Association: Appaloosa History

The rich and fascinating history of the Appaloosa breed is as unique as its colorful spotted coat patterns. The following is a brief, non-comprehensive overview. Additional historical information is available at Appaloosa Museum Site.

The Spanish introduced horses to Mexico in the 1500s. Following the Pueblo Revolt, horses rapidly spread throughout North America, reaching the Northwest around 1700. The Nez Perce tribe became excellent horsemen and breeders, creating large herds renowned for their strength, intelligence and beauty. 

Prior to the introduction of the horse, the Nez Perce were sedentary fishers. Horses gave the tribes greater mobility and power, altering their culture forever. Soon, the Nez Perce were famous throughout the Northwest for their hunting skills and craftsmanship. These skills allowed the Nez Perce to trade for necessary goods and services.

With their superior horses they had little difficulty killing what buffalo they needed. Soon they began to use the Plains-type tipi in place of their old community houses…Heavy stone mortars and similar burdensome possessions were either discarded entirely, or left at the fishing spots for occasional use. 

Famous explorer Meriwether Lewis was appropriately impressed with the breeding accomplishments of the Nez Perce, as noted in his diary entry from February 15, 1806.

Their horses appear to be of an excellent race; they are lofty, eligantly [sic] formed, active and durable…some of these horses are pided with large spots of white irregularly scattered and intermixed with black, brown, bey [sic] or some other dark color. 

It is unknown how many of the Nez Perce’s horses were spotted, but a possible estimate is ten percent. Settlers coming into the area began to refer to these spotted horses as “A Palouse Horse”, as a reference to the Palouse River, which runs through Northern Idaho. Over time, the name evolved into “Palousey,” “Appalousey,” and finally “Appaloosa.”

  In the mid-1800s, settlers flooded onto the Nez Perce reservation, and conflicts soon ensued. The Nez Perce War of 1877 resulted in their herds being dispersed. 

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, interest in the breed gradually began to grow as Appaloosas began appearing in Western roundups and rodeos. 

The Appaloosa’s flashy coat patterns caught the eye of the public, and in 1937 an article in Western Horseman entitled “The Appaloosa, or Palouse Horse” revealed a widespread interest in the breed. 

With the goal of preserving and improving the Appaloosa breed, the Appaloosa Horse Club was chartered in 1938. From those first few enthusiasts, the Club has grown into one of the leading equine breed registries in the world. 

On March 25, 1975 Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus signed a bill naming the Appaloosa as the state horse. This is a deserving honor for a horse that has been an integral part of Idaho history. 

Today, the beautiful spotted horse is one of the most beloved of American horse breeds and can be found throughout the world, excelling in disciplines including western pleasure, games, working cow horse and dressage. Appaloosas are prized for their easy-going dispositions and their reliability as family horses.

Find out more in the Appaloosa Museum Site