History of the Appaloosa


The history of the Appaloosa dates back to prehistoric times, when man lived in caves during the ice age.

The first evidence of spotted horses was found in cave paintings in Lascaux and Pleche_Merle in France, dating back some 20,000 years ago. These were probably the ancestors of the modern Appaloosa.

However, it appears that horses of superior size, strength, speed and intelligence appeared in the Fergana Valley in the heart of the Asiatic Steppes from 100 B.C. to 200 A.D., in the area of present day Uzbekistan.

The Emperor Wu Ti of China obtained some of these horses around 100 B.C.. These horses were called “Celestial Horses” or “Heavenly Horses”.

Persians (present day Iraq) claim the ancestor of all spotted horses to be Rakush, the warhorse of the hero Rustam, who lived approximately 400 B.C.. Pictures of spotted horses also appear on Greek pottery dated ca. 1300 B.C. Persians worshiped Appaloosas as the sacred horses of the great hero of Persian literature, Nisca. Spotted horses were known in the areas which are now known as Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan.

The Chinese were familiar with spotted horses as early as 206 B.C.. Spotted horses became popular in China during the T’ang Dynasty and during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 221 A.D.. Statuettes of spotted horses dating back to the seventh century A.D. have been found in caves and tombs in China.

In France the first evidence of spotted horses was found in the 11 th. century. Spotted horses also spread to Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but after almost extinction in Denmark, it was only in 1808 when a Danish butcher bought the famous Flaebe mare which started the famous Knabstrupper line, that the breed became established in Denmark. They appeared in England around the 12 th. century, and were used mostly by saints and nobles.

The first evidence of spotted horses found in a grave in Austria, dates back to approximately 800 B.C.. Austria acquired Andalusian stock from Spain in the mid-sixteenth century. These horses were soon taken to Equile Lipizzano. They became the foundation of the present day Lipizzaners. Even today spots still crop up in some Lipizzaners, and the Lipizzaner often displays signs of mottled skin – one of the Appaloosa’s characteristics.

The Spanish introduced spotted horses to North America. The Spanish Andalusians often had spotted coats. The Indians drove the Spanish from New Mexico, acquiring horses, sheep and cattle. As these horses spread over America, most of the Indians were mounted around 1700.

The Pueblo Indians, who acquired these horses, traded them to other Indian tribes, including the Nez Perce. In the West the Soshone Indians from Southern Idaho, were in a favorable situation to raise horses, because of the good land in which they lived, but the Nez Perce were even better positioned than the Soshones for breeding horses. They became excellent horsemen and horse breeders, and started gelding the inferior stallions, breeding only from the best ones.  

The Nez Perce Indians of Washington and Idaho selected only the best horses to breed from, and soon developed a breed which was admired by other Indian tribes. The Nez Perce used the best horses for buffalo hunting and for war. They selected horses for strength, speed, courage and intelligence, and flashy markings added to the popularity of the horses. The splashy coat pattern helped to camouflage the horses and made them difficult to recognize.

The U.S. government entered into a treaty with the Nez Perce in 1855, giving them 7 million acres of land, but when gold was discovered in Nez Perce territory in the 1860’s, the treaty was violated when thousands of miners swarmed into the territory. The town of Lewiston developed overnight to supply miners and prospectors.

When a new treaty was created in 1863, depriving the Indians of 90 percent of their territory, conflict escalated between the Nez Perce and the U.S. government. However, not all the Nez Perce signed this treaty, and on June 17, 1877, a battle erupted at White Bird Canyon, marking the beginning of the Nez Perce War of 1877.

The non-treaty Nez Perce fled the U.S. cavalry with some 3000 of their horses. Despite travelling with women, children and elders, the Nez Perce kept ahead of the cavalry for more than 3 ½ months over 1300 miles. Although the cavalry always had fresh horses lined up for them, they were no match for the Appaloosas of the Indians, and the Appaloosa horses assured many victories for the Nez Perce. The Appaloosas carried the fleeing Indians over 1300 miles of rugged terrain under the leadership of their chief, the famous Joseph, but eventually the Nez Perce was defeated in Montana. They surrendered their horses, which were distributed among the settlers, on October 7, 1877, just 42 miles short of the Canadian border and freedom.

Instead of allowing the Nez Perce to keep their horses and go home in Spring, honoring their agreement with the Indians, the U.S. government sent them to North Dekota and their surviving 1,000 horses were confiscated. These were the toughest, hardiest horses, which had survived the war, which included the spotted horses of Chief Joseph. The proud band of carefully selected horses was gone.

Because war broke out when the Indians didn’t expect it, many horses were still on the open range when the fighting broke out. Those which could not be rounded up, were later claimed by the first white men who could corral them, who sold them to ranchers. As a result of the war and subsequent raiding of the ranges, the Appaloosa breed was virtually lost and its glorious history neglected until 1937. 

After the Nez Perce War in 1877, the Appaloosa became very obscured and almost extinct, because of neglect by the settlers, until Claude Thompson, a long-term Appaloosa breeder, and a small group of dedicated horsemen formed the Appaloosa Horse Club in 1938. From there the club has grown to the third largest registry of light horse breeds in America, numbering 635,000 horses and 33,000 breeders today. The breed is being used in every discipline, such as racing, jumping, dressage, reining roping gaming, pleasure and endurance. Appaloosas are also being used as ranch horses, lesson horses and general family horses.             


Initially the club grew slowly, but gradually more people started realizing the virtues of the Appaloosa: its flashy color, will to work, great disposition and personality, and superb intelligence and stamina. These attributes caused the club to become the third largest horse registry in America.

Unfortunately outcrossing with especially Quarter Horses, but also other breeds, had a very detrimental effect on the breed’s conformation, its superb disposition, its versatility, and obviously, its color. This outcrossing was the cause that the breed often lost its most unique characteristic: white sclera in the eyes, resembling the human eye, partly-colored skin on or around the muzzle or in its soft skin, and vertically striped hooves. These sacrificial deviations do not resemble the true Appaloosa.

Unfortunately the versatility which characterizes the Appaloosa, and drew large crowds to its shows 25 years ago – horse racing, the exciting Nez Perce costume classes – has disappeared. Serious Appaloosa breeders are making every effort to restore the Appaloosa’s popularity to what it was 25 years ago.