AskDefine | Define appaloosa

Dictionary Definition

Appaloosa n : a hardy breed of saddle horse developed in western North America and characteristically having a spotted rump

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  1. a breed of horse having a spotted rump

Extensive Definition

The Appaloosa is a horse breed known for its preferred leopard-spotted coat color and other distinctive physical characteristics. While there is evidence of leopard-spotted horses dating back to the Paleolithic era in Europe, the Nez Perce people of the American Pacific Northwest developed the American breed. They were once referred to by white settlers as the "Palouse horse", probably because the Palouse River ran through the heart of Nez Perce country. Gradually, the name evolved into "Appaloosa". The Nez Perce people lost most of their horses following the end of the Nez Perce War in 1877 and the breed fell into decline for several decades. However, a small number of dedicated breeders kept the Appaloosa alive for several decades until a registry was formed in 1938. Today the Appaloosa is one of the most popular breeds in the United States, and it was named the official state horse of Idaho in 1975. It is best known as a stock horse used in a number of western riding disciplines, but is also a versatile breed with representatives seen in many other types of equestrian activity. The color pattern of the Appaloosa is of great interest to those who study equine coat color genetics, as both the coat pattern and several other physical characteristics are linked to the the "Lp" or "leopard" gene or gene complex, but the precise inheritance mechanism is not fully understood.


The earliest evidence of horses with a spotted coat pattern is from the cave paintings dating from the Upper Paleolithic era, circa 18,000 BC found at Lascaux and Peche-Merle in France. Domesticated horses with blanket spotting patterns have also been depicted in the art of Ancient Persia, in Ancient Greece, the "Celestial horses" of the T'ang Dynasty in China, and 11th century France. Paintings from France in the 16th and 17th century show horses with Appaloosa coat patterns being used as riding horses, and other records indicate they were also used as coach horses at the court of King Louis XIV of France. In mid-18th century Europe, there was a high demand for horses with the Appaloosa coat pattern among the nobility and royalty. These horses were used in the schools of horsemanship and for parade and display use.
It is unclear how spotted horses arrived in the Americas, although the Spanish Conquistadors may have brought some vividly marked horses with them when they first arrived in the early 1500s. Another theory holds that when spotted horses went out of style in late-18th century Europe, large numbers were shipped to the west coast of America and traded to Spanish settlers and the Indian people of the Pacific Northwest, a voyage survived only by the hardiest animals.

The Nez Perce people

seealso Nez Perce
Horses reached the Pacific Northwest by 1700. The Nez Perce people, who lived in what today is eastern Washington and Oregon, obtained horses from the Shoshone people circa 1730, and from there took advantage of the fact that they lived in excellent horse-breeding country, relatively safe from the raids of other tribes, and developed strict breeding selection practices for their animals. They were one of the few tribes to actively use the practice of gelding inferior male horses,
These early Nez Perce horses were considered to be of high quality. Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition wrote in his February 15, 1806 journal entry: "Their horses appear to be of an excellent race; they are lofty, eligantly [sic] formed, active and durable: in short many of them look like fine English horses and would make a figure in any country."
However, the journey came to an end when they stopped to rest near the Bears Paw Mountains in Montana, 40 miles (64 kilometers) from the Canadian border, thinking that they had shaken off their pursuers. But Nelson A. Miles, then a colonel, led his troops in a rapid march of over 200 miles (322 kilometers) to catch the Nez Perce. After a devastating five-day battle, the battle - and the war -was over.

The aftermath of the Nez Perce War

When the U.S. 7th Cavalry captured Chief Joseph and the remaining Nez Perce on October 5, 1877, they immediately took over 1,000 of the tribe's horses, sold what they could, and shot many of the rest. A significant population of horses had been hastily left behind in the Wallowa valley when the Nez Perce began their retreat still remained, and additional animals escaped or were abandoned along the way. Thus, although a remnant population of Appaloosa remained after 1877, the Appaloosa was virtually forgotten as a distinct breed for almost 60 years.

Nez Perce horse breeding today

The Nez Perce tribe never regained its former position as breeders of Appaloosa horses. However the tribe began a program in 1995 to develop a new and distinct horse breed, the Nez Perce Horse. Based on crossbreeding the Appaloosa with a Central Asian breed called Akhal-Teke, the Nez Perce hope to resurrect their horse culture, a tradition of selective breeding and horsemanship that was destroyed by the Nez Perce War. The program was financed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the Nez Perce tribe, and the First Nations Development Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes tribal business development.


