This was the land inhabited by the Nez Percé American Indians, and it’s to their forward-thinking horsemanship and breeding practices the Appaloosa owes its success.
Although the Nez Percé developed this seen breed, the history of spotted horses is a long one, with images 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 sixteenth century to do from the increasingly popular Riding Schools.
Horses introduced to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadores carried the potent 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 areas, was highly acceptable for raising horses, and the tribe immediately established a substantial breeding stock. Only the best horses were kept as stallions, whereas those of inferior quality were gelded. The tribe kept the best of its breeding stock and got rid of the weaker horses through trading with other tribes. The quantities of their horses climbed rapidly, and the Nez Percé became a wealthy tribe based on their huge stock of horses. From the early 1800s, the American explorer Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) explained the Nez Percé’s horses as”of an superb race; they’re elegantly formed, active, and durable.”
Shade 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 develop an all-around horse of great stamina, speed, and toughness, and one that was able to survive on sparse rations. Their horses became renowned for these qualities and were capable of pulling a plow since they had been of covering enormous 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 seen horses belonging to the Nez Percé were described as Palouse horses by white settlers, who took the name in the Palouse River that ran through the Nez Percé territory. The name Appaloosa was not given to the strain until 1938 with the creation of the Appaloosa Horse Club, established to preserve the breed. Some fifty years before this, however, the plucky, spotted breed 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 was able to outwit and outrun the U.S. cavalry for more than three months and over 1,300 kilometers (2,092 km) of treacherous terrain, solely because of the fortitude and endurance of the Appaloosa horses. The Nez Percé were undefeated in battle but finally surrendered to prevent additional hardships to the people hoping to weather the frigid Montana winter. The conditions of the surrender stated that they be permitted to return to their lands in the spring with their horses, but instead they were sent to North Dakota and many of their cherished and precious animals slaughtered. Some escaped, and others were later rounded up by ranchers and used or sold.
After this, a few of the horses that had survived were quickly dispersed at auction and acquired by a few private people and ranchers who recognized their 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 following year, Claude Thompson, a breeder of the spotted horses, combined with several others and established that the Appaloosa Horse Club to preserve and encourage the horses. By 1947, there were two hundred registered horses and a hundred members. Just three decades later, under the leadership of George Hatley, the team had a phenomenal amount of more than 300,000 horses registered, making it the third-largest light-horse breed registry. During this regeneration of the Appaloosa there was some introduction of Arabian blood and significant influence in the Quarter Horse, which may be observed in the muscular framework of the modern Appaloosa.
In 1994 the Nez Percé tribe now based in Idaho started a breeding program to develop the Nez Percé horse. The intention of this program, which is based on breeding old Appaloosa inventory with Akhal Teke stallions, is to create an elegant, tough, versatile, and agile horse that’s equivalent in its qualities to the original horses of the Nez Percé. Some, though not all, of these horses exhibit the spotted coat pattern of the Appaloosa heritage, though they generally stick to the sleeker, finer framework of the Akhal Teke. Today, Appaloosa is considered as one of the most beautiful horse breeds ( reference ) on earth!