The breed goes back to the late seventeenth century, to the northwestern corner of North America and specifically into the large area that covered what is now part of the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. This was the territory inhabited by the Nez Percé American Indians, and it is to their forward-thinking horsemanship and breeding practices that the Appaloosa owes its success.
Although the Nez Percé developed this spotted breed, the history of spotted horses is a very long one, with pictures of spotted horses emerging in ancient European cave paintings from around 17,000 B.C.E. Spotted horses-in particular the Austrian Noriker and the Danish Knabstrup – were extremely popular in Europe and were in good demand from the nineteenth century to do in the increasingly popular Riding Schools.
Horses introduced to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadores carried the powerful spotted coat gene, which spread up into North America since the Spanish continued their explorations. The Shoshone tribe from southern Idaho became great horse traders, and it was mostly from the Shoshone that the Nez Percé, whose territory was further west and north, obtained their stock of horses. The Nez Percé’s land, with its fertile plains and sheltered locations, was highly acceptable for raising horses, and the tribe quickly established a substantial breeding stock. Unlike lots of the American Indian tribes, the Nez Percé set about implementing breeding programs to specifically enhance their horses. Only the best horses were stored as stallions, whereas those of inferior quality were gelded. The quantities of their horses rose rapidly, and the Nez Percé became an affluent tribe according to their huge stock of horses. In the early 1800s, the American explorer Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) described the Nez Percé’s horses as”of an superb race; they’re elegantly formed, active, and durable.”
Color was an important consideration for the Nez Percé, not only for ornamentation and decorative purposes but also for camouflage. However, their main concern when breeding was to create an all-around horse of excellent stamina, speed, and toughness, and one which managed to survive on lean rations. Their horses became renowned for these qualities and were as capable of pulling a plow since they were of covering huge distances at speed with a rider. The most prized of the horses were used during biblical campaigns and were swift, agile, and smart, and the most revered of these were the ones that were spotted.
The spotted horses belonging to the Nez Percé were called Palouse horses by white settlers, who took the name in the Palouse River that ran through the Nez Percé land. The name Appaloosa wasn’t given to the breed until 1938 with the formation of the Appaloosa Horse Club, established to preserve the breed. Some fifty years before this, but the plucky, seen strain was all but wiped out during the Nez Percé War fought between the American Indians and the U.S. government in 1877. The Nez Percé managed to outwit and outrun the U.S. cavalry for more than three months and over 1,300 miles (2,092 km) of treacherous terrain, solely due to the fortitude and endurance of the Appaloosa horses. The Nez Percé were undefeated in battle but finally surrendered to prevent further hardships to the people hoping to weather the frigid Montana winter. The conditions of the surrender stated that they be allowed to return to their lands in the spring with their horses, but instead they were sent to North Dakota and many of their beloved and prized animals slaughtered. Some escaped, and many others were later rounded up by ranchers and sold or used.
Following this, some of the horses that had survived were quickly dispersed at auction and obtained by a few private people and ranchers who recognized their own innate qualities and started to breed them. In 1937, the magazine Western Horseman printed an article on the Appaloosa composed by Francis Haines, sparking public interest in the breed. The next year, Claude Thompson, a breeder of the spotted horses, joined with others and established the Appaloosa Horse Club to preserve and encourage the horses. Just three decades later, under the leadership of George Hatley, the team had a phenomenal figure of over 300,000 horses registered, making it the third-largest light-horse breed registry. During this regeneration of the Appaloosa there was a introduction of Arabian blood and significant influence in the Quarter Horse, which may be seen in the muscular frame of the modern Appaloosa.
In 1994 the Nez Percé tribe based in Idaho began a breeding program to develop the Nez Percé horse. The intention of this application, which is based on breeding old Appaloosa inventory with Akhal Teke stallions, is to create an elegant, tough, versatile, and agile horse that is equal in its qualities to the horses of the Nez Percé. Some, although not all, of those horses exhibit the spotted coat pattern of the Appaloosa heritage, even though they generally stick to the sleeker, finer framework of the Akhal Teke. Today, Appaloosa is regarded one of the most beautiful horse breeds ( reference ) in the world!