Australia Appaloosa Association

History of The Appaloosa Horse

cave painting

It can be claimed that the Appaloosa, as it is known now, is the oldest identifiable breed of horse in the world today. Ancient cave paintings found on the walls of Ice Age caves of central Europe depict the image of spotted horses. These images date back over 20,000 years ago. These ancient works of art are located in Lascaux and Peche-Merle France. Archaeologists estimate they were created about 18,000BC, long before the dawn of recorded history.

chinese sculpture

Many works of art throughout the centuries provide undeniable proof of the existence of the spotted horse in many parts of the world. A scabbard, found in Austria, dating from approx. 1000 BC is decorated with images of horses bearing the charactistic Appaloosas coat patterns. Chinese art, wall hangings and vases also show the clear characteristics of spotted horses in their designs.

greek vase

In Greek history, records have been found depicting a great breed of warhorse used by the Persians in 480 BC, which clearly describe the Spotted horse. Over three thousand years ago in the Ferghana Valley of ancient Persia, a new breed of horse evolved. He was tall and swift, and colour adorned his sides. He inspired poets, artists, Kings and Generals.

english portrait

These horses were not identified as Appaloosas in the "Old World," but were named according to the region where they were bred-- or for their colour. To the Persians and ancient Greeks, they were called "the Sacred Horses of Nisasea." They were called Tien Ma - "Heavenly or Celestial Horses from the Extreme West" by the Chinese. The French named them "Le Tigre." The Old English people called them either "Piebald Chubarry," or "Bloody Buttocks" because of the pattern of dark red spots on their hind quarters. The Austrians identified them as "Pinzgauer."


He was the most valuable horse in the ancient world, and he was regarded as the most beautiful horse alive. Some were spotted like a leopard or as golden as a newly minted coin. Others were red and blue roan with darker colour in the roan. Alexander of Macedon on his conquest of Asia (329 BC) detoured through Ferghana specifically to secure these war horses prized for their courage, tough hooves and endurance.

Han Wu-Ti the 'Martial Emperor' (156-87 BC) having heard of the "Heavenly Horses" twice sent expeditions to the Ferghana region to obtain breeding animals to improve his cavalry. The two Chinese campaigns to secure the horses had lasted four years, cost many lives but led to the opening of the 'Silk Road' and China building a superior cavalry.

Appaloosa coloured horses spread throughout Asia, Europe, Russia and England and eventually to America with invading armies, traders and as special gifts to Kings and nobility. Even the English thoroughbred studbooks list several stallions descended from spotted horses.

In Western Europe, the spotted horse appears periodically throughout history. The famous Lippizzaner Horses often exhibited spots during the 16th through the 18th centuries. The same spots still crop up to this day, and the Lippizzaner often displays evidence of mottled skin, one of the Appaloosa's characteristics.

The Native American Indian Connection


The Spanish Conquistadors took spotted horses when they blazed a trail through Mexico and South America. Quickly the spotted horse spread northward until most of the Indian populations were using horses by around 1700.

Once they were introduced to America the Appaloosa horse began what was arguably their most famous period, as horses prized by the Nez Perce Indians.

The Nez Perce Indians of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho became highly sophisticated horsemen. Unlike most tribes, the Nez Perce carefully selected the spotted horses they were to breed. Only the best horses were allowed to produce offspring. Meriwether Lewis, on his epic expedition across America to the Pacific Ocean, was one of the first white men to visit the Nez Perce. He described the Appaloosa in his journal dated February 15, 1806: "Their horses appear to be of an excellent race. They are lofty, elegantly formed, active and durable; in short, many of them look like fine English horses and would make a fine figure in any country. Some of these horses are pided with large spots of white irregularly scattered and intermixed with the black, brown, bay or some other darker colour...."


The name Appaloosa is a variation of the Indian name for these horses - "Palouse Horse", named after a river in Idaho, USA. Although one can't credit the Nez Perce Indian with the 'establishment' of this breed, one can say they certainly improved and developed through a strict breeding program, a versatile hunting horse of no equal. A war-horse with an iron heart. And as a war-horse he was conditioned to have unlimited speed, stamina and remain calm under the worst conditions. These great traits along with his steadfast loyalty to his master was to be put to the ultimate test. In 1877, "Chief Joseph" Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt (1840-1904), led several hundred of his people in an attempt to elude the U.S. Cavalry and avoid war by seeking asylum in Canada. For over three months, the band of about 700, fewer than 200 of who were warriors, fought 2,000 U.S. soldiers and Indian auxiliaries in four major battles and numerous skirmishes.