In 1937, the Appaloosa had caught the eye of the general public because of a series of articles in Western Horseman magazine, and the Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC) was founded by Claude Thompson and a small group of other dedicated breeders in 1938. The registry was originally housed in Moro, Oregon,
A significant crossbreeding influence used to revitalize the Appaloosa was the Arabian horse, as evidenced by early registration lists which show Arabian-Appaloosa crossbreds as ten of the first fifteen horses registered with the ApHC. For example, one of Claude Thompson's major herd sires was Ferras, an Arabian stallion bred by W.K. Kellogg from horses imported from the Crabbet Arabian Stud of England. Ferras then sired Red Eagle, a prominent Appaloosa stallion, In 1983, the ApHC reduced the number of allowable outcrosses to three main breeds: the Arabian horse, the American Quarter Horse and the Thoroughbred.
By 1978, the ApHC was the third largest horse registry in the United States. The state of Idaho adopted the Appaloosa as its official state horse on March 25, 1975 when Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus signed the enabling legislation. the first state to offer a plate featuring a state horse.

Breed Characteristics

Because Appaloosa coloring is a preferred identifying factor, and because several different horse breeds influenced the Appaloosa, there are several body styles found in the breed. Due to this wide variety, Appaloosas are used in many different disciplines.
Most Appaloosas are recognized by their colorful spotted coat patterns, striped hooves, mottled skin (most visible around their eyes and on their muzzle) and white sclera around the eye. Appaloosas can have brown, blue or hazel eyes, and an individual horse may have eyes of two different colors. While the original, "old time" Appaloosas often had a sparse mane and tail, it was not a predisposition for the breed as a whole; even many original Appaloosas had full manes and tails. Today the "rat tail" trait is usually bred away from and most "modern" Appaloosas have full manes and tails.


The physical conformation of the original Appaloosa was typical of the range horses found in the western United States. Original or "old style" Appaloosas were highly regarded as hardy working horses. Many ranchers and horse breeders used roan or minimally marked Appaloosas in their programs, particularly in parts of Texas and Colorado. This had an impact on the development of the American Quarter Horse, especially with regard to the Peavy, Roberd and Casement herds. Modern Appaloosas are both more refined and more muscular, reflecting the influence of Arabian and Thoroughbred breeding as well as infusions from modern American Quarter Horses and other lines.
Appaloosas with a "stock horse" build are well suited to western riding disciplines as well as to short-length horse racing, at distances from 220 yards up to a quarter-mile. The "foundation" or "working" Appaloosa is still sometimes seen, especially on working ranches. This is a slightly smaller, leaner animal considered to be closer in type to the original Nez Perce bloodstock. There are also some Appaloosas that display more of a Thoroughbred or sport horse conformation - taller, with longer legs and a leaner build, bred to be used in English riding competition and middle distance horse races up to 8 furlongs. A similarly spotted breed in Europe, with a sport horse build, is the Knabstrup.
It is not always easy to predict the color a grown horse will be from the shade it has as a foal. Most foals are born with lighter colored coats than they will have when they shed their baby hair with the exception of gray horses, which are born dark and progressively become lighter.
The Appaloosa Horse Club recognizes thirteen base coat colors, which may be overlain by the following five recognized spotting patterns:
  • Blanket - white over the hip that may extend from the tail to the base of the neck. The spots inside the blanket (if present) are the same color as the horse's base coat.
  • Leopard - A horse whose Appaloosa white patterning is exhibited to an extreme with base colored spots of various sizes covering most of its body .
  • Few Spot Leopard - This is a horse whose base color is nearly obscured by its Appaloosa white patterning covering up to 90% of its body. Horse may exhibit patches of color on the heads, knees, elbows, flanks (called "varnish marks"). Some may have as few as only one or two spots.
  • Snowflake - A horses with white spots, flecks, on a dark body. Typically the white spots increase in number and size as the horse ages.
  • Varnish roan - dark points (legs and head) and some spots or roaning over a light body. May occur in conjunction with another spotting style and change with age. Often starts out as a solid colored horse that gets more white as it ages, but is not a gray.
  • Frost - similar to varnish but the white hairs are limited to the back, loins, and neck. May occur in conjunction with another spotting style and change with age. Often starts out as a solid colored horse that gets more white as it ages.


Genetic studies by Sponenberg and other researchers suggest that Appaloosa color patterns occur when at least one parent carries the "Lp" gene. While there is currently no DNA test for the gene, it is believed that it is located on a single autosomal dominant locus, and may possibly be a gene-complex rather than a single gene. It should be noted that not every horse with the Lp gene exhibits hair coat spotting. However, even some solid individuals will exhibit characteristics such as vertically striped hooves, white sclera of the eye, or mottled skin around the eyes, lips, and genitalia.
Sometimes, Appaloosas may also exhibit sabino or pinto type markings, but these are not desirable and are discouraged by the ApHC registration rules. The Appaloosa Project, a genetic study group, has also done extensive research on the interactions of Appaloosa and pinto genes and how they affect each other. The genes that create these different patterns can all be present in the same horse. However, because pinto genes, particularly the overo pattern, may "cover-up" or obscure Appaloosa patterns, pinto breeding is discouraged by the ApHC, which will deny registration to some horses if they have excessive white markings.


