Horse Facts: The Appaloosa

The Appaloosa is a completely different registered breed than the Pinto or the Paint!


French cave paintings thousands of years old have spotted horses among its subjects, ancient China had labeled her spotted horses as heavenly, and Persians have called their spotted steeds sacred. Yet, the Appaloosa breed that we know today is believed to have originated in the northwestern Native Americans tribe called the Nez Perce in the 17th Century.

When colonists expanded the United States territory westward, they found a unique people who lived near the Palouse River (runs from north central Idaho to the Snake River in southeast Washington State). The Nez Perce Indian tribe had bred just as unique a horse, red or blue roans with white spots on the rump. Fascinated, the colonists called the beautiful breed palousey, which means the stream of the green meadows. Gradually, the name changed to “Appaloosa.”

The Nez Perce people lost most of their horses following the end of the Nez Perce War in 1877, and the breed started to decline for several decades. However, a small number of dedicated Appaloosa lovers kept the breed alive. Finally, a breed registry was formed in 1938. The Appaloosa was named the official state horse of Idaho in 1975.

Today the Appaloosa is one of the most popular breeds in the United States. It is best known as a stock horse used in a number of western riding events, but its also seen in many other types of equestrian contests as well.

Appaloosas can be any solid base color, but the gorgeous blanket of spots that sometimes cover the entire horse identifies the special breed. Those spotted markings are not the same as Pintos or the “dapple grays” and some other horse colors. For a horse to be registered as a pureblood Appaloosa, it also has to have striped hooves, white (sclera) encircling its brown or blue eyes, and mottled (spotted) skin around the eyes and lips. The Appaloosa is one of the few breeds to have skin mottling, and so this characteristic is a sure fire way of identifying a true member of the breed.

In 1983, the Appaloosa Horse Club in America decided to limit the crossbreeding of Appaloosas to only three main confirmation breeds: the Arabian, the American Quarter Horse, and the Thoroughbred. Thus, the Appaloosa color breed also became a true confirmation breed as well.

If you want your neighbors to turn their heads your way when you ride past, then look for a well-trained Appaloosa. Most registered Apps are 15 hands or shorter but are full of muscle and loaded with spots. Sometimes, though, it takes several years for an Appaloosa’s coat to mature to its full color. So if it’s color you’re looking for, shop for a seasoned App!

Marsha Hubler
(Writing blog)
Author of the Keystone Stables Series

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