By: Abigail Peterson
got to love that paint job. The Appaloosa horse is known
for many things--speed, endurance, versatility--but
above all, for its alluring spotted coat. No other breed
of horse can claim such fantastic markings--nor such
a deep connection to the history of the West.
Descended from stock brought to the Americas by the
Spanish in the 1500s, the breed was developed by the
Nez Perce Indians of the interior Pacific Northwest.
Natural horsemen, they recognized that the animal's
compact, powerful body and tough, striped hooves ideally
suited it to the demands of the rugged Palouse country.
Appaloosas with unusual color patterns were prized as
racing and riding mounts for warriors and tribal leaders.
Exploring Nez Perce lands in 1805 and 1806, Lewis
and Clark were among the first Americans to see the
breed, writing that the horses were "lofty elegantly
[sic] formed active and durable." But the arrival of
homesteaders nearly spelled disaster for the Appaloosa.
Tensions over Nez Perce lands led to war with the U.S.
government in 1877. After Chief Joseph surrendered in
Montana, the Nez Perce were resettled in Oklahoma, and
their precious Appaloosas were either lost or given
Over the next 40 years, the genes that gave the Appaloosa
its characteristic speed and coat were diluted by crossbreeding.
Recognizing that the breed could be lost, enthusiasts
formed the Appaloosa Horse Club in 1938 and established
a registry program. "Their goals were small," explains
Stacey Garretson of the Appaloosa Museum & Heritage
Center in Moscow, Idaho. "They wanted to standardize
the characteristics of the breed and promote Appaloosas."
The club grew quickly and by the 1960s, Appaloosas
were fast becoming a Western favorite. John Wayne chose
an Appaloosa for his mount in 1964's El Dorado; Paul
and Linda McCartney owned and bred Appaloosas and recorded
a song about them in 1998.
Today, the Appaloosa is one of the most popular breeds
in the United States. There are many reasons, but ask
Appaloosa owners what they love most about their horses,
and it all comes back to those remarkable spotted coats.
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