FAQ & Activities: History
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History of the Appaloosa Breed

Activities: History

From cave paintings in France to ancient Chinese art, the spotted horse has long fascinated people.

The Persians claim the ancestor of all spotted horses to be Rakush, the spotted warhorse of the hero Rustam who lived approximately 400 BC, but spotted horses date back thousands of years through Chinese art, ancient Mediterranean art, to cave paintings in France.

The Appaloosa's history is as unique as their colorful spotted coat patterns.

First introduced in Mexico by the Spanish during the 1500s, horses spread throughout the rest of North America after the Pueblo Revolt. They reached the Pacific Northwest and the Nez Perce tribe around 1700.

Before horses entered their sphere, the Nez Perce were primarily sedentary fishers, but the arrival of the horse gave the tribe greater mobility and power. Horses altered their culture forever, and the Nez Perce tribe became excellent horsemen and breeders by practicing selective breeding of their horses: gelding the inferior stallions and trading off the poorer stock. For this reason, the Nez Perce produced better horses than other tribes and created large herds renowned for their strength, intelligence, and beauty.

The Nez Perce quickly gained fame throughout the Northwest for their hunting skills and craftsmanship, which allowed them to trade for goods and services.

With their superior horses they had little difficulty killing what buffalo they needed. Soon they began to use the Plains-type tipi in place of their old community houses. Heavy stone mortars and other large possessions were either discarded entirely, or left at the fishing spots for occasional use.

When the Lewis & Clark expedition reached the northwest in 1806, Meriwether Lewis was appropriately impressed with the breeding accomplishments of the Nez Perce. He noted in a diary entry from February 15, 1806:

Their horses appear to be of an excellent race; they are lofty, eligantly [sic] formed, active and durable…some of these horses are pided with large spots of white irregularly scattered and intermixed with black, brown, bey [sic] or some other dark color.

We don't know exactly how many of the Nez Perce’s horses were spotted, but a possible estimate is ten percent.

Over time as settlers came into the area, they began to call these spotted horses as "A Palouse Horse," as a reference to the Palouse River, which runs through Northern Idaho. Over time, the name evolved into "Palousey," then "a palousey," and finally "appaloosa."

By the mid-1800s, settlers flooded onto the Nez Perce lands, and conflicts soon arose. After the Nez Perce War of 1877 their herds were dispersed, but after a few years, interest in the breed grew as Appaloosas appeared in Western roundups and rodeos.

The Appaloosa’s flashy coat patterns was an attention grabber, and a 1937 article in Western Horseman entitled "The Appaloosa, or Palouse Horse" showed a widespread interest in the breed.

The Appaloose Horse Club was chartered in 1938 with its primary goal being the preservation and improvement of the Appaloosa breed. Since that time, the Club has grown into one of the leading equine breed registries in the world.

On March 25, 1975 Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus signed a bill naming the Appaloosa as the state horse. This is a deserving honor for a horse that has been an integral part of Idaho history.

Today, the beautiful spotted horse is one of the most beloved of American horse breeds and can be found throughout the world, excelling in disciplines including western pleasure, games, working cow horse and dressage. Appaloosas are prized for their easy-going dispositions and their reliability as family horses.