This was the land inhabited by the Nez Percé American Indians, and it’s to their forward-thinking horsemanship and breeding practices that the Appaloosa owes its success.
Though the Nez Percé developed this spotted breed, the history of spotted horses is a very long one, with pictures of spotted horses appearing 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 great demand from the sixteenth century to perform from the increasingly popular Riding Schools.
Horses introduced into 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 largely from the Shoshone the Nez Percé, whose land was further west and north, acquired 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. Only the best horses were stored as stallions, whereas those of poor quality were gelded. The tribe kept the best of its breeding stock and got rid of the poorer 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) described 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 just for ornamentation and decorative purposes but also for camouflage. However, their main concern when breeding was to create an all-around horse of great stamina, speed, and endurance, and one that managed to survive on lean rations. Their horses became famous for these qualities and were capable of pulling a plow since they were of covering enormous distances at speed with a rider. The most prized of the horses were used during warring 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 described as Palouse horses by white settlers, who took the title 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 earlier, but the plucky, seen 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 over three months and across 1,300 kilometers (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 stop further hardships to the people hoping to weather the frigid Montana winter. The conditions of their surrender stated they are allowed to return to their lands in the spring with their horses, but instead they were sent to North Dakota and lots of their beloved and prized animals slaughtered. Some escaped, and others were 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 innate qualities and began 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 direction of George Hatley, the team had a phenomenal figure of more than 300,000 horses registered, making it the third-largest light-horse breed registry. In this regeneration of the Appaloosa there was some introduction of Arabian blood and considerable influence in the Quarter Horse, which can be seen in the muscular frame 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 relies on breeding old Appaloosa inventory with Akhal Teke stallions, is to create an elegant, tough, versatile, and agile horse that is equivalent in its attributes to the horses of the Nez Percé. Some, though not all, of these horses exhibit the spotted coat pattern of their Appaloosa heritage, though they generally adhere to the sleeker, finer frame of the Akhal Teke. Today, Appaloosa is considered as one of the most beautiful horse breeds ( benchmark ) in the world!