Appaloosa Type, Breed Characteristics and
By George Hatley
Ever since the Appaloosa Horse Club was
established, interested persons have asked numerous questions about the
breed such as what are Appaloosas used for? What is the preferred size?
Are these horses short and chunky or lean and lanky? Is there a
preferred coat pattern? What are the outstanding qualities of
Appaloosas? In an attempt to make sure the answers were representative
of the opinions of the owners of registered Appaloosas, not just “one
man's opinion”, the club, early in 1950, sent a detailed questionnaire
to all owners on the club rolls. The answers were tabulated and
summarized, and the results were adopted by the club at its June
meeting, 1950, as describing the official type. Additional material on
breed characteristics and conformation have been included here.
In general, a key to a horse's type, size,
build and qualifications is given by the kind of work he does, and the
type of terrain where he is used. Sixty-three per cent of the owners
list stock horse first, while twenty-nine per cent list pleasure horse
first. Parade and rodeo follow, with a small per cent listing show,
jumping, drill, high school, etc. Most owners list three or more
different uses following the principal use. This indicates the Appaloosa
is a very versatile, useful horse which performs well in almost any
capacity. Considering the two major uses, we conclude that the Appaloosa
owner prefers his horse to be a stock horse which is a pleasure to ride,
a horse which can do the job without jarring up the rider and tiring him
out in the process. As Archie Soto, cattle foreman for the 83,000 acre
San Simeon Ranch in California says, “You can notice the difference
when you come in at night. Here the terrain is usually rough and the
Appaloosa’s easy riding qualities and good disposition don’t tire
you out. We can compare because we’ve tried everything.”
In Appaloosas, disposition and intelligence
are far out in front of the qualities most valued. It is characteristic
of an Appaloosa to have a quiet, sensible disposition combined with a
keen intelligence and a willingness to learn. This checks with the use
owners make of their horses — good stock horses and pleasure horses
require both intelligence and a good disposition. Other qualities
mentioned frequently were adaptability, endurance, speed, and such
qualities common to Appaloosas as good feet and legs, a fast, easy walk,
and that they are easy keepers.
Now we have sketched the Appaloosa's use and
qualities, let us construct the horse. In general appearance the
Appaloosa is symmetrical and smooth. The majority of owners want a
well-muscled, full bodied horse. Practically no one desires an Appaloosa
to be extremely narrow, shallow bodied and upstanding, or the extreme,
wide, thick muscled and drafty. The most popular weight is from 1000 to
1100 with more preference for the 900-1000 than the 11-1200. The popular
height is from 15.0 to 15.2, with more preference for the 14.2-15.0 than
for the 15.2-16.0.
The Appaloosa head is straight and lean, with
owners showing more tolerance for a slight dish than for a roman
profile. The forehead is wide. The ears are pointed and of medium size.
The jowls should be medium. The small number of owners voting for heavy
jowls is about equal to those preferring light jowls. Unlike other
breeds of horses, the Appaloosa has a white sclera, (corresponding to
the white portion of the human eye). This unusual characteristic gives
the eye prominence and adds distinctiveness to the head, producing an
alert and wide-awake appearance. Another Appaloosa characteristic
noticeable on the head is parti-colored skin around the lips and
nostrils. This is an irregular mottling of pink and dark skin.
The neck shows quality, having a clean cut
throatlatch and large windpipe. It blends into a deep chest and long,
sloping shoulders. A long, sloping shoulder gives the horse a longer
stride and absorbs more shock, and makes for easier riding.
A large majority of owners favor a prominent,
well defined wither with seven times more votes for a high wither than
for a low wither. Appaloosa owners show they definitely want something
besides a breast collar and breeching to hold their saddle in place.
Owners also desire a medium chest with not too much width between the
front legs. A look at the country where Appaloosas are used shows why.
On the Appaloosa home range, the flat and gently rolling land is farmed,
leaving the steep rough for livestock. A horse that is wide between the
front legs has trouble keeping his feet under him on steep country and
rock trails that are less than a foot wide.
The forearm is well muscled, long, wide and
tapered down to a broad knee. The cannons are short, wide and flat,
ending in wide, smooth and strongly supported fetlocks. The pastern is
long and sloping, entering a rounded parti-colored hoof which is deep,
open and wide at the heel. Owners lean somewhat to the longer pastern
with four times more preferring a long pastern than prefer a short
pastern. Pasterns have a lot to do with whether or not a horse is easy
riding. Appaloosa owners would rather sacrifice a little strength in the
short pastern for an easier ride in the longer pastern.