The tribe mounted on their Appaloosa horses, out ran the U.S. Cavalry through rough mountainous terrain for 1400 miles. The Appaloosa carried men, women and children with all their meager belongings over trails that led to over 7200 feet in the mountains, through treacherous rivers and deep gorges. They traveled in freezing conditions, and many loyal Appaloosas lost their lives in this game of cat and mouse with the US cavalry. Finally, on October 5, 1877, in northern Montana, just 40 miles short of refuge in Canada, the Nez Perce; sick injured and exhausted, negotiated surrender. After looking at his starving tribe and exhausted horses, Chief Joseph delivered his famous speech that ends, "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."

After the Nez Perce surrender, they were banished to life on a reservation and the great war-horse, the Appaloosa, was confiscated and sold in a government auction at Fort Keogh. Those not sent to auction were shot. Stories tell of hundreds of horses herded into canyons and dying in a blaze of rifle fire from US soldiers. It is said the bidding at the auction was brisk. The courage of the Appaloosas had become public knowledge via the newspapers and telegraph, and they were sold far and wide. The descendents of these horses found their way into the early Quarter Horse bloodlines. Hence, we have spotted 'quarter horses' cropping up from time to time. American foundation sires Joker B, Wapiti and Quadroon are examples of these unexpected crop-outs.

Due to this unmanaged breeding, the Appaloosa, as it was known, nearly slipped into history. Animals of all shapes and kinds were cross-bred, to "put some colour into it" and the great war-horse was almost lost.

Return of the Appaloosa

The founding of the American Appaloosa Horse Club cannot be mentioned without referring to the one man who led the fight for the Appaloosa; MR Claude J Thompson. Mr. Thompson had a life long passion for the Appaloosa, its history and its future. On December 30th 1938 Mr. Thompson and Dr Francis Haines formally opened the Appaloosa Horse Club. They along with other like-minded horsemen sort to save and re-establish the Appaloosa to its former glory. They sort spotted horse from far and wide, infusing them with the pure blood of the Arabian to re-establish the refinement and quality that had been lost due to indiscriminate breeding.

As a result of the efforts of these men, and those who followed them, the Appaloosa again rose in popularity to once again become one of the most desired breeds of horse in the world today. There are now Appaloosa clubs and registries in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and of course, Australia. The Appaloosa is truly an 'International Breed'.

The Australian Appaloosa

group appy

Hearsay talks of spotted horses being in Australia sometime around the 1940's and 1950's however no documentary proof is evident. Among the first registered Appaloosa's to arrive in Australia were the stallions Clover Joker Bull, Clover Cochise and the mare Clover Coconut. These horses left California on the 11 July 1966 and after an epic voyage finally arrived in Australia in 1967. In 1971, a gathering of sixty-one Appaloosa breeders and enthusiasts attended a meeting in the R.S.L. Hall, Nathalia Victoria. The result of this meeting was the formation of the Appaloosa Association of Australia. The first elected committee members were Mrs. J.E. Cook, Mrs. E.T. Hobson, Mr. J.N. Cook, Mr. L. Carden, Mr. B. Kirby, Mr. S. Hordern, Mr. D. Cross, Mr. C. Howe, Mr. V. Cummins, and Mr. J.V. Hull. By 1974 there were five Regional Clubs in Australia.

The first National Appaloosa Show was held at Shepparton, Victoria on the 27th January 1973. Horses came from four states to compete for prize money and trophies. The 12 classes for Appaloosa horses were judged by Captain Walter Hughes from Aldergrove, B.C. Canada.

Since its inaugural show at Shepparton, our National Show has been held in eight cities, Sydney, N.S.W., Nambour, Qld., Maitland, N.S.W., Toowoomba, Qld., Melbourne, Vic., Tamworth and Dubbo, N.S.W. The program has grown to over 150 Classes, Feature and Futurity events showcasing horses from all states competing in Dressage, traditional English and numerous western events. There are over 14 regional based clubs throughout Australia and breed classes are held at most Agricultural shows.

The Appaloosa is still sort after today for the same reasons he was by Nobles, Kings and Chiefs: durability, intelligence, versatility and of cause, his ever delightful colorful coat. No two are ever the same, much like their owners.


Arlandson, Lee. Know the appaloosa horse. RCL Publishing Co., 1972.

Cook, Helen. The National show reference book, 1973-1991. Tynong North : Ropet Printing, 1992.

Davis, Beverly Burris. They hunted tigers : a history of the Nisean Warhorse and its descendents.

Northey, T. and Crosby, J. The Early years of the Appaloosa in Australia. [Photostat copy]

Richardson, Bill & Donna. The Appaloosa.Wilshire Bok Company. 1974 edition.

Hyland, Ann. The Appaloosa. JA Allen & Company Ltd. 1090 edition.

Haines, Francis J. The Spotted Horse In Art & History, 1963.

Photo No. 8 By L Mercer.