The Appaloosa Horse

The Appaloosa horse

Do you know that there is currently a breed of horse that formerly shared territory and in many cases worked side by side with the Native Americans of the Nez Perce tribe? Yes, we are talking about the Appaloosa horse, an imposing and wonderful equine that comes from the current territories of Oregon and Washington.

Its name, of Indian origin, comes from the Palouse River, in which it was very common to see these horses drinking from the water of the said river. Do you want to know the characteristics, character, and health of the Appaloosa horse? Well, keep reading this BestPetsLover fact sheet!

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We can see drawings of speckled horses in caves that are 20,000 years old. The appaloosa gene, responsible for this mottling, appears in several equine breeds, but the Appaloosa horse is a horse that has its origin in the Nez Perce native tribes, which were distributed throughout the northwestern United States

history of the breed

Their name results from the evolutionary derivation of the Palouse River, where they grew up.

Thus, when a horse had these spots, it was said to be a horse from this river, that is, a Palouse horse. His name evolved to appaloosa.

When the native tribes were confined in the Reserves, the order was given to annihilate their horses, as they were their main weapon of war. The appaloosa almost disappeared, since those that were not slaughtered were castrated or crossed with other breeds.

The growing interest in this breed in the early 20th century culminated in the creation of the Appaloosa Horse Club in 1938 in Idaho, and the naming of the Appaloosa as that state horse in 1975.

The appaloosa spreads throughout the world receiving the influence of the races of the area, depending on the function to which it wants to dedicate itself. That is why it would have a lot of influence from the quarter horse, ideal for working with cattle.

As its use as a working animal leads to more sporting use, this breed becomes part of disciplines such as western riding, but also raid, trail or TREC.

What are Indian horses called?

When the Appaloosa Horse Club (APHC) was founded in Moscow-Idaho (United States) in 1938, the horses that the Nez Perce (Pierced Noses) Indians had selected for more than two hundred years were practically extinct, after the Washington government decided to completely eliminate it, understanding that for the Indian tribes the appaloosa was their best weapon of war.

The recovery of this immortal breed of horses began from then on following the rigorous APHC regulations, so that today no Appaloosa horse can be considered a “pure breed” if it does not have the corresponding certificate from the APHC, for which parents must also be certified.

In addition, tradition requires that all documentation be paid in US dollars.

The name Appaloosa comes from the territory where the different Nez Perce tribes initially inhabited, an area near the Palouse River and which today is part of the Nez Perce National Forest.

For the first Anglo-Saxon settlers, those dappled horses that the Nez Perce Indians bred were popularly known as the Palouse River Horses, in English Apalousse River Horse”.

Origin of the Appaloosa horse

Appaloosa horses or spotted or freckled horses, due to the spots present on their colorful coats. These horses are considered a truly ancient breed, spread throughout practically the entire world. However, it was the Native Americans of the Nez Perce tribe who named it appaloosa after the Palouse River. It was also this tribe that saw in these horses the ideal companion to help them in tasks as diverse as hunting or war, domesticating them, and selecting the most suitable specimens for these tasks for more than 200 years.

It is considered that the Appaloosa may have as precursors the Spanish horses that the colonizers brought with them when they arrived in America, back in the 16th century, being the first Appaloosa Spanish horses with a dappled coat. The breed evolved, but the one we know today is the result of the work of the Appaloosa Horse Club, founded in 1938. It was created to save the breed from extinction, they managed to recover the breed by carrying out an intensive breeding program. Thanks to their efforts, the Appaloosa horses continue to exist today.

What does Appaloosa horse mean?


And so good was the work done by the Nez Perce that in 1876 the US government ordered the Cavalry to kill all Appaloosa horses.

To avoid this, Chief Joseph ordered the Nez Perce to retreat on their horses to the Canadian border in search of sanctuary for themselves and their mounts.

But in 1877, before reaching Canada, the Nez Perce were surrounded by General O. Howard’s cavalry and forced to surrender their weapons and horses.
Evidently, the order to annihilate the Appaloosa was not fully carried out and a small redoubt of these horses survived until the creation of the APHC in 1938, although surely the Appaloosa are true survivors.

On the rocky walls of the French cave of Peche-Merle 18,000-20,000 years ago our ancestors already drew a group of spotted horses, which according to experts would prove that the appaloosa has been with us since prehistory.

But no one gets wrong. All the spotted horses that we meet do not have to be appaloosa, although they are erroneously called that.

