For some horse breeds, the mane and tail are crowning glories. That's not generally true of the Appaloosa. This spotted breed often has a short, sparse mane and tail. The latter is sometimes derided as a "rat tail." That skimpy tail served a purpose for the Nez Perce, the Native American tribe responsible for the Appaloosa's development.
Although Spanish conquistadors initially brought horses into North America in the 16th century, Native American tribes soon obtained these animals and became excellent horsemen. The spotted horses of the Nez Perce tribe were particularly prized. The Nez Perce might have been the first tribe to breed horses for particular traits, according to the Oklahoma State University website. The Nez Perce preferred short tails, because they did not catch on brush when out hunting. They selectively bred for horses with these characteristics. The tribe lived in the Northwest's Palouse region, which gives the breed its name.
Sparse Manes and Tails
If your Appy has a short tail and sparse mane, he's probably got more of the original breed's blood running in his veins. When competing in Appaloosa shows, the thin manes and tails should not be held against the horse, according to the American Appaloosa Association Worldwide's website. However, if you are competing in open, non-breed shows, your horse must meet the standard for that competition and that might not be the case.
Every spotted Appaloosa is unique. An individual horse doesn't share markings with any other. Common coat patterns include white horses with dark spots all over the body, colored horses with white blankets with spots, dark horses with white "snowflake" spotting in the coat and roans with spotting. An Appy's base coat might change over time and he could develop additional spots. Since the breed almost became extinct in the early 20th century, Appy enthusiasts reviving the breed used not only the relatively rare foundation stock, but allowed thoroughbred, quarter horse and Arab blood in the mix. That's one reason the Appy body type varies so greatly, along with the production of solid-colored horses. In order to verify a solid-colored horse for registration as an Appy, the Appaloosa Horse Club requires DNA testing.
Other Distinctive Features
In addition to their coloring and scanty manes and tails, Appies have other distinctive features. They sport vertically striped hooves on legs that don't have white socks. The eye's sclera, the white portion around the pupil, is quite prominent. The sclera of most other horses is dark. Appaloosa skin features spotting or mottling, either all over the body or in certain areas, such as the muzzle, anus and genitals. Since some Appaloosas are solid-colored, these traits hint at the Appy ancestry.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.