What is an Appaloosa? To most people, the term has no meaning. Those familiar with the Western horse have heard the term applied to animals with peculiar spots on the rump, and have usually considered it some sort of color term.

It is, however, a variant of the name of a breed developed by the Nez Perce Indians in the Palouse country of Central Idaho and Eastern Washington. Persons hearing the term “a Palouse” horse ignorantly corrupted it to Apalousey which in turn became Appaloosa. The spelling is an endeavor to indicate the French pronunciation of Palouse, which, like Nez Perce, stresses the final “e.” Current usage gives both of these words English pronunciation.

The Nez Perce, noted horsemen and horse breeders, raised many fine animals, but this special showy, hardy, speedy type was developed primarily for war use. This type was sometimes called the Nez Perce horse in more distant localities, but that name used locally would have resulted in confusion on account of the many other horses raised by these Indians, and hence the use of the special name Palouse.

The distinguishing characteristics of the Palouse horse are the color spots on the rump, a lack of hair on the tail and inside the thigh, a good deal of white in the eye, and pink skin on the nose. The most noticeable of these is, of course, the distinctive coloration. The variations commonly found are: roan, bay, or sorrel body with white spots; or white body with bay, sorrel or brown spots; or white body, roan rump with white spots; or roan, bay or sorrel body, white rump, and roan, bay or sorrel spots. Red roans are more common than blue.

These horses were of the best western Stock Horse build, weighing usually between 800 and 1050 pounds, 14 ½ to 15 ½ hands high, although the latter were rare. On account of their speed and endurance they were in demand throughout Montana, where they were used for saddle horses and in races at local celebrations. The old timers claimed Palouses were usually very good, but a poor one was entirely worthless. There seemed to be no in-between group.

After the main body of Nez Perce was placed on the reservation in 1855, the government agent discouraged the buffalo hunts and war raid across the mountains to the east, and encouraged farming and a more settled existence. This changed method of living was reflected in the type of horse raised, and the flashy war horse was discouraged. The non-treaty band, in the Wallowa country, still raised the war horses until their land was forcibly taken from them by the whites in 1877. After their war and unsuccessful dash for Canada, the survivors were exiled to Oklahoma, and their stock was appropriated by the white settlers. This scattered the Palouse breeding stock, and with the fencing of the open ranges and the plowing of the grazing lands for wheat fields, the large horse herds soon disappeared. With the passing of the old West, the Palouse as a distinct breed also disappeared, and is remembered only by a few old timers. The stray remnants are usually regarded merely as color freaks, but a variant of the old name still clings to them.

Would it not be a worthwhile undertaking for the owners of these beautiful animals to unite in restoring this find breed to its rightful place? Doubtless they could duplicate the success of the Palomino breeders, if they would register and establish the type before it is too late. Aside from the sentiment involved, such an activity would pay in actual dollars and cents to the Western horse breeders, and would lend another fine color note to our shows and parades. When this breed is restored, as I am sure it will be, should we not retain the old name and call this the Palouse horse once more? It is accurate, short, colorful, and historically significant. The spelling has been fixed, and it would not matter greatly whether the French or English pronunciation were adopted.

This article was written by F.D. Haines and originally published in the January-February 1937 issue of Western Horseman.

12 Comments

  1. I am from the Palouse. Love reading about Appaloosa horses.

    • Scarlet Williamson Reply

      My uncle ted powers raised and trained appoloosa horses in ozona Texas back in the 60s. If I’m not mistaken western horseman did an article on him back then.

  2. ralston h mcclure Reply

    Due to lack of time and me not being able to spell; I would like to say the Spanish brought horses to North America. The Spanish were here roughly 150 years before the English. The Spanish came here to conquer and were mounted on war horses bred for thousands of years beginning with the ancient Iberians, who invented mounted warfare. The English came here to farm and go into business. Some time in the 1700’s spotted horses went out of favor in Spain and boatloads of these horses were brought here and traded to the Palouse Indians who lived on the Palouse River on the Pacific coast of the Oregon country. They were traded for fur by the Spanish.
    Read Conquerors by Deb Bennett PHD and El Caballo Espanol La Evolucion De su morfologia by Juan Carlos Altamirano
    The Nez Perce were better mounted than anybody else. These were not just anybody’s horses. Ever see a bullfight on horseback ? Look on Youtube Adios !

