Appaloosa horses are instantly recognizable by their distinctive spotted colouring. But there’s more to Appaloosas than their colourful coats. This breed’s rich history and adaptable disposition make it a favourite mount for riders who want to stand out in any arena.

This American breed descends from horses developed by the indigenous Nez Perce people in the Pacific Northwest. Pushed to the brink of vanishing due to breeding with other bloodlines, the modern Appaloosa exists today thanks to a concerted effort to preserve these spotted horses.

The Appaloosa’s ancestors carried warriors, women, children, and the elderly through rugged mountain terrain. Today, the traits that made these horses trusted battle mounts and beloved family members contribute to the Appaloosa’s popularity and versatility as an equine partner.

While selective breeding helped concentrate the genes responsible for spotted coat patterns in Appaloosas, the breed also carries genes associated with eye problems.

This article will discuss the origin, history, characteristics, health problems, and nutrient requirements of Appaloosa horses. Keep reading to learn what owners need to know about caring for and feeding Appaloosas.

Appaloosa Horse History

The history of the Appaloosa horse breed is deeply rooted in the indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest. Originally called the Palouse horse after the Palouse river running through Northern Idaho, Appaloosas have gained popularity throughout North America.

While modern selective breeding focuses on preserving the Appaloosa’s spotted coat patterns, colouring was likely only a secondary consideration during the early development of the breed.


Archeologists identified paintings of spotted horses in petroglyphs found in France that date back over 25,000 years. Chinese drawings from 500 BC and 14th-century Persian art also depict the same coat pattern. [1]

Genotype studies of pre-domestic horses reveal that the leopard coat phenotype in paleolithic paintings matched the genotype of local equine populations alive at the time. Research is ongoing into the ancestral origins of spotted horses in North America. [1]

Most historians believe that Appaloosas descend from Spanish horses imported to the Americas by conquistadors in the 1600s. The indigenous Nez Perce people domesticated the descendants of these horses in the early 1700s.

Raised in the canyons and mountains of the Pacific Northwest, selective breeding emphasized traits that allowed the Appaloosa to thrive living with humans in a challenging environment.

Historic Use

The Nez Perce used Appaloosas for war, transportation, and hunting. Their breeding programs aimed to produce intelligent, sure-footed horses with the stamina and bravery necessary for battle.

However, these horses also needed a gentle disposition to carry infants in cradleboards and live alongside playing children. Nez Perce people relied on the Appaloosa to move people and goods over long distances and rough terrain.

Nez Perce War

Warriors rode Appaloosas during the Nez Perce War of 1877 in resistance to the forced removal of indigenous people from their ancestral lands by the U.S. Government. After the initial armed conflict, the Nez Pearce attempted to travel north and seek sanctuary in Canada. [2]

Led by Chief Joseph, the tribe embarked on a 1,350-mile journey to the border to avoid capture and forced placement on reservation lands. Accompanied by their dutiful Appaloosas, the Nez Perce eluded the US Cavalry until the final engagement 40 miles south of the border.

The US Army confiscated their horses, destroying or selling all of the Appaloosas. Farmers crossed the horses with drafts for farm work. While some escaped, most surviving horses assimilated to other breeds, and the Appaloosa bloodline almost disappeared forever.

After nearly 60 years of obscurity, the Appaloosa breed gained public attention in 1937 with a Western Horseman article by Francis D. Haines. The history professor had extensively researched the breed’s history and urged its preservation. [3]

Breed Registry

New interest in the breed led to the foundation of the Appaloosa Horse Club in 1938, which now serves as the official breed registry of the Appaloosa. The club used historical records to find and register foundation stock to preserve and standardize the breed. [4]

Decades of careful breeding brought the Appaloosa back from the brink. Today, the club continues to promote the breeding and ownership of Appaloosa horses. It maintains records for all registered Appaloosa horses in North America.

The club has a partially open studbook. All registered horses need at least one registered Appaloosa parent. Cross-bred Appaloosas are only eligible for registration if the non-Appaloosa parent belongs to an approved breed registry.

Approved breeds include Arabians, Thoroughbreds, and Quarter Horses. Owners of geldings and mares with Appaloosa characteristics and unknown parentage can apply for hardship registration to participate in ApHC programs. [4]

All registration applications require four current colour photographs depicting the horse’s colouring and markings. Horses must have an Appaloosa coat or characteristic markings for regular registration. Solid Appaloosas receive non-characteristic registration papers.