The authentic appaloosa, an internationally recognized breed since 1950, has mottled skin on the muzzle area, around the eyes, and in the genital area, in addition to having white sclera on the eyes like humans.

And if all this wasn’t enough, a good appaloosa horse has vertically striped cases.

According to all the surveys, the appaloosa occupies third place in the ranking of the most popular horses, and within this fame are their many layers of fur.

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The most frequent is called leopard, spotted back, light back and dark mane, snowflake, drop, and speckled.

When the pioneers of the American frontier saw the Indians riding on those fast and colorful horses, they called them “spirit of the wind” and it is surely that indomitable personality that has accompanied them from prehistory to the present.

Appaloosa Horse Characteristics

Appaloosa horses are medium-sized horses with muscular bodies and rounded rumps. The legs are light, thin, and well-boned, but they are really strong and resistant. Many specimens have striped hooves, with light vertically oriented stripes. These horses have a mane and tail that are thick and long.

As for the coat of the appaloosa, which distinguishes them from other equine breeds, there are six different layers :

Fawn: with oval spots and a white or light background

 Snowflake: with white spots on a dark base, the back spotted with dark spots and a light-colored back and dark mane

 “A drop”: with a white base and dark spots scattered all over its body

 Marbled: with the back of the body light with dark spots and the front with light spots on a dark base.

It seems that there is sexual dimorphism in terms of the color and intensity of the tones of the fur, being more striking and lively in males than in females. However, it is not the coat itself that makes the breed truly unique, its distinctive is its skin. This skin is mottled, being a mixture of light and dark spots as if it had freckles. These freckles are different from the spots that other races have because in those others they are patches of unpigmented skin.

Appaloosa horse character

The Appaloosa is an agile and active horse, it is considered the fastest breed among all the existing equine breeds in the world. And it is not something that they dislike, because they are always jogging from one place to another, which is why they have traditionally participated in speed tests and different types of horse races.

They have a very good character, being quite easy to deal with and relatively simple to tame. They are also extremely intelligent and loyal, which is why they have become one of the most popular breeds in the world.

Appaloosa Coat Patterns

blanket pattern

In which there is a base color and then a large spot on the rump, which can increase to almost the withers, being called coat or haunch depending on its extension.

In turn, this stain may have mottled inside (it will be called painted) or not (snowy).

leopard pattern

When the base layer is spotted with similar-sized specks and distributed throughout the body.

Roan pattern with a blanket

It is a blanket pattern in which the base color is roan.

Roan pattern and solid pattern

None of them have the characteristic spots of the breed, and to be admitted as such, they must have the other characteristics of the breed.

As you can imagine, the limits between patterns are difficult to establish and their combinations are varied and complex. The denominations also change according to country, so you can see names like marbled, frosted, marbled, snowflake, speckled…

Seasonal congenital appaloosa color night blindness

Having appaloosa color poses a potential risk for a vision defect: congenital stationary night blindness, in which the horse sees poorly (or not at all) in low light. It only manifests itself in that appaloosa with two LP alleles (Leopard Complex alleles), which occurs in 30% of horses.

The inheritance of this problem is autosomal recessive, which means that an affected animal will pass an allele to its offspring, which will not show the disease ( carrier animal ), but when this carrier has offspring with another carrier, both parents may pass the “bad allele” to their child and the child does suffer from the disease.

The good news is that there are genetic tests to determine if the animal is a carrier (or not) of this problem, which is favoring the decrease in the number of carrier horses.

Animals with congenital night blindness should never be bred, and we must carry out genetic tests on breeders suspected of being carriers, to reduce the incidence of this disease.

Appaloosa horse care

As for their care, the main thing is that they are provided with quality fresh food and that they always have large quantities of clean and fresh water at their disposal, since water is essential for their survival.

Other care will be necessary, such as those related to the maintenance of its coat, brushing, and bathing it daily. You also have to monitor their teeth, being aware of possible oral alterations that can affect their habits and well-being.

Appaloosa Horse Health

The appaloosa is a really strong and resistant animal due to their wild origins since this has endowed them with privileged genetics that make them really sick very little.

Despite these good genetics, the Appaloosa is not immune to viral and bacterial diseases, although they are more resistant to them than other breeds. That is why we must not lower our guard and we have to keep our horses under veterinary supervision, carrying out regular check-ups and tests, giving them their vaccines, and avoiding potential sources of contagion from the environment in which they live.

If we are attentive and take care of our appaloosa, we will ensure that we can enjoy the company of a healthy and happy horse for many many years.