The modern Appaloosa horse has been established as a breed for only about the past 60 years. While spotted horses have been prized for many centuries (as shown by cave drawings in China which depict them as a horse of royalty), the modern Appaloosa essentially started in the early 18th century. It was at this time that Spanish explorers began to trade horses with many Native American Indian tribes, leading to the widespread presence of the horse in American Indian history.
The Nez Perce and Palouse tribes who roamed the areas that are now Washington and Oregon prized the spotted horses for their athletic ability and beauty, and began to breed them. The horses were originally referred to as the Palouse Horse because of the Palouse River, which the two tribes lived by, and eventually this somehow got slurred to the name Appaloosa. It is believed that the Nez Perce were the first tribe to selectively breed horses in the US, and over the course of generations they produced fine animals bred for speed, strength, intelligence, and of course the famous spotted coats. Inferior animals were traded to other tribes, with only the most desirable stock kept for breeding. These animals were prized by other tribes and later hated by the US Military who found themselves under mounted.
In 1877, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe fled with his tribe to Canada, seeking refuge from the persecutions of the US military. They were pursued on the way by US Calvary, and approximately 1/3 of their prized horses were lost in the ensuing slaughters. Before reaching Canada, Chief Joseph surrendered declaring "I will fight no more forever." His tribe was tired, hungry, and no longer capable of fighting. The Indians were spread around to various reservations, and the roughly 1,000 remaining horses were confiscated by the military, slaughtered, or turned loose.
It was during this period that the Appaloosa was nearly lost. Most of the surviving animals were cross bred for work in the military, mainly with inferior military stock or with draft horses to make them more suitable for plowing and other labor. Over the next 100 years, the breed changed drastically and lost its trim, athletic build. It wasn't until 1938 that things started to look up. This year saw the founding of the Appaloosa Horse Club, which sought to return the Appaloosa to its former glory through selective breeding. By breeding the most pure animals found, and introducing Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred blood into the breed, the Appaloosa was returned to some of its former glory.
Today, for a horse to be considered an Appaloosa, it must have a spotted coat pattern and one of the following characteristics:
- Mottled Skin - A unique characteristic of an Appaloosa, mottled skin means that the skin has pigment variations which cause dark spots to appear on the normally pink skin. This is most easily observed on the soft, hairless skin by the nose.
- White Sclera - While all horses have white sclera (the area of the eye outside the pigmented iris), an Appaloosa tends to have more visible white around the iris than any other breed. This is part of what gives Appaloosas a bit of a crazy look.
- Striped Hooves - Appaloosas tend to have hooves with very noticeable vertical stripes.
The appaloosa also exhibits a spotted coat in one of seven different patterns.
- Blanket - The horse has a solid white area, usually on the rump or back, contrasting a dark base color.
- Spots - The horse has contrasting spots over a portion or all of it's body, typically either dark spots on a light coat or white spots on a dark coat.
- Blanket with Spots - The horse has a white blanket with dark spots covering parts of the blanket, with the spots usually being the same color as the base coat.
- Roan - The horse has lighter colored hair on the forehead, jowls, and over the back, rump, and hips. Difficult to identify.
- Roan with Blanket - A Roan horse with a white blanket.
- Roan Blanket with Spots - A Roan horse with white blanket and spots.
- Solid - The horse exhibits no Appaloosa coat pattern. To be considered an Appaloosa, it must exhibit two characteristics as described above.
On a more personal observation, Appaloosas are essentially the rednecks of the horse world. They have a bad reputation, partly from their association with Indians, as being wild and crazy animals. This also stems from the fact that for nearly 100 years, the breed was poorly preserved, detested by people because of its relationship with the Indians, and crossbred with whatever other animals were around. This led to the introduction of many bad characteristics into the breed that still exist to this day. Animals that have been carefully bred to stay true to the original bloodlines, however, are very intelligent and athletic animals. I owned an Appaloosa for 6 years and he was a very intelligent and capable horse, unfortunately he died last summer from an intestinal impaction.
Bad Appaloosa Joke
Why do people ride Appaloosas? Because they are too poor to afford a real horse, and too proud to ride a cow.
(just to give you an idea of how they are regarded in the horse world...)