The Appaloosa's Heritage Is As Colorful and Unique As Its Coat
The name "Appaloosa" came from the settlers in the Pacific Northwest Palouse region in the 1700’s. They began calling the spotted horses "palouse horses", possibly after the Palouse River, which ran through the heart of Nez Perce country, or possibly after the Palus Indian tribe which was also in the area. The name was then shorted and slurred to "appalousey" and gradually the "Appaloosa" name evolved. Breeders and owners have further shortened the name to "Appy".
While there is evidence of leopard-spotted horses dating back to cave paintings from the Upper Paleolithic era around 18,000 BC at Lascaux and Peche-Merle, France, as well as other art from ancient Persia, ancient Greece, China and 16th century France and other areas of Europe, it is the Nez Perce people of the Pacific Northwest that are considered to have developed the American version of the Appaloosa breed.
But is not very clear how these spotted horses arrived in North America, although it is suspected that Spanish explorers brought them in among their other horses in the early 1500s. Cortez is said to have brought at least one horse with a snowflake pattern to Mexico, and other spotted horses have been mentioned by Spanish writers in 1604.
The spotted horses appear to have reached the Pacific Northwest by 1700. The Nez Perce tribes who lived in eastern Washington and Oregon and Idaho acquired the horses from the Shoshone tribes around 1730. They developed strict breeding selection practices and were one of the few tribes to participate in gelding inferior colts. They also actively traded away poorer stock to remove unsuitable animals from the gene pool. The Nez Perce became well known as horse breeders by the early 19th century.
The Nez Perce lost most of their horses after the Nez Perce War of 1877 and never regained their position as breeders of the Appaloosa. The breed started to die out for several decades, but a small handful of dedicated breeders kept the Appaloosa alive for several decades until the Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC) was founded in 1938 in Moro, Oregon. It was moved in1947 to Moscow, Idaho and in 1975, the Appaloosa was named the official state horse of Idaho with a custom license plate featuring the breed being issued. Idaho is the first state to offer a state horse license plate. By 1978, the ApHC was the third largest horse registry in the United States. Today the Appaloosa is one of the most popular breeds in the United States and as of 2007, more than 670,000 Appaloosas have been registered in the United States and 40 foreign countries by the ApHC.
Because several different equine breeds influenced the Appaloosa, there are several body styles. An Appaloosa may resemble a shorter, more compact Arabian or a longer, leaner Thoroughbred, or anything in between, but the minimum adult height requirement is 14 hands, with an average height of 15.1 hands.
Although Appaloosas are most commonly recognized by their plethora of leopard-spotted coat pattern combinations, they also have other distinctive characteristics such as mottled skin; white sclera around the eyes; and striped hooves in the absence of white leg markings. Therefore, most of the literature about them is related to their coloring.
The ApHC recognizes the following base colors: bay, black, dun, Bay roan, blue roan, Red roan, palomino, Cremello, Perlino and Grulla. Each should also display one of the Appaloosa patterns on top of the base color. Also, an Appy can have brown, blue or hazel eyes or even two different colored eyes on the same horse.
There are seven common terms used to describe the coat patterns but they are quite variable and there are many horses that may not fit into specific categories easily.
Blanket - a solid white area normally over the hip area.
Leopard- white or dark spots over all or a portion of the body.
Blanket with Leopard Spots - a white blanket with dark spots in it.
Roan - a mixture of light and dark hairs. If no blanket or spots, the horse will also need mottled skin and one other characteristic to qualify for registration.
Roan Blanket - roan pattern over a portion of the body with a blanket normally occurring over the hip area.
Roan Blanket With Spots - a roan blanket which has white and/or dark spots within the roan area.
Solid - a base color but no contrasting Appaloosa coat pattern. This horse will need mottled skin and one other characteristic to qualify for registration
Most Appaloosa foals are born with lighter colored coats than they will have when they get older, with the exception of gray horses, which are born dark and become lighter with age. Black horses look mousy gray when they are born.
Mottled or parti-colored skin is unique to the Appaloosa horse and therefore it is a basic decisive indicator of an Appaloosa.
The color pattern of the Appaloosa fascinates those who study equine coat color genetics such as those in the Horse Genome Project or the Appaloosa Project, because both the coat pattern and several other physical characteristics appear to be linked to the "Lp" or "leopard" gene or gene complex, but the precise inheritance mechanism is not yet fully understood. Not every horse with the Lp gene exhibits hair coat spotting and there is currently no DNA test for the gene.
Appaloosas sometimes show up with sabino or American Paint type markings but extensive research on the interactions of Appaloosa and American Paint genes and how they affect each other has found that the genes that create these different patterns can all exist in the same horse. However, because the overo pattern may obscure Appaloosa patterns, Paint breeding is discouraged by the ApHC, which will deny registration for excessive white markings.
Appaloosas have a high risk of developing spontaneous Equine Recurrent Uveitis (ERU) or "moon blindness", which can lead to blindness if not treated. As many as 25% of all Appaloosas may develop ERU, which is the highest rate of any horse breed. The University of Minnesota is currently conducting research to determine if there is a genetic factor involved and a potential gene region that may be linked to the condition may have been identified.
There is another downside to the breed since many Appaloosa are crop-outs from the Quarter Horse, and that is Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis (HYPP). This is listed as a genetic defect, along with Parrot Mouth and Cryptorchid conditions. HYPP is inherited as a dominant trait and is characterized by intermittent episodes of uncontrolled muscle tremors (shaking, trembling or twitching) or profound muscle weakness, and in severe cases, may lead to collapse and/or death. To date, HYPP has been traced only to descendants of a horse named IMPRESSIVE, #0767246. Acetazolamide ("Acet") is used for treating horses with the disease and prevents them from having seizures.
The Appaloosa horse is extremely versatile, and they have set records in speed on race racks, due to their Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred genes, and have earned high honors in dressage, games, roping, endurance, jumping and reining. They make wonderful family horses due to their gentle dispositions and their eagerness to please their owners. And they are intelligent and have trustworthy temperaments