Evolution of the Appaloosa


Evolution of the Appaloosa

Appaloosa Heritage Articles

Charles O'Bryant III
456 Waynick Road
Reidsville, NC 27320

 by Ralph S. Cannon
written October 1992
reprinted with permission from 
Sundance 500 International

Evolution of the Appaloosa
Letter to SR Breeders
SRBB Collective Ad
Sun Appaloosas
Sunspot Pete Article
Sunspot Revel
Sundance Breeders
This isn't a scholarly article, but an Appaloosa breeder of some thirty years may feel obligated to try to pass on some historical perspective to younger generations of Appaloosa enthusiasts. Let's not call it wisdom rather just a blend of the folklore he inherited from earlier generations mixed with the substance of his own experiences and observations. 

In the years following the surrender of Chief Joseph, we are told that many of the surviving Nez Perce horses were contaminated by crossbreeding with draft blood to produce work horses, plow horses, loggers. When the ApHC registry was getting started, numerous spotted horses were brought out of the boondocks. Some of these displayed characteristics inappropriate for a light horse breed: jug heads, platter hooves, feathered fetlocks, etc. Many early ApHC breeders used Arab blood to lend refinement. But in addition, there were lines that come through without modification by either draft or Arab blood. In my view such lines produced horses like Sundance 500 or George Phippen's drawing of the "Ideal Appaloosa". A rather greyhound type of equine with lean head and neck, high withers, good bone, not muscle-bound. And then of course, a high percentage of progeny with colored coat, mottled skin, white sclera and striped hooves. And many tended to have sparse mane and tail as they matured.

Phippen's picture of the Ideal  Appaloosa

In addition, the Appaloosa I am describing had a distinct characteristic that seemed to avoid description in the literature: a definite tendency toward sex-linked differences in color between males and females. Males tended to be bright-colored, dark colors contrasting with white, such as leopard spots or blanketed hips. Whereas a large proportion of females were solid or dull-colored at birth. The coloration of fillies tended to change during their first three years of life, often to one kind of roan or other dull color pattern. A few such mares ended up with fairly bright color, even leopards. A roan mare who had gone through the color change tended to carry telltale varnish marks: darker coloration on head, elbow and stifle. And the ability to change with the seasons, or over the years, would seem to be an intrinsic Appaloosa characteristic. 

How many of these characteristics survive today? I suspect you cannot put a Quarter Horse head on an Appaloosa, lower his withers, widen his chest, put bulging muscles on hips and forearms, diminish the substance of his cannons and hooves, without changing his athletic ability and his temperament. 

Show business was the main factor responsible for the changes I have witnessed within the breed. First thing, the jugheads got the gate. Later I'll tell you where they went. Then the rat-tails were encouraged to stay away from the show ring. But color was still desirable. When Carl Miles started advertising Prince Plaudit, the leopard spotted Appaloosa had a sudden burst of popularity. Before that time, many judges would not give a leopard horse even a first glance in the halter show ring. Then, bit by bit, the colorful greyhound-type Appaloosa evolved into the type of horses that dominate Appaloosa shows today. 

When I first became involved in horse breeding, starting in the late fifties, I quickly became aware that Quarter Horse breeders and cattlemen were, by and large, far more dedicated businessmen than Appaloosa breeders. Their marketing techniques were far more advanced. From my vantage point in the high Plains at Rocky Cliff Ranch, I was fascinated as I watched the popularity of the Quarter Horse spreading like an expanding wave across the nation, eastward to the Atlantic, south to Florida and northward into Canada. 

But my interest was in marketing the Appaloosas I raised. So I had even greater interest in the ripple of popularity of the Appaloosa that followed in the wake of the Quarter Horse wave - on the order of 2 or 3 years later. And at the forefront of the Appaloosa wave were the jugheads, creating at first an image of a homely horse. Enterprising horse traders would buy up Appaloosa culls at Western sales for 50 bucks, then haul them East and sell them like hotcakes for 500 bucks. As soon as the new enthusiasts started to have local Appaloosa shows, the jugheads got the gate again, and the new showmen began buying quality Appaloosas that could win. 

Isn't it incredible that we invited judges for our Appaloosa shows whose background was primarily Quarter Horse? Did you ever see a Quarter Horse show judged by a horseman whose background was primarily Appaloosa? Next came the auctioneers, then the trainers, nearly all with Quarter Horse backgrounds. 

I don't intend to belittle the Arabian and Quarter Horse breeds. They are two of the many light horse breeds that evolved over thousands of years from the same basic stock - the wild spotted horse of southern Europe. The Arabian is perhaps the most refined of all the descendants of that spotted wild horse. And the Quarter Horse, developed in an entirely different environment, likewise is a great breed - probably the dominant element in the equine world today. None the less, I do not feel like cheering when I see Quarter Horse minded folks modifying the Appaloosa breed to fit their mindset. 

On re-reading the above, I am keenly aware of one glaring omission. Does the Appaloosa breed differ from other breeds in temperament and/or disposition? Have Appaloosa personality traits changed since the ApHC registry was started? Extremely pertinent questions, and very difficult to answer objectively. It would take someone far more experienced than I with many breeds, as well as a horseman familiar with many Appaloosa bloodlines, and many individuals, both old-time and modern Appaloosas to pass judgment objectively. 

My image of the Appaloosa is a horse who consorts with humans as willingly as with his own kind. Eager to learn, whether by instruction or by using his own ingenuity, but easily bored with endless repetition. Would rather die than let another forge past him on the racetrack, but next day will gingerly let a wee tike ride him to win in Walk - Trot. Good sense of humor. And of course, happier by far when given relative freedom in a pasture environment. Does this come close to describing your Sundance Appaloosas? 

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