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Appaloosa – The Most Beautiful Horse Breed in the World

The tribe goes back to the late seventeenth century, in the northwest corner of North America, specifically in the large area that covered what is now part of the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. This was the land inhabited by the Nez Percé Indians, and their success was due to their prudent horsemanship and Appaloosa breeding practices.

Although the Nez Percé developed this spotted breed, the history of spotted horses is long, with images of spotted horses appearing in prehistoric European cave paintings from around 17,000 BC. in Europe and were in great demand from the sixteenth century to appear in the increasingly popular Riding Schools. Many of the purebred Spanish horses, too, including the venerable Andalusian, once displayed spotted coloring.

Horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors carried the strong coat gene, which spread across North America as the Spanish continued their explorations. The Shoshone tribe from southern Idaho became a major horse trader, and it was largely from the Shoshone that the Nez Perce, whose territory lay further north and west, obtained their stock of horses. The land of the Nez Percé, with its fertile plains and sheltered areas, was well suited to raising horses, and the tribe quickly built up a substantial breeding stock. Unlike many of the American Indian tribes, the Nez Percé began implementing breeding programs to specifically improve their horses. Only the best horses were kept as stallions, while the inferior ones were gelded. The breed retained its best breeding stock and got rid of poorer horses through trade with other breeds. Their number of horses increased rapidly and the Nez Percé became a wealthy tribe based on their vast stock of horses. In the early 1800s, American explorer Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) described the Nez Percé horses as “an excellent breed; they are elegantly formed, active, and hardy.”

Color was an important element for the Nez Percé, not only for ornamental and decorative purposes but also for camouflage. However, their primary concern in breeding was to develop a horse of great endurance, speed and toughness that could survive on sparse rations. Their horses became known for these qualities and were as capable of pulling a plow as they were of traveling vast distances at speed with a rider. The most valuable of their horses were used in war campaigns and were swift, agile and intelligent, and the most revered of these were the spotted.

Spotted horses belonging to the Nez Percé were described as Palouse horses by white settlers, who took the name from the Palouse River that ran through Nez Percé territory. Later the horse became known as “A Palouse”, then the Appalousey. The name Appaloosa was not given to the breed until 1938 with the formation of the Appaloosa Horse Club, founded to preserve the breed. About fifty years before that, however, the thick, spotted breed was wiped out during the Nez Percé War fought between American Indians and the US government in 1877. The Nez Percé managed to outmaneuver and outrun the US cavalry for more than three months and over 1,300 miles (2,092 km) of treacherous terrain, solely due to the vigor and endurance of their Appaloosa horses. The Nez Percé were undefeated in battle, but eventually surrendered to prevent further hardship to the people trying to survive the cold Montana winter. The terms of their surrender stated that they were allowed to return to their lands in the spring with their horses, but instead they were sent to North Dakota and many of their beloved and valuable animals were slaughtered. Some escaped and others were later rounded up by breeders and used or sold.

After that, some of the surviving horses were quickly broken up at auction and acquired by a few private individuals and breeders who recognized their innate qualities and began breeding them. In 1937, Western Horseman magazine published an article about the Appaloosa written by Francis Haines, sparking public interest in the breed. The following year, Claude Thompson, a breeder of spotted horses, joined with many others and founded the Appaloosa Horse Club to preserve and promote the horses. By 1947, there were two hundred registered horses and one hundred members. Just three decades later, under the leadership of George Hatley, the club had registered a staggering number of more than 300,000 horses, making it the third largest light horse breed registry. During this Appaloosa renaissance there was some introduction of Arabian blood and significant influence from the Quarter Horse, which can be seen in the muscular frame of the modern Appaloosa.

In 1994 the Nez Percé tribe now based in Idaho began a breeding program to develop the Nez Percé horse. The goal of this program, which is based on breeding old Appaloosa stock with Akhal Teke stallions, is to produce an elegant, tough, versatile and agile horse that is equal in qualities to the original Nez Percé horses. Some, though not all, of these horses exhibit the speckled pattern of their Appaloosa heritage, although they generally adhere to the more elegant, slender frame of the Akhal Teke. Today, the Appaloosa is considered one of the most beautiful horse breeds (report) in the world!

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