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The Appaloosa

Photo of Bob Watson and Bouncer circa 1969. For more info go here

The Appaloosa can be traced back into the dawn of history, but it has only been recently that the modern world of horsedom has discovered him. The name, acquired since the 19th century, is actually a corruption of Palouse, the river dominating the region of North America where the Nez Perce Indians bred this spotted horse in the 18th and 19th centuries. What was a Palouse horse became "Apalousy horse" and finally an "Appaloosa". Despite its fairly modern name, the horse is the oldest identifiable breed of horse in existence today.

Ancient sketches of this spotted horse drawn by prehistoric man have been found on the walls of the Ice Age caves of France at Perche Merle and are estimated to be 20,000 years old. Many works of art, carvings, writings, children's toys, and household items created throughout the centuries that followed the retreat of the icy glaciers provide undeniable proof of the existence of the spotted horse in many parts of the world. 5,000 years ago Appaloosas were seen in large numbers near Babylon. They were also in the cavalry that roared across Palestine 1200 years later and conquered Egypt. There are records of Appaloosas being seen on the shores of the Atlantic about 1,000 B.C., and a scabbard, found in Austria, is decorated with Appaloosas. Also, Chinese arts that date back to 500 B.C. have horses that are clearly Appaloosas.

It is believed that of the vast herds of wild horses which once populated the earth, most of our modern breeds are descended from the Asiatic horse and that the other species are now extinct. The beginnings of man's domestication and breeding of this horse are shrouded in the mythology of prehistory. Legend claims that the Appaloosa originated near the Erythrean Sea and that the King of Yehman and Caliph Motassen once owned vast herds. Another legend claims that the earliest known Appaloosas and their human owners were from the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush Mountain Range and were the centaurs of ancient Greek mythology. Written Greek history records a great breed of war horses used by the Persians about 480 B.C., and Persian mythology tells us the breed originated in the land of Ferghana about 400 B.C. A legend tells of a foal, Rakush, who was the strongest and swiftest horse in all that country that was sired by a demon and out of a fierce wild mare. Though many men lost their lives trying, the Persian hero Rustan, killed the mare and tamed the spotted colt. This horse became as famous as its master, described in the epic poetry and portrayed by the great Persian artists.

Some three centuries later, the great emperor of China, Wu Ti, defeated the fierce tribes of the west and joined the province of Sin Kiang to his other holdings. He beat back the marauding Huns and forced them to acknowledge his overlordship. As a token of their submission, they were to pay him a yearly tribute of supernatural horses, much finer than anything raised in China. The tribute horses came from the same country of Ferghana. The tribute horses are depicted in Chinese art of the period and even the Buddha is shown riding an Appaloosa.

Horses had been extinct in America for centuries, so horses brought over by Spaniards to Mexico about 1600 A.D. were a source of wonder to the native Americans. The Nez Perce Indians acquired them about 1730. They bred this horse nearly pure, with few outcrosses. Lewis and Clark said in their journal that the Appaloosa was "equal to and surpassing anything we had seen in the pastures of Virginia". Before they were brought into North America, most Appaloosas were used for war horses or breeding horses. The Nez Perce Indians preferred the Appaloosa for war, hunting, and racing. They trained the Appaloosa to cue with knee action, so the Indians could tell them what to do while they killed animals. They were also trained not to runaway from bears, buffalo, other animals, or when their owners jumped on them. Close contact with people of the tribes developed a quiet, sensible disposition which is characteristic of the Appaloosa today.

During the Indian Wars of the later 19th century, the Nez Perce were driven off their land called the Palouse country which existed in the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Chief Joseph surrendered to General O.O. Howard in October of 1877 and delivered his now famous speech that ends "Now hear me, oh my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever." The Army ordered every Appaloosa killed. The Appaloosas that were not killed were bred to draft horses to make farm animals. In 1936 there remained only a few hundred pure Appaloosas in the entire world.

In 1938, 61 years after Chief Joseph surrendered, the horses that his tribe bred were recognized as an official breed by a group of men determined to keep the famous Nez Perce horses from becoming extinct. Claude Thompson is said to be the founder of the breed registry.

There is a separate registry for a category of Appaloosas called Colorado Rangers which was founded in 1938. They are said not to have a drop of Nez Perce blood in them, and they trace their registry back to Lindon Tree, a Barb, and Leopard, an Arabian, two stallions presented to General Grant by the Sultan of Turkey in 1889. At the turn of the century, the two stallions were sent out west to the Colby Ranch in Nebraska and A.C. Whipple family in Colorado where they were bred to range mares to produce the Colorado Rangers. Although there are no color requirements for this breed, approximately 90% of Colorado Ranger Horses are also registered as Appaloosas. To be registered as Colorado Ranger, you must be able to trace the horse's bloodlines back to either Max #2 or Patches #1, the first two Colorado Ranger stallions. Colorado Rangers possess the endurance and elegance of their desert ancestors and the profound intelligence and cow sense of the range mares.

The Appaloosa now ranks as one of the top horse breed registries in the world and is still growing. Modern uses of the breed are varied. It is much in demand overseas as a circus horse and farm animal. In the United States it is used for show, parade, cow horses, pleasure, trail, jumping, polo, and racing. The Appaloosa Horse Club created a racing committee in December, 1960 because of the growing popularity of the Appaloosa on the race track. The Appaloosa is noted for his endurance, speed, good legs, feet, and easy keeping, but it's most valued qualities are a good disposition, intelligence, and willingness to learn. The Appaloosa is a truly unique and versatile horse. The next time you're taking a stroll through the countryside, be sure to keep your eye out for this brightly colored and easy to find horse.

From essay by: Laurie Huff

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Appaloosa Links

Appaloosa Horse Club

Kismet Farm, home of WAP Spotted!

Char-O-Lot Ranch, Home of The Hunter and PrivateCollection

this is another great site in the Appaloosa WebRing
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