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The basics:
A native horse of the American West, the Appaloosa is easily recognizable by the blanket of spots scattered like stars across the Appaloosa’s body. This flashy breed was the pride of Native American tribes in the pre-colonial Northwest, particularly by the exceptional horsemen of the Nez Perce. They bred for strength, speed, and endurance, as well as for the unique leopard spots that became the signature of the breed. Europeans settlers in the Palouse region called them “Palouse horses”, which became abbreviated to “Appalousey”, and finally “Appaloosa”.

The Appaloosa’s history has not been a kind one. During the Nez Perce War when the tribes were forced to flee their lands, the Appaloosas came with them. When the U.S. Army defeated the Nez Perce, more than 1,000 of the tribe’s horses were killed or taken and sold. When the Nez Perce were forced to settle on reservations, they were required to crossbreed any of their remaining horses to draft horses, to produce large breeds capable of heavy farm work. So it was that the breed the famous explorer Meriwether Lewis described as “lofty, elegantly [sic] formed, active and durable” could scarcely be found outside wild bands of roving horses. The Nez Perce would never renew their Appaloosa breeding program, but in the late 20th century, in an effort to resurrect the horsemanship traditions of their culture, the tribe began development of a new breed, the Nez Perce horse.

In 1938, the Appaloosa Horse Club was founded in an effort to preserve and improve this noble breed. Today, there are more than 630,000 Appaloosas registered with the club. Some have mistaken the Appaloosa for strictly a “color breed”, defined and identified solely by its unusual markings – however, the ApHC limits registration by both bloodline and physical characteristics. To be considered for registration, at least one parent must be a registered Appaloosa, though the second parent may be from a registered American Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, or Arabian.

The Appaloosa is a versatile breed. They most traditionally are found Western riding disciplines, including cutting, reigning, roping, and barrel racing, or as working ranch horses. They’re also very successful in a variety of other equestrian activities, including show jumping, dressage, eventing, racing, endurance riding, trail riding, and of course, pleasure riding.

Appearance / health:
The Appaloosa stands between 14.2 and 15.2 hands high. The traditional build of the breed was tall and rangy, with a narrow body. The influx of Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, and Arabian has changed the build of the modern Appaloosa, so that there is no definitive build. Apart from the distinctive spotting, there are 3 core features of the Appaloosa: striped hooves, a white sclera, and mottled skin, especially around the muzzle, eyes, genitals, and anus.

The coat of the Appaloosa can be described as a base coat color overlaid by spotted patterns. The base colors are bay, chestnut, black, palomino, gray, roan, dun, buckskin, cremello, perlino, and grulla. The patterning is more complex, and an Appaloosa may have a combination of more than one pattern. The patterns are:

  • Spots – A pattern of white or dark spots on any part of the body.
  • Blanket (or Snowcap) – A solid white “blanket”, often over the hips, which contrasts with the base color.
  • Blanket with Spots – The white “blanket” has a scattering of spots, usually in the contrasting base color.
  • Leopard – A white horse with dark spots over the entire body.
  • Few spot Leopard – A horse that is mostly white with a few, light spots around the neck, head, and flank.
  • Mottled – A horse with a white coat, but darkly mottled skin showing beneath.
  • Snowflake – A horse with a darkly colored body and white spots or flecks.
  • Roan – The coat has mix of light and dark hairs with lighter areas on the head and face, back, loin, and hips. A “varnish roan” will have dark areas along the frontal bones of the face, above the eye, on the point of the hip, the stifle, legs, and behind the elbow.
  • Roan blanket or Frost – A roan coat with a white “blanket” over the hips and croup.
  • Roan blanket with spots – A roan coat with a white “blanket”, and white or dark spots within the roan areas.

Behavior / temperament:
The Appaloosa is an intelligent breed with a confident and courageous personality. Like many smart horses, the Appaloosa can seem quite stubborn in the hands of a novice rider, but becomes quite tractable and hard-working with someone they can’t take advantage of.


clever horse, distinctive color varieties, stamina, essential soundness, great family horses


Equine Chronic Uveitis, moodier temperament, stubborn streak, attitude problems


hackamore, Indian Shuffle gait, amazing cow sense, Western riding, lower level eventing, pleasure

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