More commonly known as the Appaloosa pattern, the leopard complex is a set of coat markings characterised by Dalmatian-like spots over their bodies. The base coat can be any horse colour (such as bay). The patterns are varied and sometimes intermingle. This is a guide to what spot is what!
One of the most recognisable patterns, this is a pattern of dark spots in varying sizes over the entire body, on a white base coat. Horses are born with these spots, and they will stay throughout their lifetime. If spots are near the mane or tail, they will also have darker hair in them.
This pattern is on a dark coloured horse, where the rump will be white and covered in spherical of egg-shaped spots. Some of the spots will also have “halos”, where the hair roans around the edges. The amount of white on the rump can vary, with only a little on the loins to almost covering the entire body.
Looking similar to paint splats or dribbles, this pattern is white frosting over the hips and rump of the horse. The pattern can appear at birth or come through as the horse ages.
The snowflake pattern appears when a horse is young, and tends to roan out as the horse ages. Like a negative of the leopard spotted, the horse will have a dark base coat and white spots over their body.
Similar to the blanket spotted, but without any spots. The horse will have a dark front end, and a white rump. This can also spread over the body. Despite having no spots, it will have the other characteristics of an appaloosa so will be classed differently to a paint or pinto pattern.
This pattern is a leopard spotted horse which is born with a different colour head and legs. This colour will be the same as the horse colour shown in the leopard spots (i.e. bay, black, chestnut, dun, buckskin etc.) As the horse gets older the head and legs can fade, so the horse will gradually turn into a leopard spotted appaloosa.
A roan pattern is very similar to a normal roan base coat. A horse will have a coat that fades over the face, back and rump; it will also have darker points on the areas the bone can be seen in a horses conformation – the eyes, elbow and hip joint. They can have spots similar to a blanket spotted pattern, but those who have the characteristics of an appaloosa without the spots can still be registered in most stud books.
This will be a horse which has a white coat, with only a few spots across their entire body. They will usually also have blue or red varnish marks (marbling) on key points.
Not all appaloosas need spots. Some are born completely solid in colour, with only the face and feet characteristics of an appaloosa. Some will develop spots over time. Despite not being solid in colour, they will carry the spotted gene for future generations.
All appaloosa patterns have specific characteristics so you can identify even the solid horses as having a spotted pattern.
Mottled Skin – mottled skin occurs around the nostrils, lips, eyes and rear of an appaloosa. It will look like pink stippling and spots with the darker base coat also mottled throughout it. It can give the impression of small pink spots blurring the edges of a horse.
White sclera – when you look at a non-appaloosa horse their eyes will usually appear all brown. An appaloosa will have a white sclera around the eye, so you will notice white in the corners. This area is the same as the white of a human eye, so you will notice more white if you lift the upper or lower lids. Horses with large facial markings can also show this “white of the eye”, so always make sure your horse has all of the characteristics before you class them as an appaloosa.
Striped hooves – also common with some foot injuries, appaloosas will all have striped hooves. These stripes will be vertical, from coronet to shoe, in light and dark streaks. Light coloured horses can also have striped hooves, so always check for mottling and a white sclera as well as spots appearing with age.
Not every breed has the appaloosa gene still present in its studbook. In some breeds the pattern fell out of fashion, so any foals with spots were not registered. This is true in the Iberian breeds, where Renaissance paintings show Andalusian and Lippizaner types performing high school dressage with spotted coats. Where it was bred out in these breeds, it survived overseas where the Spanish horses imported to the Americas were left feral to breed and eventually become the Mustang and Appaloosa we know today.
There are a number of Appaloosa breeds still in Europe and the UK. The British Spotted Pony comes in all patterns, and is known as a versatile children’s pony. In Denmark there is the Knabstrupper, a sports horse at home in the dressage arena or as a carriage horse. Its unique patterns also lead it to become a circus horse.
A number of genetic issues are connected with the leopard complex. Breeders should be aware of this, and always test before they put their mare or stallion at stud. The most common are:
Night blindness – observed from birth, horses with this disorder will not be able to adjust to poorly lit locations. This will impact on your handling as well as future competitions you plan to enter. They will struggle going in and out of stables without careful training, and will find it difficult to compete indoors if it is dimly lit. It is not a life threatening condition.
Equine Recurrent Uveitis – an inflammation of the eye’s uveal tract, nearly 80 per cent of the cases found in horses are linked to appaloosas. Scientists have shown that the breed is susceptible to this disease, so all owners should be aware of the signs. The inflammation can be caused by a number of triggers, such as eye trauma or infection. When your horse has had one bout, it is likely to recur frequently. You will need to get the trauma and inflammation treated immediately, as it could lead to blindness.