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Appaloosa Horse Club


Appaloosa Museum

American Appaloosa Association

Decker's Red Eagle Appaloosas

Deanna Brown

Hurricane Ranch


The Leopard Centre

Colorado Ranger Horse Association

History and Appaloosa Facts

History & Origins: Spotted horses are found in ancient art and literature worldwide. Appaloosas in North America were recognized as spotted horses in the herds of the 18th century Nez Perce, natives of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The Nez Perce were well known for their horses, who were bred to have superior size, speed, strength, and intelligence. These horses served them well, allowing them to change their lifestyle so they could become valuable traders. The Nez Perce lived near the confluence of the Palouse River and the Snake River in the Northwest. The spotted horses were well known as the "Palouse" horses, which linguistically evolved into "a Palouse horse" and finally Appaloosa horse. This breed nearly disappeared in the 19th century as the U.S. Government moved the Nez Perce on to reservations and destroyed their horses. The breed was revived in the late 1930's by a group of Appaloosa enthusiasts in Moscow, Idaho who created a registry for these horses. That group became what is now known as the Appaloosa Horse Club, and is the third largest registry for Appaloosa horses in the world.

Size: The average Appaloosa stands between 14.2 and 15.2 hands (56" to 62") high and weighs between 1,000 and 1,200 lbs.

Color & Markings: The Appaloosa Horse Club recognizes the following colors for an Appaloosa's base coat: Bay, Dark Bay or Brown, Black, Buckskin, Dun, Grulla, Cremello/Perlino, Chestnut, Palomino, Grey, Bay Roan, Blue Roan, and Red Roan.

Physical Appearance:
 The Appaloosa's body is compact with a broad head. His back is straight, his shoulders sloping, and his legs strong. The mane and tail of this breed are usually sparse.
 Generally very gentle, intelligent, and trustworthy. This horse has been bred for generations to exhibit great strength and stamina. The Appaloosa is normally a horse that is willing to please, making him an excellent choice for a novice rider. The Appaloosa is a versatile breed, and these horses can be found in disciplines from racing to working cattle. There are also dressage Appaloosas, jumping Appaloosas and Appaloosas that are family horses.

Unique Characteristics: Appaloosas can be identified by 4 main characteristics:
  1.     Visible sclera (the white around the eye)
  2.     Mottled or speckled/blotchy pattern of darkly pigmented and non-pigmented (pink) skin
  3.     Striped hooves
  4.     And of course, amazing body patterns, which include:
  • Solid white over the hip area, called a blanket. There is also blanket with spots in which spots inside the blanket are usually the same color as the horse's base coat.
  • White patterning all over the body with the horse's base color as spots covering most of the body, called leopard.
  • A roan Appaloosa will have a lighter colored area on certain portions of his head and over his back and hips. An Appaloosa can have a roan blanket pattern and a roan blanket with spots pattern.
  • Believe it or not, there are solid color Appaloosas. These horses must exhibit mottled skin and one of the other unique Appaloosa characteristics.

Appaloosas Worldwide Through the Centuries  

Through the centuries spotted horses have been given names ranging from the mystical Celestial Horses in China, to the Knabstrupper in Denmark, to the Tigre in France.

The name Appaloosa joins in this history around the late 1800s. It was during this time that the term Appaloosa was first used to describe the spotted horses of the Palouse region. The Palouse, or Palouse Country, is the area of Washington and Idaho drained by the Palouse River. Early white settlers referred to the spotted horse of the area as a Palouse horse. Over time the a and Palouse were slurred together to first form the name Apalousey and later Appaloosa. The word Palouse most probably has its origin in the Sehaptin language spoken by the Nez Perce and Palouse Indians. It means “something sticking down in the water” in reference to a large rock at the confluence of the Snake and Palouse Rivers where the main village of the Palouse or Palus Indians was built.

Prehistoric Man and Horses

One of the facinating aspects of history is that the more we study the more we learn. It used to be assumed that the first evidence of the spotted horse was found in cave paintings dating from around 18,000 BC at Lascaux and Peche -Merle in France.