  3. Love the read. Have had the same“Appy” for 17 years and have learned a lot from him. Smart, stubborn, hardy, sweet, and the list goes on. They are underestimated as a breed.

  4. Bob Chapman Reply

    They also have striped hooves and a milk jug shaped head. Very smart and have some dog like traits. Mine was 17 hands and a playful personality. He loved long distance trail rides and team penning. He was a mountain horse.

  5. Sylvia Martinez Reply

    I was the owner of the Appaloosa Stallion that Stared in The Appaloosa. Fun History.

  6. Jan Waggoner Reply

    We have had appaloosa’s in the past. Today there is a registry for the appaloosa, The Appaloosa Horse Club, in Moscow, Idaho.

    Some of them were the foundation type and others showed much of their quarter horse breeding. My husband liked the foundation ones. I liked mine to have a decent mane and tail. All of the ones that we have had, had been bred for cutting. The last one that we had, had a beautiful move on a cow, but we weren’t able to see what he was able to do for he died before having a chance to show him.

    The reputation of appaloosa pretty well fits the description given in part of the article–they are either very good or they are worthless. Generally they do have stamina. We have had ones that were able to turn-back in the cutting pen all day or work out on the range all day. It is hard for an appaloosa to do well in cutting because it is a judged event and appearance, whether we like to admit it or not does play a part in scores.

  7. we’re down to two horses -a quarter horse mare and a Palouse gelding stands a good solid 16 hands, strong with lots of bone).Nez Perce is a misnomer, mistakenly applied by French explorers to the Nimapu nation of n. e Oregon and s. e. Washington. “Pal” is very well marked with a spotted blanket and very hard “striped hooves” He’s been bare foot since we’ve had him – great animal but trimming hooves can take a while

  8. Enjoyed this article very much, we Breed and Raise Appaloosas in the High Desert of eastern Oregon, where our program is all about versatility, we use our horses for ranch,show and play. We feel disposition is critical then add Color and conformation you end up with a very remarkable animal. Check us out on facebook, MT Appaloosas and Quarter horses

  9. Randy Laedeke Reply

    My dad gave me a 3 year old Appolousa mare when I was 13 and we sort of grew up together. She was easy to break to ride and loved going on long trail rides over the hills of south central Montana. She could lope down or up a trail better than any other horse I rode in my lifetime or observed anyone else ride whether it was broad daylight or pitch dark. When I was in college I had her bred to a champion Skipper W Quarterhorse Stallion and produced an equally great trail horse. The offspring of my Appolousa mare was the best cross country trail horse ( with the exception of her mother) I ever rode or observed anyone else ride in my 65 years. The Skipper W bloodline added speed and jumping ability to the stamina and sure footedness of the Appolousa. That horse would swim a river, climb a mountain, or gallop across the hills and prairy of Montana when I asked her to and never weakened.

  10. Romona DeBartolome Reply

    At first I wasn’t a big fan of the Appaloosa breed. Although I had shown a handsome Appy in my early yrs. My mom bought me a Thoroughbred mare off the track in 86. She was fantastic. She is a granddaughter of Man O War, we had 9 fantastic yrs together then I unfortunately sold her due to being pregnant with my daughter. I did reunite with her later. So after 3 yrs with no horse, a friend took me to a horse sale, the only good looking horse there was a Appy. I didn’t buy. A week later horses for sale in the paper so I went to check it out. There was that Appy from the sale. I rode him, was thrown off and I bought him. The seller said I was crazy. Here we are 24yrs later, Sir Comanche and I. He’s so intelligent, loving and Greatest horse I ever owned. He’s 31 now but looks like a 7 or 8yr old. Sadly he has cancer on the sheath but being treated with antibiotics for mild infection, which is doing great and bute for any discomfort. He’s still eating, grazing, drinking and doing fantastic. I love you, Comanche. Romona DeBartolome ( East Freedom, Pa )

  11. Janice L Passante Reply

    My first horse was an appy a leopard. He taught me as much as I taught him. He was the old blocky type, big head, solid build and sturdy. Rode that horse all over town when I was a little girl. He passed at 23. Went on the Chief Joseph Trail ride a few times and very disappointed that they now approve non- spotted horses to be registered. How things have changed with ALL the breeds!

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