Breed evolution: Spotted horses first arrived in what’s now Mexico when the Spanish explorers began their North American treks. Abandoned or left behind, spotted horses soon made their way into New Mexico and Arizona, and spread northward.
The Nez Percé, native people who inhabited areas of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho for nearly 13,000 years, were introduced to the wild and sometimes spotted horses around 1700. It made an enormous impact on the relatively sedentary tribe. The horses increased their mobility, and allowed them to travel great distances for hunting and for trading with other tribes. The Nez Percé became accomplished riders and bred widely admired herds.
Initially called the “Palouse Horse,” after a Northwest river and valley by the same name, the breed’s name evolved into “Appaloosa.” In 1806, explorer Meriwether Lewis recorded in his diary that the Nez Percé had the largest horse herds on the continent and, “Their horses appear to be of an excellent race: lofty, elegantly formed, active and durable…some are pied by large spots of white… and many look like fine English horses.”
By 1877, the Nez Percé and the United States Cavalry were embroiled in a war over territory. The Nez Percé, led by Chief Joseph, marked some victories, and the speed, courage, and astonishing athletic ability of their horses became legend.
The tribe was pursued from Oregon through Idaho and finally to the Battle of Bear’s Paw in Montana, where Chief Joseph ultimately surrendered just 40 miles from the Canadian border and freedom.
Their horses, so valued by the Nez Percé, were confiscated. Many were destroyed, and some sold under the condition that they would not be bred. Some Nez Percé escaped into Canada with their horses, forbearers of today’s thriving Canadian population of Appaloosas.
In 1938, the Appaloosa Horse Club was founded, dedicated to preserving, promoting, and enhancing the breed. By 1947, when George Hatley became executive secretary, it had 200 registered horses and 100 members. With unflagging enthusiasm, the man who became known as “Mr. Appaloosa” guided the ApHC until his retirement in 1978; that year, registrations topped 300,000.
Today, the ApHC has registered more than 630,000 Appaloosas in the United States and beyond. The association has an active trail-riding program and sponsors several annual rides – including the 1,300-mile Chief Joseph Ride, ridden in 100-mile segments.
Owners tell us: “My very first horse had Appaloosa bloodlines,” says Lynda K.B. Taylor of Timber Creek Ranch in Worland, Wyoming. “That mare turned out to be my best friend, and she taught me about responsibility, communication, and listening to the horse’s perspective.”
Taylor’s first best friend made her a lifelong advocate of the Appaloosa. A member of the ApHC since 1973, she admires the horses’ dispositions, athleticism, and trainability. She now works with the breed, focusing on foundation breeding lines, and writes about its connections with Native American history.
Growing up in Okanogan County in Washington State, Taylor explored hundreds of miles of wooded and desert trails, all close to her home. In Wyoming, Taylor often rides throughout the Big Horn Basin, traveling through badlands and high desert plains, and along wooded trails.
This trail training helps Taylor’s horses to be ready for anything. She says she’s even prepping several of the horses to be search-and-rescue horses. “With their great dispositions, they’ll be wonderful for any task,” she says.
Appaloosa Horse Resources
Appaloosa Horse Club
Appaloosa Horse Club of Canada
The Chief Joseph Foundation
DJ Bar Ranch
Foundation Appaloosa Horse Registry
Hondoo River & Trail Tours
Spirit Horse Hill
Timber Creek Ranch-Naturally
On the trail: When it’s time to saddle up, Taylor rides her newest best friend, Fourmile’s Blue Rybn. “We trust each other,” Taylor says. “She can think her way out of tight situations, avoid hidden wire, and keep me safe when other surprises arise on a trail. Her disposition is awesome – and signals a trait of the foundation Appaloosa.”
Taylor learned to rely on the horse she calls Rbyn (pronounced “Ribbon”) when the pair ran across a calf caught in a wire fence. Instead of balking or panicking at the calf’s constant cries, Rbyn stood still.
“It was my favorite moment trail riding with Rybn,” Taylor says. “I really didn’t know what to expect from Rybn at that time, but she proved to be solid as a rock. I felt like I had an extra helping hand as I helped the calf. From that point on, we were one team rather than just horse and rider.”
Taylor’s husband and daughter often accompany her on the trails, also riding the Appaloosas that are part of the family’s breeding program. Together, the family has three mares, a 2-year-old stallion, a yearling stallion prospect, and a 2-year-old gelding. All are registered foundation ApHC Appaloosas.
Selection savvy: “Please consider the foundation Appaloosas,” Taylor says. “They’re smart, athletic, have long-lived stamina, are careful and tough, and have awesome, personable dispositions. You’ll find a colorful partner that you can trust out on the trail.”
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