Breed Profile: Appaloosa


The Appaloosa horse was developed by the Nez Perce Indians in the mid-1700’s. The Nez Perce lived in a region encompassing the northeastern corner of Oregon, the southeastern corner of Washington and adjecent lands in Idaho. The name Appaloosa is derived from “Palouse”, one of the rivers flowing through this region.

Spotted horses were first introduced to the Americas by Spaniards in the 1600’s and these horses became the foundation stock of the Nez Perce tribe. The Nez Perce employed strict breeding practices, including the gelding of male horses that did not meet their standards and trading off unsuitable female horses. The Nez Perce not only bred for color, they also bred for strength and stamina, since they needed horses that were suitable for warfare and as practical workhorses.

The Appaloosa breed almost disappeared completely in 1876 when tribal lands were seized by the US Government and Indians were being moved onto reservations. Under the leadership of Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce did not surrender peacefully and ended up conducting a fighting retreat through the mountains. Their ultimate goal was to seek sanctuary in Canada, but after a march of about 1,300 miles they were forced to surrender in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana, just short of the border. Their belongings were confiscated and their horses were slaughtered.

The survival of the breed depended on a few remaining horses and in 1938 the Appaloosa Horse Club was formed to preserve the breed, based on the descendants of those survivors. The registry quickly grew and within 50 years, it was the third largest horse registry in the world, with over 400,000 registered horses.


Today’s Appaloosa stands between 14.2 and 15.2 hands high and is compact, with strong legs.

The most distinctive characteristic of the Appaloosa is the coat color and their are five main coat patterns that are recognized in the Appaloosa.

  • Leopard – white over all or part of the body, with dark spots in the white area.
  • Blanket – spotted patch located over the hips.
  • Snowflake – white spotting can occur all over the body, but concentrated over the hips.
  • Marbleized – mottled pattern covers the entire body.
  • Frost – white specks on a dark background.

    Blanket Spotted Appaloosa.
    Photograph © Jehnet Carlson. Used with permission. In addition to the distinctive coat colors, Appaloosas also have other distinguishing features, which are seen even in horses that have solid coat color. The sclera, the area of the eye surrounding the iris is white instead of the usual dark color seen in other breeds, and the skin around the muzzle and genitalia is often noticably mottled or spotted. Appaloosa horses are not the only horses with this spotted coloring. Other spotted breeds include the Knabstruber, the Pony of the Americas and the Colorado Ranger Horse. Breed profiles for these breeds will be added as time permits. Uses
    In the US, the Appaloosa is popular as a stock and pleasure horse, and is regularly used in the western riding disciplines such as western pleasure, barrel racing and others. The Appaloosa has become increasingly popular in the English disciplines of jumping and dressage and the Appaloosa Sport Horse has been developed using Appaloosas of the “English riding type” with conformation and movement suited to those disciplines. Bibliography:
    The Encyclopedia of the Horse – Elwyn Hartley-Edwards. ISBN 1-56458-614-6

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