History of Appaloosa Horses
Appaloosas are known for the spots that mark them and for leaving a mark on the people who love them. While it is true that this ancient breed of horses is characteristically spotted, there are many more traits and pieces of history that mark them, distinguish them, and make them a truly great and noble horse.
Appaloosa history is rich and tells of a world fascinated by them for ages. Up to 20,000 years ago in present day France, caves were adorned with detailed drawings of spotted horses. Halfway across the world in China, vases and paintings have surfaced that depict them. There is tale and evidence of them in Ancient Greece and Persia, as well as in Austria, Spain, England, and throughout Asia. In the modern era, they spread out over the globe—becoming renowned all throughout the civilized world. They were coveted as warhorses and given as gifts to the nobility.
It is known that the spotted horses made their journey to the new world with the Spanish Conquistadors. It is then that they entered into the hands of Native Americans, eventually working their way up to the Northwest. There, their history reached a pivotal point when the peaceful tribe of the Nez Perce began breeding them. They were selective and methodical—casting out undesirable stock to purify the breeding process. White settlers in the area called the breed- Palouse horses, after a nearby river.
During a tragic time in American history, the Nez Perce came to be in conflict with the U.S. Army. Their leader, Chief Joseph, led them in a hard journey toward the Canadian border with the Army in hot pursuit behind them. Going over 1300 miles, the Nez Perce and their Appaloosas suffered greatly and many did not survive the journey. Resting 40 miles from the border, they were overtaken and famously surrendered as Chief Joseph uttered, “Now hear me, oh my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
The massive herd of almost a thousand Appaloosas were quickly auctioned off or killed by the U.S. Army. They dispersed across the country and the labor of the Nez Perce to breed them seemed wasted as their careful breeding soon became disorganized and forgotten.
Spotted horses began showing up in circuses in the early 20th century, fascinating many and leaving a mark on more than one. Then, suddenly, their history leaped into resurgence with the appearance of an article about the breed in 1937 by Dr. Francis Haines. Once again, the Appaloosa took hold of the hearts and curiosity of many, including horseman Claude Thompson. Thompson was marked by a belief in the greatness and potential of the spotted horse, and he left his mark on the breed by establishing the Appaloosa Horse Club in 1938.
Right off the bat, the club became wildly popular and the breed was being cultivated once again. Standards were established for joining the registry and the Appaloosa became one of the most popular breeds of horses. Today, Appaloosas are once again popular all over the world, with horse clubs and registries in over 20 countries.
The marks of the Appaloosa are many. They often have striped hooves, white sclera around the eyes, unique and colorful coats, pleasant personalities, and the strength and versatility to excel in a wide range of activities and competitions.
Information on Appaloosas and the Johnson horses was gathered from the following sources:
The Johnson Family
The Waco Tribune-Herald
Joe Daniels at Appaloosa Pedigrees, Photos, and Stories (barnlot.tripod.com)
Charles O’Bryant III at Appaloosa Heritage History & Articles (obryantranch.com/aphis)
Contributors to the Wikipedia Appaloosa article