Breed Report: Appaloosa

As a breed, Appaloosas are usually strong, compact horses, although because the breed is defined by color rather then bloodlines, they can vary tremendously both in size and shape.

Spotted coat coloring has been found in horses for thousands of years; cave drawings from 20,000 years ago depicted horses with these coats.  In the United States, the word “Appaloosa” refers to a breed of spotted horses, but the word can refer simply to the coat color.

ORIGIN: United States

ENVIRONMENT: Open habitat including grassland, moor and heath

USES: Riding and sports

HEIGHT: 14.2 to 16.0 hh (58-64)

COLORS: Colored



Spotted coat coloration featured on many of the horses reintroduced to the Americas by the conquistadores in the 16th century, and the Appaloosa breed was developed in the 18th century by the Nez-Perce Indians.  This tribe lived in Palouse country, the area that is now north Idaho and Oregon – a fertile stretch of country that includes the Palouse river.  They selectively bred there horses to promote the spotted coat coloring that they so prized.  The horses became known as Palouse Horses which, over time, changed to Appaloosa Horse.  The defeat of the Indians by the U.S. army in the late 19th century led to the loss of this type of horse.  Many were killed in the fierce fighting; those that survived escaped to run wild.  In the 1920s, the breed was revived by enthusiasts breeding from the descendants of the Indian ponies.



While all Appaloosa’s have spots, there are five officially recognized coat patterns: Blanket, with a spot free area of white over the hips; Frost, with white spots in a dark coat color; Leopard, with a predominantly white area over the loins and hips featuring large dark spots within the white; Marble; with a mottled pattern all over the body; and Snowflake, with a white body covered over in dark spots, but the spots being particularly prevalent over the hips.  Thus, a foal would be classified as Blanket if the white area over his hips remains spot free.  His coat may change as he matures and, if spots appear on the white, he would be classed as a Leopard spot.



The Appaloosa has a generally sparse mane and tail, which was encouraged to avoid violent snagging on thorn bushes in its native environment.  White sclera around the eyes and mottling on the muzzle is also characteristic.  (Too much white around the eye is considered a poor character trait by many horse people, but in the Appaloosa it is a breed requirement.) The limbs are notably strong, and the hooves are good and hard, often with distinctive vertical stripes.  The Nez-Perce Indians never shod their horses.



The Appaloosa are usually intelligent and cooperative, despite the white eye suggesting otherwise.

As a breed, Appaloosas are usually strong, compact horses, although because the breed is defined by color rather then bloodlines, they can vary tremendously both in size and shape.  They are popular for Western and endurance riding as well as for general competition classes.

The Appaloosa Horse Club was formed in 1938 in Oregon.  Their aim was to preserve and improve the Appaloosa breed as well as to act as a register for Appaloosa horses.


Debby Sly: Encyclopedia of Horses.  Bath, UK 2008, p. 182/3

2 thoughts on “Breed Report: Appaloosa”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: