Meet the Appaloosa Horse – the Native American Dream


The Appaloosa Horse is a multi-talented and warm-blooded equine that is easily recognizable by its spotted pattern. Although evidence suggests the breed has been around for thousands of years, the iconic Appaloosa Horse is known as an American Breed. Their personality and physical traits make Appaloosas ideal for all of the equine-related activities, although they truly shine under the guidance of an experienced rider.

History and Origins

Although ancient drawings from 20,000 years ago found in now western Europe feature the Appaloosa Horse, easily recognizable from its spotted pattern, we know little of this breed’s evolution up until its arrival to what is now the U.S.A.

Brought to Northern America by Spanish explorers, they quickly befriended the Indians and spread among Native American Tribes. By 1710, every tribe had experienced horse riders and enjoyed the gentle company of the Appaloosa Horse. A few tribes from what is now North-Western U.S.A. are believed to be the first to selectively breed, trading the individuals that did not meet their standards. Their name is believed to come from the white settlers which initially called them “a Palouse horse”, after the region they first saw them in.

The Appaloosa Horse had an important role throughout the American history, carrying Native Americans through victories and defeats. However, after the Nez Perce were defeated in the late 1800’s, the Appaloosa horses’ legacy seemed to go downhill.

Fortunately, a group of horsemen that acknowledged the importance of the ancient bloodline founded the Appaloosa Horse Club in 1938. Their aim was to preserve and even improve the population of Appaloosa horses, which was in decline for over 50 years. The now international breed registry has over 500 thousand equines registered under its guidance, and 10 thousand more are coming each year.

Breed Particularities

The Appaloosa Horse breed has an extremely diverse genetic background, which mainly consists of, but is not limited to, Andalusians, Arabians, Barbs, and Turks. Being bred for strength and endurance hundreds of years ago, they still exhibit potency and are always ready for a new challenge.

Physical Characteristics of the Appaloosa Horse

The most easily recognizable physical trait of a pure breed Appaloosa is its pattern, which can have many variations: white spots on a dark body (the snowflake pattern), dark spots on a white body (the leopard pattern), marble (molten all over), or blanket (white hips, sometimes with dark spots) are just a few of the most common patterns you can see on an Appaloosa Horse.

Height: 14.3 – 15.4 hands

Weight: 950 – 1,250 pounds

Life expectancy: around 30 years

Body traits: heavy build, white sclera (some even say their eyes are similar to ours)

Their manes and tails are usually thin, and their hooves can sometimes show black and white stripes although this trait is not particular to the Appaloosa Horse breed.

Appaloosa Horse’s Temperament

An Appaloosa horse will always be well-mannered towards its rider. However, what made it ideal as a war horse in the past was its fierce personality which can also be observed today, a characteristic that makes it a great choice for equestrian competitions.

The Appaloosa exhibits a remarkable eagerness to please, another trait that makes it excellent for competitions. Under the guidance of an experienced rider that knows how to handle horses, good results are generally guaranteed.

Even though they can be intense and powerful during a competition, these horses are very mild-mannered in general. Their gentle and versatile character makes them great with children, and they are seen as less threatening thanks to their light and elegant structure.

Breed-specific Health Issues

Congenital stationary night blindness, a condition that is linked to the genes that are responsible for Appaloosa’s distinctive pattern, is best described as an improper adaptation to the lack of light.

Equine recurrent uveitis, also known as moon blindness or recurrent iridocyclitis, is the most common starting point for blindness in horses by inflammation of the uvea.

Appaloosa horse (right) on pasture

Having an Appaloosa Horse

Although they used to roam the plains and mountains of North America a few hundred years ago, having a registered Appaloosa Horse nowadays is an investment. When first acquiring an Appaloosa Horse, owners will have to spend money on:

  • A trailer – between $1,500 and $50,000;
  • Tack – from $600 to ten times that value;
  • Vet check – as much as $550 on the high end for most areas;
  • Grooming equipment – $100 at most.

The yearly expenses which come with owning an Appaloosa Horse start at about $4,500 and can go above $26,000, costs being determined by:

  • Boarding type;
  • Training type and frequency;
  • Food;
  • Pasture type and maintenance.

Other yearly expenses without noteworthy variations no matter the area or the time of the year are:

  • Farrier;
  • Insurance;
  • Bedding;
  • Medical care.

Their diet is made out of hay, grains, fruits, or vegetables, but given their nature and history they are used to having fresh grass at their disposal. An Appaloosa horse will require a constant source of fresh water, so this might be an investment to take into account, too.

Registering a Foal

Since foals do not present a pattern at birth, rather developing with age, the Appaloosa Horse Club enables owners to register their foal if it shows mottled skin and at least one other particular trait. If a foal does not show any core characteristics but its parents are both registered with the Appaloosa Horse Club, it will receive a special registration under the name “non-characteristic”.

In order to register a foal with the Appaloosa Horse Club, you will need to file Stallion Breeding Report complete with genetic tests results for the sire and dam of the foal, a completed registration application which includes the signature of the dam’s and sire’s owners, good quality photographs, and three name versions, since the ApHC has rules when it comes to registered names.

Common Uses for Appaloosa Horses

Being a light breed, the Appaloosa is an excellent choice for a wide variety of equestrian activities: dressage, leisure riding, endurance riding, racing, work, jumping, eventing, or roping. Being agile and quick, they will not disappoint when ridden by someone who is experienced in guiding horses through competitions.

They are great long-distance riders and will have a flexible behavior towards every task, no matter the difficulty. This is maybe why the breed has also been featured in multiple American movies, predominantly westerns, as a symbol of American efficiency and perfection. The Appaloosa horse has also contributed, over time, to the development of other breeds like Nez Perce or the ponies children love so much.

There’s no doubt about it, time has been nothing but kind to this old breed: it is and will be in its golden age for a long time. Their excellent temperament and impressive physical abilities make the Appaloosas a great choice for competitive and leisure riding. Although having one might require some time and financial investments, the results are invaluable: you will not only have a pure breed horse with a great performance, you will also find yourself in the company of a friendly and extremely gratifying pet.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3.

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