Meet the Appaloosa

A spotted Appaloosa horse.
Image Credit:By:Bob Langrish/ Dorling Kindersley /Getty Images

Meet the Appaloosa:

Spotted horses have been depicted by prehistoric man on cave wall paintings found throughout the ancient world. In North America, the Nez Perce tribe preserved the unique coat pattern of their horses, descendants of Spanish bred horses, while developing a sturdy and tractable breed. The Appaloosa with its romantic and somewhat sad history has captured the hearts of many modern horse lovers.

It is this love of the horse and its lore that first inspired breeders to preserve this distinctive breed.

Body Type:

There is no firm breed standard for body type and there tends to be a variety of types. The breed has often been cross bred with American Quarter Horses, so many are stocky cow horses types while others are of a more racy, primitive type.

Average Size:

The Appaloosa horse is usually between 14.2 HH and 15 HH. The average weight is from 950 to 1200 lbs.

Color and Markings:

The Appaloosa registry recognizes several different coat patterns:

  • Blanket Pattern-the haunches are all white or are speckled with white or dark spots.
  • Leopard Pattern-the body is mainly white, with dark leopard spots.
  • Snowflake-the body is dark with white flecks, especially over the haunches.
  • Marbleized-white and dark hairs mingle to create a mottled appearance.
  • Frost-white hairs create flecks throughout a dark coat color.

    Solid colored Appaloosa horses may be 'appendix registered' since they can carry the gene for a coat pattern, but not exhibit that pattern themselves. The manes and tails of most Appaloosas are very sparse and the sclera around the eye is white, areas thinly haired skin such as the muzzle are mottled and the hooves are often striped, white and dark.

    History and Origins:

    The Appaloosa was developed by the Nez Perce tribe of the northwest states, and the origins of their breeding stock trace back to Spanish horses introduced to the Americas in the 16th century. The Nez Perce observed strict breeding practices to create a breed that was colorful and tractable. Unfortunately, the breed was almost lost in the late 1870s when the United States government was taking over the Nez Perce’s territory who attempted to escape over the Canadian border while defending their possessions. Falling short of finding sanctuary in Canada, they were forced to surrender, their belongings seized and their horses taken or slaughtered.

    One possible origin of the word “Appaloosa” is that the Nez Perce populated the Palouse River area, and the horses were referred to as the “Palouse River Horses." “A Palouse River Horse” was shortened to Appaloosa Horse.

    During the Depression years, interest in the breed revived and the few surviving horses were used to create the foundation of the breed. The Appaloosa Horse Club was created in 1938. Since then, the Appaloosa Horse has become the third largest horse breed registry in the world.

    Unique Characteristics:

    The Appaloosa is known for its hardiness and agility along with its eye-catching coat patterns.

    The ApHC was founded in 1938 and since then the breed has become popular throughout North America and Europe.


    The modern Appaloosa is an all-round versatile horse. They are used for pleasure and long distance trail riding, working cattle and rodeo events, racing and many other western and English riding sports. The Nez Perce used them for transport, hunting, and battle.

    Appaloosa Champions and Celebrities:

    One of the more notable foundation stallions is Red Eagle. Red Eagle was actually part Arabian, as it was common to breed to other light horse breeds in an effort to recover the Appaloosa breed. Red Eagle is found in many Appaloosa pedigrees today.

    Sundance F500 was a leopard spotted Appaloosa stallion foaled in 1933. His descendants continue to exhibit this beautiful coat pattern. Sundance's pedigree contains horses of Thoroughbred and Mustang breeding.

    Knobby is the antecedent of the Toby line of Appaloosas and recognized as a foundation sire. The breeder's herd was not affected by the Government confiscation so was an important contributor of foundation stock for the breed.