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What is an Appaloosa?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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An Appaloosa is an American breed of horse developed from foreign breeds by the Nez Perce Native Americans in The Pacific Northwest. The earlier Appaloosas were solid-colored, but by the end of the 1880s, many had the spotted coat patterns that the breed is known for today. There are six main recognized spotted patterns for the Appaloosa breed. These include Blanket, Leopard, Few Spot Leopard, Frost, Snow Flake and Varnish.

The Blanket Appaloosa pattern is a large patch of white mainly around the hips and rump and there are different types of Blanket patterns such as Snowcap Blanket and Spotted Blanket. The Leopard pattern is the most well-known Appaloosa spot pattern and it’s defined as spots of any color on a white background. The Few Spot Leopard pattern is the same as the Leopard pattern, but with only a few spots of color.

Appaloosas with a Frost pattern can be of any color, but have some white hairs mixed in that give the coat a frosted look. A Snowflake Appaloosa spot pattern is white dots on any color of background. The Varnish spot pattern is often found on the horse’s nose and knees and is also called the Varnish Roan as the main pattern color is roan.

The Appaloosa usually has striped hooves. The eye color may be any shade from blue, brown or hazel or each eye may be a different color. Although early Appaloosas had thin tails and manes, breeding for thick tails and manes became more common and desirable.

Show Appaloosas are often less muscled than the original breed and have bodies similar to Quarter Horses or Thoroughbreds. A type of Appaloosa called the Appaloosa Sport Horse is used in English riding and is thinner that the original Appaloosa and has longer legs.

The Appaloosa is the official state horse of Idaho. The Appaloosa Museum Foundation in Idaho began in 1975. The Foundation operates a free museum in Moscow, Idaho that relates to the history and use of the Appaloosa horse breed. The Appaloosa Museum has educational programs and an interactive children's section as well as a gift shop.

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Discussion Comments
By anon319565 — On Feb 13, 2013

I think it's important to note a confusing factor that can make someone "think" that appaloosas are quarter horses with spots. That factor is that appaloosa is both a breed, with standards and individuality and a descriptor of coloring.

When people say thoroughbred, they know its a breed, never a color description as well, so "Appaloosa" can be confusing. People may post a sale ad for an appaloosa for sale and it's only appaloosa in color pattern, not the genetic blood lines registered for a breed.

Take a paint horse, for example. It's a breed, and a paint can have no color while being registered as full blood paint. Yet my first horse, who was a Piebald, was not a paint as he was not registered and of cross mixed breeding.

So one has to be careful when speaking of a color. Is it a color pattern you speak of, or a color breed you speak of? This article spoke of a color breed that originally had no color pattern, until about 1880. Appaloosa is an old breed first, and horses of differing breeds who displayed the color pattern were lumped into the appaloosa name by the uneducated, (of yesteryear).

By cyprus — On May 16, 2010

The comments below aren't accurate at all. The Foundation Appaloosa breeders have kept the original Appaloosa breed from being totally "ruined." They breed to preserve the old Appaloosa bloodlines. These Appaloosas are leaner because they breed for the leaner muscled look of the Appaloosa; Quarter Horses are much heavier muscled.

There are purebred Appaloosas. According to the International Purebred Appaloosa Association, purebred Appaloosas must be at least the fifth generation of Appaloosa-to-Appaloosa breeding. There are Spotted Quarter Horse breeders as well as purebred Appaloosa breeders. Some breeders breed both types of horses. Thanks.

By anon84390 — On May 15, 2010

An Appaloosa is not less muscled more now than it was in the past/origin. An Appaloosa is nothing more than a spotted quarter horse. Appaloosas are not purebred; they are actually either 1/2 Arab, 1/2 thoroughbred or 1/2 quarter horse! The breed is/has been pretty much ruined. Most Appaloosa breeders breed for spotted quarter horse type horses.

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