Located in Moscow, Idaho, the Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC) is the principal body for the promotion and preservation of the Appaloosa breed in the United States. Affiliate Appaloosa organizations exist in many South American and European countries, as well as South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and Israel. The Appaloosa Horse Club doesn't release membership numbers, but the circulation of the Appaloosa Journal, which is included with most types of membership, is around 32,000. The American Appaloosa Association was founded in 1983 by members opposed to the registration of plain-colored horses as Appaloosas in the color rule controversy. Based in Missouri, it has a membership of over 2000.
The Appaloosa is "a breed defined by ApHC bloodline requirements and preferred characteristics, including coat pattern." Solid-colored Appaloosas also have breeding restrictions. During the 1940s and 1950s, when both the Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC) and the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) were in their formative years, minimally marked or roan Appaloosas were sometimes used in Quarter Horse breeding programs. At the same time, it was noted that two solid-colored registered Quarter Horse parents would sometimes produce what was called a "cropout" -- in the Quarter horse world, a term referring to either an Appaloosa or pinto-colored foal, one with too much white in the "wrong" places. For a considerable time, until DNA testing could verify parentage, the AQHA refused to register such horses. However, the ApHC accepted "crop-out" horses that exhibited proper Appaloosa traits, and "crop-out" pintos became the core of the American Paint Horse registry, the American Paint Horse Association. Famous Appaloosas who were "crop-outs" included Colida, Joker B, Bright Eyes Brother and Wapiti.
In the late 1970s, the color controversy went in the opposite direction within the Appaloosa registry. The ApHC generated considerable controversy by a decision to allow solid-colored or "non-characteristic" Appaloosas to be registered with the "N" prefix system. Prior to the implementation of the rule, a foal of Appaloosa parents who did not have sufficient color was often denied registration. However, non-characteristic Appaloosas were allowed into the registry and breeder experience showed that some solid Appaloosas could throw a spotted foal in a subsequent generation, at least when bred to a spotted Appaloosa, and in addition, many horses with a solid coat nonetheless exhibited secondary characteristics such as skin mottling, the white sclera and striped hooves. However, the controversy was intense, and a number of Appaloosa breeders split from the ApHC and founded a separate Appaloosa organization in 1983. There is horse racing for Appaloosas, and they do well in endurance riding as well as being casual trail riding companion animals.

In modern culture

Appaloosas are often used in Western movies and television series as mounts for both cowboy and Native American characters. Examples included "Cojo Rojo" in the Marlon Brando film The Appaloosa. An Appaloosa was used by Sara Lane in The Virginian TV series, and John Wayne rode an Appaloosa named Zip Cochise in the 1966 film El Dorado. An Appaloosa horse is part of the controversial mascot team for the Florida State Seminoles, Chief Osceola and Renegade, even though the Seminole people were not directly associated with Appaloosa horses.

Influence on other breeds

Other popular breeds with Appaloosa coloring and Appaloosa ancestry include the Pony of the Americas and the Colorado Ranger. Appaloosas are also crossbred with a number of gaited horse breeds in an attempt to create a leopard-spotted ambling horse. Because the ensuing offspring are not eligible for ApHC registration, their owners are forming a number of new breed registries to promote gaited horses with spotted coats.

Genetic and health issues


Appaloosas have an eightfold higher risk of developing spontaneous equine recurrent uveitis (ERU), which can, if not treated, lead to blindness, which occurs in Appaloosas at four times the rate of the general horse population. As many as 25% of all Appaloosas may develop ERU, the highest prevalence in any horse breed. Current research at the University of Minnesota is attempting to determine if there is a genetic factor involved; and may have identified a potential gene region that may be linked to the condition.

Drug rules

In 2007, the ApHC implemented new drug rules which will allow Appaloosas to show with the drugs acetazolamide and furosemide, known by the trade name of Lasix. Furosemide is used to prevent horses who bleed from the nose when subjected to strenuous work from having bleeding episodes when in competition, and is widely used in horse racing. Acetazolamide ("Acet") is used for treating horses with the genetic disease Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP), and prevents affected animals from having seizures. Some Appaloosas are HYPP-positive due to the influence of certain American Quarter Horse bloodlines.
Both drugs are controversial in part because they are considered drug maskers and as diuretics which can be used to make it difficult to detect the use of other drugs from the horse's system. For these reasons, and also due to lack of membership notice and comment, this rule change has generated controversy. On one side, it is argued that both the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), which sponsors show competition for many different horse breeds, and the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI), which governs international and Olympic Equestrian competition ban the use of furosemide. On the other side of the controversy, several major stock horse registries that sanction their own shows, including the American Quarter Horse Association, American Paint Horse Association, and the Palomino Horse Breeders' of America, allow acetazolamide and furosemide to be used with 24 hours of showing under certain circumstances.
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