselves.
Because the Nez Perce were so closely associated with the flashy horses, and lived along the Palouse River, which ran through Idaho, their horse began to be referred to as a Palouse horse, Palousey or Appalousey; and finally morphed into Appaloosa.
After an increase of settlers entering Nez Perce lands of the West in the mid- 1800s, war broke out; and at the end of the Nez Perce War of 1877, the tribe’s magnificent horses were dispersed. By the early 1900s few were left, but after an article written by Dr. Francis Haines appeared in The Western Horseman in 1937, titled “The Appaloosa or Palouse Horse,” a strong interest in the breed was spawned and a year later, in 1938, the Appaloosa Horse Club was incorporated by Claude Thompson to preserve and improve the remaining stock of the diminishing horses.
The breed began to grow in popularity and attract new enthusiasts, who discovered them to be true to the Nez Perce’s findings — exhibiting courage, intelligence, speed and strength, in addition to a willingness to work, great versatility and stamina. They were used mainly as working horses, as well as for recreation.
The popularity of these horses grew to such an extent that in 1975, the Appaloosa horse was declared the state horse of Idaho in a bill signed by Governor Cecil Andrus. Today many Clubs and additional registries, such as The Appaloosa Color Breeders Association (ACBA) and The America Appaloosa Association (AApA) are popular; in fact, the Appaloosa Horse Club registry grew to the third largest horse registry in its time.
So what does a ‘typical’ Appaloosa horse look like? Interestingly, no two Appaloosas will have identical markings! Most will have white over their loin and hips, accompanied by dark round or egg-shaped spots which vary in size from tiny specks to as much as four inches in diameter. And while many Appaloosas carry the spotting all over their body, it is usually dominant over the hips and loins. Others will show white over the body or will have white spots on a dark background. The Appaloosa Horse Club recognizes five basic coat patterns:
1. Leopard, which has a white body with large dark spots completely covering the body;
2. Snowflake, which is the opposite — a dark body with light spots or speckles;
3. Marble, which features a light coat covered in small dark speckles;
4. Frost, the opposite of Marble, with a dark coat covered in small light speckles; and
5. Blanket, which shows white on the hips and/or loins. Darker spots may or may not appear on the white blanket.
Other characteristics of the breed are noteworthy:
Eyes: Appaloosa eyes appear similar to human eyes as they show white sclera which encircles the dark pupil of the horse’s eye; this is not true with all other breeds of horses, as most have a dark sclera, almost black.
Skin: The skin of the Appaloosa is mottled with an irregular spotting, a speckled pattern of pigmented and non-pigmented skin. Most often it can be found on the soft skin tissue of the horse, especially on or around the muzzle, eyes and genitalia, but can cover its entire body.
Hooves: The hooves show clearly defined vertically light and dark hooves. The Appaloosa is the only breed that displays vertically light and dark striped hooves on legs that have no white leg markings.
Mane and Tail: tend to be short and sparse.
Height and Weight: The minimum height for a mature Appaloosa (five years or older) is 14 hands (56 inches); height ranges from 14 to 16 hands, and weight usually ranges from 950 to 1,250.
The ideal Appaloosa should have, among other attributes, a deep but not excessively wide chest; well-defined prominent withers; and length and slope to the pastern, shoulders, and hips, with strong and sturdy legs and feet; they tend to be sure-footed.
For more information on this colorful breed, contact:
International Colored Appaloosa Association –; the Appaloosa Horse Club; or the Appaloosa Sport Horse Association –