Most Appaloosas are instantly recognizable due to their patterned coats. There is however far more to the breed than just their unusual colouring. Their history is intimately connected to the history of the United States and the fact that the breed is now thriving is little short of astounding.
Prehistoric cave paintings in France show spotted horses being ridden and it is known that they have been used in one way or another throughout history. At various times they have been both status symbols for the wealthy and popular circus horses to entertain the crowds. The Appaloosa specifically is native to the U.S. It was bred by the Nez Perce Indians and was considered a fine and elegant animal. The Nez Perce lived in territory which offered ideal conditions for breeding horses and developed what we would recognize as a breeding programme with lower-quality animals being gelded or sold. Unfortunately the Nez Perce fell victim to the continual drive into uncharted lands. Their territory was encroached by gold miners, who had the support of the U.S. army. After defeating the Nez Perce, the U.S. army sold many of their horses and slaughtered many of the rest. Fortunately some escaped and those that were sold were often treated as quality horses.
Even though their original breeders the Nez Perce had been effectively banned from keeping them let alone breeding them, the horses remained visible if not recognized as a breed. They were popular as circus horses and in particular were used in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. During this time the breed was known by various names, which were all derivations of the word Palouse. This referred to the Palouse river which was a central feature in what had been the Nez Perce territory.
The Appaloosa, however, was the name used by Francis D. Haines when he published an article in the Western Horseman drawing attention to the breed. Haines was a historian rather than a horseman, but the article achieved its aim and resulted in the creation of the Appaloosa Horse Club, which set about revitalizing the breed. This was accomplished through a breeding plan which involved significant interbreeding with Arabs and then later with Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses to create the modern Appaloosa.
The modern Appaloosa stands between 14HH and 16HH. The breed society discourages breeding specifically for pony-sized animals but accepts that some members of the breed are small enough to be technically ponies. The most famous feature of the Appaloosa is, of course, its colour. It is best associated with the leopard spot pattern, which is dark spots on a pale-coloured skin. Some animals are spotted literally from head to tail, but in many cases the body is whole coloured and the leopard spots are confined to the lower back and quarters. There are other colour patterns which are acceptable in the breed. These include snowflake (white spots on a dark coat); Appaloosa roan, which is essentially a more delicate version of the leopard spot pattern; mottled, which is an animal with hair of one colour, but with a mottled skin which can be seen below it. Mottling is also typically seen in the face area on all Appaloosas regardless of overall colour type. Striped hooves are also very common in the breed. Traditional Appaloosas were noted as having rather ragged manes and tails, but modern breeders have worked to correct this and animals today tend to have full and flowing manes and tails. Other physical traits are more challenging to generalize since the breed had to be largely recreated using stock from other breeds. Modern Appaloosas can resemble Quarter Horses, Arabs or Thoroughbreds depending on the purposes of their breeder. Those intended as all-around riding and jumping animals tend to resemble Quarter Horses and/or Arabs. Those intended for racing or just speed tend to resemble Arabs and/or Thoroughbreds.
Most Appaloosas are sensible and intelligent animals, which are usually suitable for riders with limited experience. The one potential exception is animals which have a high proportion of Thoroughbred blood. These can be a bit too excitable for beginners. Appaloosas in the tradition or Quarter Horse style as excellent hacking animals and are often very capable performers in competitions as they are both quite to learn and very adaptable and will generally do their best to work with their riders and help them out if necessary. This is part of the reason why they are also popular as “actors’ horses” in films.
Generally speaking Appaloosa’s are healthy animals; however there are a few points to note. Firstly those which have a particularly strong Thoroughbred influence may be susceptible to the sorts of issues, which can typically affect Thoroughbreds. If interested in buying an animal of this type, it would be advisable to familiarize yourself with the Thoroughbred breed and/or to speak to a vet for advice. All Appaloosas have a particularly high risk of Equine Recurrent Uveitis. This is an illness which causes various sorts of eye traumas such as infections. It can be kept under control, but if left untreated can result in blindness. Prospective owners will need to check if their insurance will cover this (as some insurance companies exclude conditions which are known to be prevalent in certain breeds) and if not be prepared for the vet’s bills.
Caring for a Appaloosa
As previously suggested the hardiness of the Appaloosas depends largely on their type. Those of Thoroughbred type will be the most sensitive and the most demanding in terms of care. Those of Arab type will be somewhat less demanding but will still be relatively high maintenance compared to those of Quarter Horse type. Those of Quarter Horse-type can be thought of as moderately hardy. They will, however, need stabling over the colder months and will generally need feeding as well, at least in cold weather. Daily turn-out time is essential and they will also need regular grooming, foot care and worming. Ideally they should also be given ridden exercise every day if not twice a day.