By PetMD Editorial on Sep. 8, 2008

The Appaloosa is a full-size horse breed that originated from the United States. This is one of the most colorful and ancient horse breeds in the world, used mainly as a mount or riding horse.

Physical Characteristics

The Appaloosa’s most distinctive characteristic is its spotted coat. And while there are many different spotted patterns and colors for the Appaloosa, some of the most common variations include the marble, the snowflake and the leopard. Apart from the spots on its coat, the Appaloosa also has mottled markings on its genitals, lips, and nose. Other interesting characteristics include its compact, striped hooves, and large eyes with surrounding white sclera.

The Appaloosa stands, on average, 14.2 to 16 hands high (58-64 inches, 147-162 centimeters). The horse's head is rather small but well defined, and its ears are always alert and pointing up. It has a strong, muscular body type with a short, straight back, long neck and a deep chest. Meanwhile, the Appaloosa's withers -- the area between the shoulder blades -- are not overly prominent, but its legs are strong and well-formed.

Personality and Temperament

The Appaloosa is independent, intelligent, and courageous. It can also be fierce -- making it an ideal war horse in the past. Currently, it is considered one of the best riding horses, especially for those who know how to handle horses.

Care and Health

The Appaloosa is best brought up in the plains areas, where there is lots of room to graze. Other than large pastures, it also needs a good source of water nearby. A common health issue for Appaloosas is parasites, but proper grooming, sanitation, de-worming, and other preventative methods should take care of this problem.

History and Background

It is thought that the Appaloosa is a descendent of the ancient horses used by the nomads of Central Asia about 35 centuries ago. And while the breed remained unnamed for some time, the Appaloosa was very well known throughout Asia and Europe. There is even evidence of cave drawings and ancient artwork showing the Appaloosa (or a similar looking spotted horse) long before the formal establishment and acknowledgment of the breed in the United States. For example, artwork uncovered in Greece and Egypt dated at 14th Century B.C. shows the spotted horse; similar art was found in Austria and Italy, dating back to the 8th century B.C. Evidence has been found revealing that ancient Persians also revered the spotted horse as a mount horse fit for heroes. Ancient Chinese artwork dated at about 7th century A.D. illustrating the spotted horse as well, although this breed was supposed to have come to China as early as 100 B.C.

It was not until the Spanish Conquistadors came with their horses that the Appaloosa reached the Americas. These horses were then stolen or bought by the local Indians. The American Indians -- specifically the Nez Perce tribe located in present-day Oregon and Washington -- were particularly proficient in horse breeding and herd management; thus, the Appaloosa breed thrived and propagated. The Appaloosa was particularly valued because of its spots which served as good camouflage.

When white settlers came to the United States, they christened the spotted horse the "Palouse horse," borrowing the name of a local river. This name eventually became "Appaloosey," and in 1938 -- the same year that the Appaloosa Horse Club was established – the breed was officially proclaimed the Appaloosa. And so the Appaloosa horse breed came to be. Later, the classic Appaloosa stock was improved by crossbreeding with the Arab and Quarter Horse breeds. The Appaloosa Horse Club is still in existence today and has about 500,000 registered horses on file.

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