The Appaloosa - America's Spotted Horse
The Appaloosa is the American version of the spotted horse and is a distinctive and popular breed in the US. The spotted gene in horses is as old as the equine race. Cro-Magnon man cave art of 20,000 years ago, depicts horses with spotted coats. Spotted horses, under a variety of names, were known and often highly esteemed throughout Europe and Asia. There was the Knabstruper of Denmark and Tigres was the name given to them in France. In Britain, where they were once bred in a Royal stud, and were called Blagdon, or Chubbarie, a Romany name. There is now a thriving British Appaloosa Society, but their product has not yet attained breed status.
The spotted coat of the British spotted pony was his natural camouflage when he roamed the heaths and forests of ancient Britain. Stoneage man painted him on the walls of his caves, and they appear in many illustrated manuscripts, old paintings and drawings down through the centuries. Because of their unusual coat coloring the spotted pony was highly prized and it is documented that they were sold for enormous sums of money and were widely used in peace and war.
In a parchment roll dated 1298 there is listed all the horses purchased for Edward 1st campaign at Falkirk. It describes a spotted Welsh cob from Powys purchased from Robin Fitzpayne. He is one of the most expensive on the list. In a fifteenth century manuscript of the chronicles of Sir John Froissart there is an illustration of a little chestnut spotted cob. Today in Britain they are known as Spotted Ponies.
Archeological and historical records show the ancient Chinese Emperors describing them as "Heavenly Horses," and in 17th and 18th century Europe, aristocrats prized them highly as mounts.
The American Appaloosa was developed by the Nez Perce Indians in the eighteenth century, using as a foundation, the Spanish stock imported by the conquistadores. The Nez Perce lived northeast of Oregon and their lands included fertile, sheltered river valleys/ The Palouse river was one of their principle areas, and Appaloosa is a derivative of "a Palouse horse". They were skillful horse breeders and practiced a strict, selective policy. The result was a distinctive, practical, work horse that had the advantage of color. The Nez Perce Indians bred their horses as practical, hardy and versatile mounts for war and hunting. They bred horses that were sensible, with a tractable temperament, endless stamina and endurance.
In 1877, the story of the Nez Perce and the Appaloosa takes a tragic turn. Chief Joseph, the famous leader of the peaceful Nez Perce became disheartened by the many broken treaty promises of the United States Government. Rather than fight, the 700 Nez Perce men, women and children chose to seek political asylum in Canada. For more than three months, traveling 1800 miles over treacherous mountain terrain, the Nez Perce, mounted on their Appaloosa horses avoided capture by the pursuing US Armies. The ongoing battles with the soldiers and the weak condition of his surviving people forced Chief Joseph to surrender. They were in northern Montana -- only one day's journey from the Canadian border and freedom.
The strength of the Nez Perce had been their Appaloosa horses. The United States Government and the missionaries set out to destroy that strength. Most of their horses were confiscated and sold to local settlers. The Appaloosa that had escaped were hunted down by soldiers. A bottle of whiskey was the bounty paid for each Appaloosa horse shot. The Nez Perce on their new reservation were encouraged to take up farming. Their fine Appaloosa stallions were replaced with draft stallions. The effects of these crosses -- coarseheads and legs, and loss of refinement have taken generations to rid from the Appaloosa breed. The modern Appaloosa is a result of some out breeding to the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse.
The original trim, hardy Appaloosa horse was quickly disappearing from the American west and for 50 years was a "lost breed." In 1938, a group of concerned stockmen in the northwestern United States formed the Appaloosa Horse Club to revive and preserve the Appaloosa horse.
Today, the Appaloosa Horse Club sponsors The Chief Joseph Trail Ride every year. Every year up to 300 riders retrace a portion of the Nez Perce War Trail of 1877. Usually held in July or August, it lasts one week, and approximately 100 miles of the trail are ridden. It takes thirteen years to ride the whole trail. Beginning in the beautiful Wallowa valley of Oregon and ending on the plains of the Bearpaw of northern Montana, it is the only ride in the nation that ends up a different place every night for five nights, over thirteen years!
Characteristics of this breed shows the Appaloosa to be an average sized light horse with most standing 14.2 to 15.2 hands at the withers and weighing about 1000 lbs. The modern Appaloosa continues to display the same qualities so highly valued by the Nez Perce and the early frontiersmen --versatility, endurance and temperament.
Various forms of color come in the Appaloosa. The most stereotypical Appaloosa is a dark bodied horse with a spotted or white blanket over the loin and hips.
Other coat patterns include:
The SNOWFLAKE. A darker body with lighter speckling.
The FEWSPOT. A strong coat with varnish marks, which are groupings of dark hairs within an area, usually nose, cheekbones, stifle, gaskin and knee.
Lastly, and perhaps the most popular color of all is the LEOPARD. A coat with a white body and dark spots over the entire body.
No two Appaloosas are exactly alike, but they do share three characteristics:
- 1. Mottled or freckled skin (parti-coloured), most noticeable around the muzzle, eyes and genitalia;
- 2. Hooves have clearly defined vertical light and dark stripes, a trait that gives them exceptionally durable hooves; and
- 3. Eyes that have a white sclera encircling the iris much like that of the human eye.
Many pictures by kind permission of the Spotties
Site. If you want to know more about Appaloosas have a look at www.spotties.com.