Appaloosa Horse Breed
Getting technical, if the Mustang is the horse of the wild west, then the Appaloosa is the horse of the wild northwest. Appaloosas are attractive, agile and can endure harsh conditions but risked extinction in the 19th century as conflicts between the Native Americans who bred and preserved the coat color breed and new settlers occurred. Today the breed is supported by one of the largest horse breed registries and can be seen worldwide thanks in part by interested advocates for the Native American breed.
Appaloosas gained the name in the 1800s as the Palouse's horse, or the Palouse River's horse. Before being bred by the Nez Perce Indians, the spotted coat patter can most likely trace its heritage back to feral Spanish horses, or Mustangs found throughout Southeastern and Western United States (there is controversy that the spotted horse was brought over across the Bering Straight thousands of years ago but with far less concrete evidence). It was the Nez Perce Native Americans that took interest in the color and furthered the development of the breed by breeding only the strongest spotted mares and stallions. By the mid 1800s, word of a Native American tribe with over 10,000 horses in one herd was out and the Nez Perce's wealthy independence and freedom was at risk. Native American reservations threatened their wealthy lifestyle with small perimeters and restricted access to buffalo hunts in Montana and Wyoming that greatly served the Nez Perce people and their horses.
Fighting between the Natives and new settlers threatened the breed but loose Appaloosas rounded up in herds for cheap sales in the west spread the interest of the new color pattern. By the early 1900s many new and second generation settlers owned Appaloosas and were interesting in establishing and securing the breed in a registry. In 1938 the Appaloosa Horse Club was created in Moscow, Idaho and the Appaloosa secured its place in American and world history. Once a small club, registering a breed that barely existed, the Appaloosa Horse Club is now international, with over 630,000 registered horses today.
Somewhat similar to a Quarter Horse or Paint Horse, the Appaloosa is a medium sized horse, standing on average between 14 and 16 hands tall, with medium muscling, small heads, ears and small, expressive eyes. More specific breed characteristics unique to Appaloosas include striped hooves, whispy, thin, manes and tails (although selective breeding is trying to introduce more Jane Fonda-like manes and tails to the breed), white sclera visible around their eyes (think cartoon horses- more white like our eyes is visible around the iris) and parti colored skin. Parti coloured skin means the skin has dots and black coloring, not just the coat hair and is very visible around the horse's eyes, muzzle, underbelly and genitalia.
Coat patterns for Appaloosas are defined many ways including: spotted, snowcap, blanket with spots, leopard, few spot leopard, Appaloosa roan, roan blanket, roan blanket with spots and molted skin. All coat colors are influenced by a rare gene mutation, the Leopard Complex and can vary slightly from when the horse is born to when the horse is mature or ages. The base coat color for Appaloosas can be a wide variety of coat colors and is not limited to any particular set when registering an Appaloosa. Like solid-colored Paint Horses, solid Appaloosas also occur and can be easily registered with the ApHC with certain restrictions. Many times the horse may not have any markings besides molted skin, striped hooves, and a more visible sclera. The Leopard Complex is found in other spotted horses and historians believe from old cave paintings that it is a very ancient coat pattern for horses found in both central Europe and Asia.
Appaloosas are a very versatile breed and can be seen used in various disciplines and events. Commonly a western ranch horse at first, the Appaloosa can be seen in western pleasure, English pleasure, rodeo, driving, jumping, eventing, dressage and parade events. They are well suited for riders of various experience (when suitably trained) and can be seen in many lesson and therapeutic programs. Appaloosas crossed with pony breeds and small horses have resulted in the very popular kid's pony, the P.O.A, or the Pony of the Americas. Crosses between draft horses, sometimes known as Sugarbrush Drafts are also widely popular as it brings a strong, splashy appearance to any team of draft horses.