Anthropologists hypothetized that these horses may be the remote ancestors of present day spotted horses. However, current studies indicate that rather than representing actual horses the cave artists used the spots to represent dreams or visions. Never-the-less spotted horses can be seen in art across the globe
Ferghana Valley (present day Uzbekistan)

The Bronze Age (roughly 1750 – 1500 BC) ushered in the use of the horse drawn chariot. Commerce and travel along the Silk Road of 100 BC to 200 CE widened interaction and connection across the Asiatic Steppes. The area of Fergana in the heart of the Asiatic Steppes appears to be a main source from which horses of superior size, strength, speed and intelligence emerged.

Around 100 BC the Emperor Wu Ti sent court officials to Ferghana to obtain these superior horses who they called Heavenly or Celestial horses. Some thought that they were those prophesized in the Book of Changes as “the heavenly horses will come from the northwest.” The spotted horse continues to be profusely depicted in Chinese art.

Persia (present day Iran)

Persians claim the ancestor of all spotted horses to be Rakush, the spotted warhorse of the hero Rustam who lived approximately 400 BC.

Rakush was said to be sired by a white demon, a symbol of good. The exploits of Rakush and Rustam are detailed in the 11th century epic Shah Nameh of Firdausi.

Ancient Mediterranean World

Scattered evidence of the spotted horse shows up throughout the ancient Mediterranean world.

A vase, found near the Tombs of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra outside the citadel at Mycenae (Greece) is dated ca. 1300 BC. It is decorated with warriors in a horse drawn chariot.


The earliest evidence of the spotted horse in Austria was a sword found at a graveyard in Hallstatt , Austria, dated around 800 BC. The sword was encased in an iron scabbard decorated with an engraving of four men riding horses with spots on their rumps.

In the mid-16th century, Austria acquired a group of Andalusian horses from Spain. First put on a breeding farm in Kladrub, Bohemia, most of the horses soon moved to Equile Lipizzano. Called Lipizzans, these horses were raised for the Austrian royal family.

Those that showed unusual ability and intelligence were given special training. Because the Lipizzan horses originally came from Spanish stock, their training center was called the Spanish Riding School. Those horses that stayed in Kladrub were bred to become carriage horses called Pinzgau.

* Detail of THE STUD AT LIPIZZANO by Johann Georg Hamilton. This group of brood mares, painted in 1727, shows the great number of coat colors prevalent amoung the original Lippizaner stock–palomino, tobiano, and a well marked blanketed Appaloosa. Courtesy of Colonel Alois Podhajsky, Commandant, Spanische Reitschule, Vienna, Austria.


The first evidence of spotted horses in France was found in the 11th century.
Artwork with spotted horses often depicted the horses carrying nobles, kings , or saints. In the 17th century Louis XIV and Louis XV both demanded to portrayed in paintings and tapestries on spotted horses. Louis XVI had a driving team of two spotted horses. In France the spotted horse was called Tigre.


Spotted horses made their way north into Denmark , Norway and Sweden. Numerous examples of artwork showing spotted horses exist in each country. In the 17th century, Denmark received spotted horses from Austria. But, for some reason the Danish had trouble keeping the correct color and conformation in their breeding so the numbers of spotted horses declined rapidly. Then, in 1808 a Danish butcher bought a spotted mare, the famous Flaebe mare. The offspring of this single mare started the famous line Knabstrupper.


Spotted horses begin to appear in English art around the 12th century and much like in France these horses were usually carrying saints or nobles.

* Lady Conway’s Spanish Jennet painted in the 18th century by John Wooton.

The New World

The Spanish introduced horses to North America in the 16th century. Spanish settlers moved north to the Rio Grande Valley and raised livestock. Though only the Spanish rode horses for herding, travel, and pleasure, it seems inevitable that some of the Indian stable boys did learn to ride.

Pueblo Indian Revolt

During 1680 the Pueblo Indian slaves revolted and drove the Spanish from northern New Mexico. The Pueblos kept the sheep and cattle, while they traded of the horses to the Plains Tribes. Through trade and theft horses made their way east and north. By the early 1700s the Nez Perce had acquired horses and quickly became adept at breeding them for excellence.