The back is short and straight and the
underline is long with the flank well let down. The hips are smoothly
covered, showing a long, sloping croup. Slightly more preference is
shown for a croup on the level side than for a drooping croup. The
thighs are long, muscular and deep, giving the quarters a smooth well
rounded appearance. The gaskins are long, wide and muscular extending to
clean, clearly defined, wide, straight hocks. The cannons are short,
wide and smooth, with large tendons set well back. Viewed from behind, a
perpendicular line from the point of the buttock should fall upon the
centre of the hock, cannon, pastern and foot. From the side, a
perpendicular line from the hip joint should fall upon the centre of the
foot, and divide the gaskin in the middle, and a perpendicular line from
the point of the buttock should run parallel with the line of the
Since Appaloosas have an unusually striking
yet rather variable coat pattern, it is interesting to note that the
three most popular patterns all get about the same number of votes, with
about as many stating that they have no pattern preference, as there are
that prefer some specific pattern. Considering this, the breed
association does not prefer any particular pattern of markings and does
not place any weight on marking in judging Appaloosas. Color patterns
can be listed in several different patterns, from which there are many
variations and combinations.
horse having dark roan or solid colored fore-parts, white with dark
spots over loin and hips. In the Palouse country, Appaloosas with this
pattern were commonly said to have “Squaw” spots. With few
exceptions Appaloosas showing this pattern, show it from birth. This
pattern is one of the most common in the breed. Old timers claim the
dark blue roan, white with black spots over the loin and hips, to have
been the most popular with the Nez Perce. The dark spots on Appaloosas
appear in several shapes such as round, oval, pointed or leaf shaped and
white horse with spots over entire body. One type of this spotting will
show very close together on the head and neck, sometimes giving an
almost solid coloured appearance. The spots will become separated toward
the loin and hips but will become quite uniform in size. In the other
type, spots will appear much larger over the loin and hips, becoming
smaller and further apart toward the head.
A horse having dark roan or solid colored
fore-parts with white over the loin and hips. This pattern is quite
common among Appaloosas.
A horse having dark base color with various
sizes of white spots or specks over the body.
A horse having mottling of dark and white
covering the body — this color sometimes resembles an ordinary roan
except for the mottling, parti-colored skin and other characteristics.
timers speak of the Appaloosa as being either a "red"
or a "blue" Appalousey, the red applying to the chestnut, bay
and red roans, and the blue applying to the black and blue roans. The
term "red" and "blue" with reference to Appaloosas
is very common in the Palouse country. Duns, buckskins and Palominos
with Appaloosa markings were not known to the early pioneers. They are
the result of cross an Appaloosa to a dun or Palomino. The last two of
the color patterns listed above are usually foaled solid colored and
change with age. Often a horse of these patterns will first become
covered with white specks as a yearling or two-year old, later becoming
very mottled at three or four. Some Appaloosas turn white at old age.
Too, the coat will often change color considerably with the seasons,
such as being light in summer and dark in winter. Although Appaloosas of
the last two patterns are not as colorful as some discussed earlier,
they very often produce foals of the other more colorful patterns. There
are many examples of a rather plain colored mare producing a very flashy
marked foal even from a solid colored stallion. An Appaloosa stallion
will often sire foals of several different coat patterns. Has this
variation in color markings always existed in Appaloosas? The aged Nez
Perce, Sam Fisher, stated, “Some white, some many spots, some few
spots.” Sam Fisher was in his nineties, he had bred many
Appaloosas--he had seen the Appaloosa before the settlers horses were
introduced in numbers. Sam Fisher bears out the evidence of the ancient
Chinese. In the Chinese painting “The Hundred Colts”, dated about
600 A.D., nine of the colts are definitely of the Appaloosa type and
each differs from the other. In this picture we could match four of the
patterns listed in this article with the nine colts.
The Appaloosa's characteristically fine, often
thin mane and tail has been a subject of controversy. Some of the people
who ride the flashily colored Appaloosa as a parade mount prefer a full
heavy mane and tail, others do not like the fine thin mane and tail.
However, when the owners give their opinion, 72 per cent are in favor of
trimming the long tails rather than putting wigs on all the short tails.
To most owners, the Appaloosa’s fine, thin mane and tail are as much
of an Appaloosa characteristic as his spotted hips and his mild
disposition. Most horses in the various use classes such as cow horses,
polo ponies, hunters and jumpers, trail horses, etc. require a lot more
mane and tail trimming and thinning. Maybe mother nature was just being
practical when she left the excess mane and tail off the Appaloosa.
Useful qualities, unusual breed
characteristics, and a variety of striking color phases contribute
toward making the overall picture of the Appaloosa most fascinating.
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