The Appaloosa is best known for its spotted coat pattern. The American breed is one of the most popular breeds in the United States and is the official state horse of Idaho.
The Nez Perce people of eastern Washington, Oregon, and western Idaho developed the original breed in the 18th century. Settlers referred to these spotted horses as the "Palouse horse", after the Palouse River that ran through the heart of Nez Perce country. The name then evolved into Appaloosa.
Following the formation of the Appaloosa Horse Club in 1938, the breed was developed with the addition of American Quarter Horse and Arabian bloodlines. The addition of Quarter Horse lines produced Appaloosas that performed better in sprint racing and in halter competition. While cutting and reining horses resulted from old-type Appaloosas crossed with Arabian bloodlines.
Appaloosas are used extensively for both Western and English riding. Western competitions include cutting, reining, roping and O-Mok-See sports such as barrel racing and pole bending.
The Appaloosa is known for its distinctive, leopard complex-spotted coat. Spotting occurs in several overlay patterns on one of several recognized base coat colours.
Three other distinctive characteristics include:
- Mottled skin around the muzzle and eyes;
- Striped hooves, however, not unique to the breed;
- Eyes with a white sclera.
Because some horses are born with little or no visible spotting pattern, the Appaloosa Horse Club allows registration of horses with mottled skin plus at least one of the other core characteristics.
Any horse that shows these core characteristics carries at least one allele of the dominant leopard complex (LP) gene.
Not every Appaloosa exhibits visible coat spotting, but even solid-coloured horses that carry at least one dominant LP allele will exhibit these characteristics.
The breed has a wide range of body types, in part because the leopard complex characteristics are its primary identifying factors. The Appaloosa horse can range from 430kg to 570 kg, with heights of 14 to 16 hands (142 to 163 cm).
Appaloosa spotting patterns
People associate the Appaloosa horse with a unique group of spotting patterns, collectively called the leopard complex. Each horse’s coat colour is the result of a spotting pattern overlaid on top of one of several recognized base coat colours.
These spotting patterns include:
- Blanket or snowcap;
- Blanket with spots;
- Few-spot leopard;
- Varnish roan;
- Roan blanket or frost;
- Roan blanket with spots.
The base colours recognised by the Appaloosa Horse Club include bay, black, chestnut, palomino, buckskin, cremello or perlino, roan, grey and dun. Spots overlay darker skin, and are often surrounded by a ‘halo’, where the skin next to the spot is also dark but the overlying hair coat is white. You cannot predict an Appaloosa's colour at birth. Foals do not always show the classic leopard complex. Patterns sometimes change over the course of the horse's life.
Horses with the varnish roan and snowflake patterns are especially prone to show very little colour pattern at birth, developing more visible spotting as they get older.
The Appaloosa Horse Club also recognises a ‘solid’ horse. It has a base colour but no contrasting colour in the form of an Appaloosa coat pattern. Solid horses can be registered if they have mottled skin plus at least one of the other leopard complex characteristics.
Appaloosas are eight times more prone to developing Equine Recurrent Uveitis than all other breeds combined. 80% of all uveitis cases are found in Appaloosas. Appaloosas that are homozygous for the leopard complex (LP) gene are also at risk for congenital stationary night blindness.
More information on the breed can be found on the Appaloosa Horse Club website.Photo credit: Appaloosa Horse Club