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Appaloosa Horse Breed Guide

Is the Appaloosa a breed or a colour? Well, like the palomino, it is one of those rare things, it is actually both. In terms of origin and development, the Appaloosa more closely resembles warmbloods in that there have been many and varied breed influences throughout the years so in this respect, it differs from other breeds which have a closely guarded gene pool.  Historically the Appaloosa is more recently viewed as an American breed although wall paintings have been discovered in Europe which feature illustrations of spotted horses, the earliest of these in France at around 18,000 years BC.  These has also been evidence of spotted horses found further afield in Greece and even China which demonstrates that the Appaloosa has very ancient antecedents.


The actual name Appaloosa has an American derivation. In the US, the Appaloosa was developed by a group of Indians in Oregon using Spanish stock imported by the conquistadores. One of the river valleys occupied by these people was that of the Palouse River and it is a corruption of that word which gave rise to the name Appaloosa which is now in use worldwide to describe these spotted horses.  Down through the centuries, the spotted coat has appeared in Europe with the Knabstrup in Denmark and there was once even a Royal Stud in Britain where they were referred to as Blagdon (which now has a different connotation) or Chubbarie which is a Romany term.


The Appaloosa is very popular in the United States and the breed is supported there by the Appaloosa Horse Club which was founded in 1938 to register and regulate the breed. The Appaloosa Horse Club Registry is the third largest of all breed societies in the world in terms of number of horse registrations. In the UK, the Appaloosa is represented by the British Appaloosa Society. There are differences today in lineage and pedigree between the American and European Appaloosas due to the influence of other breeds, geography and historical events which to a large extent have shaped the evolution of the horse in different parts of the world.




In 1987, the British Appaloosa Society introduced a grading system for horses presenting themselves for registration. The Society will accept horses that have the spotted coat colour and unknown pedigree but only into their part-bred Register. Over time, they are intending to catalogue and define the breed through the recording of known blood lines, this all takes time. Interestingly their website describes the Appaloosa as “a breed in the making” so perhaps not quite there yet.


In terms of conformation, the breed societies on both sides of the Atlantic have always sought to keep the Appaloosa away from any draught influences. The British Appaloosa Society will not accept animals that present with draught characteristics and all horses must stand over 14.2hh at maturity. They describe the requirement that the horse should be “of riding horse type” and have the additional defined Appaloosa characteristics and not just coat colour. Each animal is looked at individually on its merits.


In addition to the spotted coat, the Appaloosa has other distinct characteristics such as mottled skin seen around the eyes and muzzle, striped hooves and visible white to the eye which is called the sclera. There are also variations of the type of spotting to be found on horses’ coats. Broadly speaking, the spotted coat pattern can be divided into leopard spot, snowflake, blanket, marble and frost. Each patterning has a standard definition and some variations within each category.


A popular horse for western riding and in rodeos and displays, the unique appearance of the Appaloosa has also led it into film appearances and it is an ever popular choice as a circus horse. The British Appaloosa Society is working hard to raise the profile of the breed slowly and surely. Classes for Appaloosas are beginning to appear on the county show circuit including prestigious venues such as Royal Windsor. There can be some overlap with palomino classes as well and involvement with Festivals of Colour which are of course not just for patches but for spots as well. As a ridden animal, each Appaloosa must be viewed as an individual in terms of suitability for the job in hand, the main driver as with palominos is the colour first and then known pedigree and good conformation, there is not yet a uniformity of breed type.

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