Appaloosa Horse: Breed Profile

Training, Grooming, and Care Tips

A spotted Appaloosa horse

Bob Langrish/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Spotted horses have been around for millennia. And one such breed of spotted horse, the Appaloosa, has been capturing the hearts of horse lovers for centuries. Besides their striking appearance, Appaloosas are known for being gentle, friendly, and loyal companions. They tend to be very eager to please, which makes them a great horse breed for equestrians of all experience levels.

Breed Overview

Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds

Height: 14 hands (56 inches) to 15 hands (60 inches)

Body Type: Compact, muscular build; colorful coat patterns with mottled skin; striped hooves; white sclera; sparse mane and tail

Best For: Owners and riders of all levels, including children

Life Expectancy: 30 years

Appaloosa History and Origins

Predecessors of the Appaloosa horse breed arrived in North America during the early 1600s with Spanish explorers. These horses made their way to the Northwest where Native Americans, particularly the Nez Perce people, appreciated the animals and began to breed them. Their strict breeding practices aimed to create a horse that was colorful, tractable, and intelligent. 

The breed's name likely relates to the Palouse River area where the Nez Perce lived. At first, people referred to the breed as Palouse horses, which later became Appaloosas.

The breed was almost lost during the late 1870s when the U.S. government was attempting to take over Native American land. Some tribe members fled with their horses, but many of these early Appaloosas were either stolen, lost, or killed.

During the 1930s, interest in the breed grew once again, and the few surviving horses created a new foundation for the breed. The Appaloosa Horse Club was created in 1938 as a breed registry, presiding over the breed's resurgence. It has since become one of the largest horse breed registries in the world.

Appaloosa Size

The Appaloosa horse typically stands between 14 hands (56 inches) and 15 hands (60 inches), though some can be a bit larger. Its average weight ranges from 950 to 1,200 pounds. 

Appaloosa Breeding and Uses

The Nez Perce people bred Appaloosas for transport, hunting, and battle. The modern Appaloosa is still an extremely versatile horse. Its uses include pleasure and long-distance trail riding, working cattle and rodeo events, racing, and many other Western and English riding sports. The breed also is frequently seen in film and on television, where its distinctive markings can steal a scene. It's a friendly, gentle horse whose loyalty makes it an especially rewarding and enjoyable companion.

Colors and Markings

The base color of the Appaloosa can be red roan, blue roan, bay roan, gray, palomino, chestnut, cremello/perlino, grulla, dun, buckskin, black, brown, dark bay, or bay. Facial colors and patterns include bald, blaze, snip, stripe, and star. On the legs, you might find eel, pastern, ankle, half-pastern, coronet, stocking, half-stocking, and lightning marks. 

The Appaloosa's skin is mottled with white and dark patches of pigmentation that give the appearance of splotches. These markings occur across the body in a few distinct patterns, depending on the horse's genetic makeup. The registry recognizes several coat patterns, including:

  • Blanket: The haunches are all white, or they are white and speckled with dark spots.
  • Leopard: The body is mainly white with dark spots.
  • Snowflake: The body is dark with white spots or flecks, especially over the haunches.
  • Marble: White and dark hairs mingle to create a mottled appearance.

Solid-colored Appaloosa horses may be "appendix registered" because they can carry the gene for a coat pattern but not exhibit that particular pattern themselves.

The manes and tails of most Appaloosas are very sparse. Thinly haired areas of the body, such as the muzzle, are mottled. And the hooves are often striped white and dark. 

Unique Characteristics of the Appaloosa

The Appaloosa is best known for its eye-catching appearance. The potential combinations of colors and markings are virtually limitless, giving each individual Appaloosa a distinct look. But hardiness and agility are also valued traits, along with its exceptionally faithful nature and gentle demeanor.

Moreover, the striping on the Appaloosa’s hooves is unusual among horses. It runs vertically, with a distinct alternating pattern of dark and light on each hoof. In addition, the Appaloosa's sclera (the white portion of the eye that surrounds the iris) is visible. This is a characteristic not seen in other horse breeds.

Diet and Nutrition

Appaloosas require a standard horse diet of fresh grass, quality hay, grains, and some fruits and vegetables. They might need vitamin and mineral supplementation, especially if they cannot graze freely in pasture. The amount of food they need largely depends on their size and activity level. 

Common Health and Behavior Problems

Appaloosas generally enjoy good health, lack notable behavioral issues, and aren't prone to lameness. But many can develop certain eye problems. For one, their eyes tend to water, which can attract flies and lead to infection or irritation. A fly mask can help protect the area.

Additionally, they're more prone to equine recurrent uveitis than most other breeds. This is an infection of the eye's uveal tract, which causes puffiness, redness, and squinting. It can eventually lead to retina damage if left untreated.

Moreover, many Appaloosas carry the gene that can cause congenital stationary night blindness. Afflicted horses lack night vision starting at birth. A veterinary ophthalmologist can perform a vision test to check whether a horse has the condition.

Grooming

Grooming at least once or twice a week is ideal to remove dirt, debris, and tangles. If you have a primarily white horse, more frequent brushings can keep the coat looking its best. Regular use of a horse shampoo also can help. In addition, make hoof inspections and cleanings a daily activity to look for injuries and prevent infections.

Furthermore, some Appaloosas are prone to sun damage, especially on exposed pink skin and areas of light hair. Consider an equine-safe sunscreen, and provide your horse with shade at all times.

Pros
  • Unique colors and markings

  • Gentle

  • Loyal

Cons
  • Prone to eye problems

  • Many need sun protection

Champion and Celebrity Appaloosa Horses

A horse named Knobby, born in 1918, is recognized as a foundation sire of today's Appaloosa breed. His herd was not affected by the U.S. government's confiscation, so he was an important contributor to the foundation stock for the breed.

Sundance was a leopard-spotted Appaloosa stallion foaled in 1933. His descendants continue to exhibit his beautiful coat pattern. Sundance's pedigree contains horses of thoroughbred and mustang breeding.

Another notable foundation stallion was Red Eagle, born in 1946. He was actually part Arabian, as it was common to incorporate other light horse breeds in the effort to recover the Appaloosa breed. Red Eagle is found in many Appaloosa pedigrees today.

Is the Appaloosa Horse Right for You?

This gentle breed is a good choice for beginning equestrians and for anyone wanting a devoted equine companion. Many children can even comfortably manage an Appaloosa. It's a relatively low-maintenance, versatile breed that's great for a general riding horse, as well as a competitor in equestrian sports.

How to Adopt or Buy Appaloosas

Appaloosas generally cost between $1,000 and $10,000 on average. The price can fluctuate depending on their age, training, and pedigree. Because Appaloosa numbers are on the rise, you’re likely to find a suitable horse near you. 

Aim to visit the breeder or rescue organization to spend time with the horse before committing. Make sure the organization can provide adequate information on the horse’s history, health, temperament, and training. Look for any lameness, labored breathing, or other signs of injury or illness that the organization hasn’t disclosed.

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