You can recognize an Appaloosa horse by his spots, though Appaloosas are a breed of horse, not a color. Named for the Palouse region of the northwest that spans eastern Washington and western Idaho, Appaloosa means “a Palouse” horse. To understand when Appaloosas get their spots, you need to understand the breed and its unique characteristics.
Appaloosas evolved from Spanish horses brought to the North American continent in the early 1700s. They thrived in the grassy hills of the Palouse, where the Nez Perce tribe bred them until 1877. Palouse settlers saved the breed from decline, scientifically registering Appaloosas in 1938. The Palouse organizers founded the Appaloosa Horse Club, Appaloosa Museum and “Appaloosa Journal” to record and preserve breed standards, including coat patterns and color. The ApHC has registered more than 700,000 Appaloosas since 1938.
Spots and Colors
The ApHC recognizes 13 breed colors, which can change as Appaloosas age. Coat color can vary from a solid pattern without spots to full-body spots, spots on hips and loins or spots on a white hip blanket. The color of a foal might not predict his coat color or pattern, either. Foals born solid might grow up to have spots. When a foal sheds his fuzzy baby hair around his eyes, his true color may begin to emerge.
If you think you can predict the Appaloosa offspring from the color and pattern of his parents, you will find that parentage is not a predictor of spots. Even twin Appaloosa foals will have different colors and patterning. No one Appaloosa is alike. However, one attribute of parentage is that a solid-color mare will often have highly spotted foals when bred to an Appaloosa stallion.
Even though spots clearly define an Appaloosa, it is not always clear if an Appaloosa has or will develop spots. ApHC recognizes other breed distinctions beyond coat pattern and color to help distinguish Appaloosas. Mottled skin around the muzzle, eyes and genitals is as unique to Appaloosas as is their spots. This characteristic can identify a solid-color horse as one of the breed. Appaloosas are definitely distinct even though their spots may be elusive or late.
Charli Mills has covered the natural food industry since 2001 as a marketing communications manager for a highly successful retail cooperative. She built teams, brands and strategies. She is a writer and editor of "This is Living Naturally," a consultant for Carrot Ranch Communications and a Master Cooperative Communicator.