17 Fun Appaloosa Horse Facts

Appaloosas are a horse breed that are known for the colorization of their coat. They typically have a coat that is either patterned or spotted. They also have mottled skin and their hooves tend to be striped. This breed is one of the few that originates in North America, coming from a region in the Pacific Northwest that is called The Palouse.

It’s an agricultural area that covers areas of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon and is filled with pastoral areas, fertile croplands, and rolling hills. The Nez Perce tribe from this region is credited with the initial breeding of the Appaloosa.

#1. The Appaloosa is the state horse of Idaho. 

The State of Idaho first recognized the Appaloosa horse breed as the official horse breed of the state in 1975. The Appaloosa Horse Club is headquartered in Moscow, Idaho, which is just west of Boise and right in the heart of The Palouse. More than 700,000 Appaloosa horses have been registered to date since the Horse Club was founded in 1938.

Idaho also became the first state in the US to offer a personalized license plate that featured a state horse due to the popularity of Appaloosas. 

#2. Some Appaloosas do not have the patterning or spotting. 

There are solid color Appaloosa horses that look like other breeds. In this instance, if the horse is being shown or placed in competitive events, officials may require blood testing in order to confirm the breed parentage.

#3. Appaloosas are very versatile. 

The Nez Perce tribes utilized selective breeding practices to develop this breed because they recognized how versatile the horses happened to be. During the tribal era, the horses were used for hunting, endurance rides, and even as war horses because of their speed and overall calm demeanor. 

Today these horses are used for trail riding, horse racing, and even ranch work. They are highly regarding as being a hardy range horse. 

#4. There are six common types of Appaloosa base coats. 

The Appaloosa horse as a breed can come in every color, including palomino. There are six types of base coats that generally apply to the breed as a whole.

  • Blanket. This base coat has white markings on the hips of the horse, but will also have dark spots within the lighter areas of the coat as well.
  • Frost. This base coat offers freckles that are small and light over a dark-colored body.
  • Leopard. This is the most common base coat and it offers large, dark spots that are over a white coat color over the entire body.
  • Marble. This base coat has small dark freckles over a lighter coat color. It’s the opposite of the Frost base coat.
  • Snowflake. This base coat offers light spots over a darker primary coat, with a majority of the spotting occurring along the hind quarters.
  • Solid. This base coat has no color coat pattern at all.

There are also base coats called “Varnish,” which offers dark points and some spots over a lighter body, and “Few Spot Leopard,” which causes the base coat to become nearly obscured by the amount of spotting that occurs. 

#5. Appaloosas are average in both height and weight as a breed. 

The average height of an Appaloosa is generally between 14-16 hands, though some horses can be somewhat taller or smaller, depending on their heritage. Most Appaloosas will weigh around 1,100 pounds. They are a low maintenance horse in most regards and mostly known for their incredible endurance and overall personality. Appaloosas are going to let you know what they are thinking at any given moment.

#6. Appaloosas often change coat colors as they age. 

It is not uncommon for an Appaloosa horse to change coat colors as they get older. Many young Appaloosas start with a solid coat color and then begin to develop markings over time. Once they reach adult status, the markings of an Appaloosa will usually remain the same, but could still change over time.

#7. Certain health issues plague the breed. 

The Appaloosa breed has the highest risk of developing Equine Recurrent Uveitis compared to every other breed of horse. This health condition occurs when there is a minimal amount of skin pigmentation around the eyelids and reduced hair in the tail and mane. This reduces the amount of protection the horse receives from UV light and encourages the immune system of the horse to attack the eyes. If left untreated, it can lead to blindness. Appaloosas often suffer from night blindness as well, linked to the leopard complex gene.

#8. No one really knows how spotted horses originally came to North America. 

The Nez Perce are credited with developing the Appaloosa breed, but spotted horses are not considered to be native to the continent. How this type of horse came to be in The Palouse is up for debate. Some believe that Russian fur traders brought the horses over after the colonies were established. Others believe the Spanish brought the horses over during the Colonial Era.

#9. Lewis and Clark were the first Americans to encounter the Appaloosa. 

The Corps of Discovery Expedition, which is more popularly known as the Lewis and Clark expedition, occurred in 1804-1806 to explore the western US after the Louisiana Purchase was completed. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark encountered the Appaloosas in 1805 when they reached the Pacific Northwest for the first time.

#10. Appaloosas used to have even more traits than they do today. 

Part of the reason behind the expedition of Lewis and Clark was to establish water-based commerce routes along the rivers that led to the Pacific Ocean. Thomas Jefferson specifically wanted to proclaim sovereignty over tribes close to waterways. This would eventually lead to a conflict that, in 1877, would cause the Nez Perce tribe to surrender. After the battle, any Appaloosa that was thought to be improperly bred was euthanized, which eliminated many of the traits that were actually part of the breed.

#11. Appaloosas are an incredibly popular breed of horse. 

Many who own Appaloosas own multiple horses. Richard Gere is known to have owned 27 Appaloosas at one time. This popularity extends into TV and movies as well, with the Appaloosa featuring prominently on black and white TV westerns. Even more modern shows, such as Little House on the Prairie, would feature this horse breed.

#12. Walt Disney had an Appaloosa-specific TV series. 

One of the longest-running TV shows in history was called Run Appaloosa Run and it featured a First Nations girl and her Appaloosa horse named Sky Dance. It was on the air for 29 years, eventually being cancelled in 1983.

#13. The registry for Appaloosas is the third-largest in the world. 

This is particularly impressive considering that just 150 years ago, the breed was almost killed into extinction because it was considered to be an inferior horse. Before the Nez Perce battles, an Appaloosa could fetch a price of more than $600 when common horses were being sold for less than $20.

#14. There are breed restrictions in place that can prevent a horse from being registered. 

An Appaloosa that stands less than 14 hands in height is restricted from being registered with the Horse Club. The horse should also have strong legs and quarters, so any weakness or malformation in this area may also disqualify the horse.

#15. The Nez Perce tribe once tried to flee with their horses. 

Because of US incursions into The Palouse, the Nez Perce tribe attempted to flee into Canada to avoid further conflicts. This is what would eventually lead to their surrender, but at the time, they attempted to flee with over 3,000 horses on a 1,600-mile journey. More than 900 horses would be killed in just one battle with US armed forces along the way.

#16. One man could be credited with saving the horse breed. 

An unnamed horse trader in Oregon had purchased as many spotted horses as he could in 1870, just 7 years before a majority of the Nez Perce herd was slaughtered. This trader would sell the horses in pairs that had matched spotting, sometimes fetching prices upwards of $2,500 for them. One circus at the time, the Barnes Circus, had a dozen Appaloosas that had been purchased from him, allowing the breed to continue.

#17. Several breeds may have influenced the modern Appaloosa. 

There is a wide range of body styles that can be found within the Appaloosa breed, which is believed to be due to the influence of multiple horse breeds over the past few hundred years. Paintings from Europe in the 1500s show nobles riding spotted horses, while images of spotted horses date back as far as Ancient Greece and Persia.

These Appaloosa horse facts show that it is possible for a breed to recover quickly, even under dire circumstances. Appaloosa popularity never really reached a fever pitch until after World War II, which means over the course of just two generations, this horse breed has gone from near-extinction to one of the largest in the world.