Nez Perce Acquire Horses

In the West, the Shoshones from southern Idaho were the most important distributor of horses. Because of the fine range in their territory, their herds increased rapidly. Tribes to the north, including the Nez Perce, acquired horses from the Shoshones both through trade or stealing and by 1750 all had been supplied.

The Nez Perce Indians of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho became highly sophisticated horsemen in the use of their horses, and their mounts were highly prized by other tribes.  Unlike most tribes, the Nez Perce carefully selected the spotted horses they were to breed.  Only the best horses were allowed to produce offspring.   One of the first white men to visit the Nez Perce was an explorer and horseman, Meriwether Lewis.  He described the Appaloosa in his journal dated February 15, 1806:   Their horses appear to be of an excellent race.  They are lofty, elegantly formed, and durable.

The Nez Perce horses performed tasks according to their value.  The most precious horses were ridden during buffalo hunting and war.  The war horse needed strength, speed, courage, and intelligence.  Horses with these qualities and flashy or unusual markings had the most value.  Spots helped to camouflage the horse and rider, for the splashy coat patterns helped to break up the horses outline and made it difficult to see from the distance.  The white settlers called the horses "Palouse" horses or "a Palouse horse" as the Nez Perce lived in Palouse country.  Eventually the name became Appalousey, and finally, Appaloosa.

In the late 1800s, war broke out between the U.S. Calvary and the Nez Perce Indians.  The Appaloosa was the reason the U.S. Calvary was deprived of victory for many months, as the Nez Perce fled over 1300 miles of rugged, almost impassible terrain under the guidance of the famed Chief Joseph.  The final defeat of the Nez Perce came in Montana.  They surrendered their horses, left them behind, or they were distributed amongst the settlers.  The proud band of carefully selected horses was gone.

Nothing was done about these strong willed horses, and they were almost diminished to nothing, as an article by Dr. Francis Haines was published in 1937 in The Western Horseman titled "The Appaloosa or Palouse Horse."  Soon after the release of the article, many people become interested in the breed, and in 1938, farmer and horseman Claude Thompson incorporated the Appaloosa Horse Club for the preservation and improvement of the diminishing breed. 

The restoration process was slow and the Appaloosa Horse Club grew at a slow pace.  More and more people got interested in the breed, using the Appaloosa as a working horse, for recreational use, and soon there was nothing the Appaloosa wouldn't do.  The breeders and owners had found out how special this breed of horse was:   the horse had great color, a will to work and please, a super disposition, a social personality, and the stamina and intelligence to perform any task it is asked.  The breed became very popular, the club and its registry grew to the third largest horse registry in its time.

Today the breed has endured many hardships once more.  The uncontrolled out crossing to other breeds, especially the American Quarter Horse, has caused a severe loss in special conformation, its great disposition, its praised versatility, and most of all, its color.  Many Appaloosas are born solid colored and never color later in life.  They don't even display the characteristics that the typical Appaloosa calls its own:  white sclera in the eyes (resembling the human eye), partli-colored skin on or around the muzzle or in its soft skin, and vertically striped hooves.  Appaloosas lacking the color and characteristics are being shown and exhibited by many breeders and owners in Appaloosa shows, which is unacceptable to the true breeder and owner.

Appaloosa shows 25 years ago were a great happening;  people came from all around to watch these horses compete.  Racing horse against horse brought the viewers out of their seats.  The authentic Nez Perce costumes worn in the costume classes made a picture no one ever forgot, and the show atmosphere captured everyone.   All this has vanished from the show ring today:  competition is fierce between exhibitors--the Appaloosa doesn't have to prove himself anymore in its versatility just to become a champion, so the excitement has long left the arena.  Expenses have risen to highs that a small breeder or owner simply cannot afford anymore.

The America Appaloosa Association (AApA) was originally organized under the name The Appaloosa Color Breeders Association (ACBA) by three individuals in the Midwest in early 1983.

The original founders of the ACBA based their decision to begin the effort to organize the Association on the firm belief that the turmoil which gripped the Appaloosa industry in 1982 and early 1983 would ultimately be extremely detrimental to the very animal the industry has the responsibility to preserve and promote.  Any decision to allow a solid colored animal to be considered as a representative of the Appaloosa breed is, to many thousands of dedicated Appaloosa breeders and owners, simply unacceptable.