Appaloosa Type, Breed Characteristics and Conformation



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 cannon.

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.

A 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 diamond shaped.

A 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.

Old 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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