History of the Appaloosa

Humans have recognised and appreciated the spotted horse throughout history, ancient cave drawings as far back as 20,000 years ago depict spotted horses.

Spotted horses were the subject of worship in ancient Asia and appear in 17th Century Asian and Chinese art.

oldphotoIn 1589 Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes introduced sixteen horses to Mexico. These sixteen were to reinstate the equine species in America. The horses were well documented, there were eleven stallions two of which were part coloured or spotted and five mares. All foundation American horses originate from this stock, and it is possible that the forerunners of the medieval Spanish Appaloosas were bred in central Asia - hence the paintings. The Spanish horses carried the spotted genes and spread Northwards from Mexico through the agency of the plains Indians. The horses were traded to other tribes, their use spreading until most of the Native American populations were mounted.

In particular it is the Nez Perce tribe of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho with which the Appaloosas history is closely intertwined. They quickly became sophisticated horsemen and developed horses of exceptional quality, which were highly prized, and envied by other tribes. The Nez Perce were the first tribe to practice selective breeding, the best stallions were kept for breeding, the lesser quality castrated and any inferior stock was traded away or culled.

The Nez Perce especially prized the spotted horses using them as buffalo runners and war-horses. In this way the tribe developed a colourful, tough, swift and sure footed mount which met their needs and was in high demand by others.

In 1877 the story of the Appaloosa and the Nez Perce takes a tragic turn. The influx of white settlers to the Northwest changed the Nez Perce destiny and nearly destroyed the legacy of their horse breeding efforts. Chief Joseph the famous leader of the peaceful Nez Perce became disheartened by the many broken treaties of the US government.

The 700 Nez Perce men, women and children chose to seek asylum in Canada. For several months travelling 1800 miles over treacherous mountain terrain the Nez Perce mounted on their Appaloosa horses avoided capture by the pursuing US army. However, just one day from the Canadian border and freedom, Chief Joseph was forced to surrender because of the weak condition of his people. Chief Joseph made a speech that was to become famous, it concludes…"hear me my chiefs, I am tired: my heart is sick and sad, from where the sun now stands I will fight the white man no more, forever." (Brown 1967).

The Appaloosa horses seen as the strength behind the Nez Perce were captured and confiscated. The soldiers hunted down horses that escaped, a bottle of whiskey was the bounty for each horse shot. The Nez Perce were placed on reservations and encouraged to take up farming, their fine Appaloosa stallions were replaced with draught stallions. The Appaloosa lost its refinement through crossbreeding with draught horses, its head and legs became course and its speed and agility were limited. The original refined and hardy Appaloosa was rapidly disappearing from the American west and for 50 years was a 'lost breed.' Nothing was done to preserve the Appaloosa until 1938 when a group of dedicated horsemen formed the Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC) for "the preservation and improvement of the spotted horse" whose numbers were dwindling. The Appaloosa began its return from the brink of obscurity.

At this point the name of the horse officially became 'Appaloosa.'

The Nez Perce did not call their horses Appaloosas, the name comes from the Palouse River which runs through their original homelands. White settlers described the colourful Indian horses as 'a Palouse horse', which soon became slurred to 'appalousey' and finally Appaloosa.

Today the Appaloosa Horse Club has become the international registry, with more than 500,000 Appaloosas on record and approximately 10,000 new horses registered annually.