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Appaloosa Horse: Facts, Lifespan, Behavior & Care Guide (With Pictures)

Jock riding an Appaloosa horse

The Appaloosa horse is a breed that originated in America. It is well-known for its colorful spotted pattern. The body type ranges widely within the breed, as it was crossbred throughout much of history. The spotted pattern results from many genetic spotting patterns that have been overlaid on top of each other. The strange genetics make this breed very interesting to those who study horse genetics.

We don’t know exactly how old this breed is. However, artwork depicting spotted horses appears in prehistoric caves in Europe, so this coat pattern has likely existed for a very long time. In North America, the Nez Perce Indigenous people developed the breed into what we know it today.


Quick Facts about the Appaloosa Horse

Species Name: Equus ferus caballus
Family: Equidae
Care Level: Moderate
Temperament: Varies
Color Form: Spotted patterns
Lifespan: About 30 years
Size: 14.2 to 16 hands; 1000 to 1100 pounds
Diet: Grasses, Hay, Commercial Feeds

Appaloosa Horse Overview

This horse breed is best known for its spotted coat. However, not all Appaloosa horses have heavily spotted coats. Some have a few spots, while others have hardly any spots at all. There are a lot of genetic variables involved, so it can vary quite a bit from horse to horse. All of the Appaloosa’s spotted patterns are collectively known as the leopard-complex, as they all carry at least one allele of the dominant leopard-complex gene.

There are many examples of spotted horses throughout history. However, the Appaloosa breed was explicitly developed by the Nez Perce people. They had strict breeding practices, which helped create a colorful and intelligent horse.

The breed’s name comes from the Palouse River, where the Nez Perce people lived. At first, the breed was called the Palouse horse, but then the name developed into Appaloosa. During the 1870s, this breed was pushed towards extinction as the Native Americans began losing their land. Many horses were stolen, lost, or killed.

The breed began to be revived in the 1930s. The Appaloosa Horse Club was created in 1938 for a breed registry. Since then, it has become the largest breed registry in the world.

How Much Do Appaloosa Horses Cost?

Appaloosa horses can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000. It depends on the quality of the horse, as well as the amount of training it has. Appaloosa numbers are on the rise, so it isn’t challenging to find a suitable horse.

Those with more striking patterns can be more expensive, while those with minimal spotting are often cheaper. However, this isn’t necessarily always the case. Training, age, and pedigree can all play a significant role in the price.

You may be tempted to purchase a cheaper horse since the prices vary so widely. However, more expensive horses are usually more expensive for a reason. If you’re looking for a quality horse, you should plan on spending a bit of money.

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Typical Behavior & Temperament

The temperament and behavior of these horses can vary. They are centered around their unusual coat pattern but vary wildly in their behavior and demeanor. Still, most of these horses are pretty trustworthy. They tend to excel with people and are very owner-oriented. They like their people and tend to want to please them.

Appaloosa in the meadow
Image Credit: Seaq68, Pixabay

The Appaloosa is often a calm horse. They’re gentle and respectful in most of their human relationships. However, they can be stubborn and aggressive if they feel like they’ve been mistreated.

Most of these horses have high levels of stamina and strength. They make good riding horses and can be taught a variety of tasks. They’re versatile. This breed can be found herding cattle, entering jumping competitions, and racing.

How exactly the horse is bred does matter. Some of these horses are bred for racing, which often means that they have higher energy levels. Horses that are bred for working cattle are often calmer. Each horse is an individual.

Appearance & Varieties

The appearance of an Appaloosa is a complicated situation. There are many genetic variables that go into their unique, spotted appearance. Horse geneticists are studying them, but we do understand some things about how their genes work.

The Appaloosa’s spotted patterns are referred to on the whole as the “leopard-complex.” Often, the average appaloosa will have a distinctive, spotted coat pattern, mottled skin, and white sclera. These horses are a carrier of the LP gene.

However, not all horses with this gene will display a spotted pattern. Occasionally, these horses will appear to be completely solid in coloration. But, when you look at them closely, they may have vertically striped hooves, mottled skin, and other indications of the LP gene.

Horses with one LP gene are usually darker than those with two LP genes. However, this varies significantly from horse to horse.

Besides the spotted pattern, these horses can come in just about any color. The coat color of the Appaloosa is a combination of the base color and the spotting pattern. There are many different colors accepted by the Appaloosa Horse Club in the United States, including black, grey, chestnut, bay, buckskin, palomino, cremello or perlino, grulla, and dun.

appaloosa horse-pixabay
Image Credit: SoapWitch, Pixabay

While these horses are usually spotted, they can be solid-colored. A solid-colored horse often has a base color and spotted pattern that is the same color. Therefore, they may appear to be solid, though they genetically aren’t actually solid. Usually, you can tell that the horse still has the LP gene because it will have striped hooves and visible white sclera.

These horses change their pattern throughout their lives. The Appaloosa Horse Club encourages registering fowls early, even though you will be unable to tell their pattern later.

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How to Take Care of an Appaloosa Horse

This breed is relatively low-maintenance and does well as a pasture horse. They need similar care as most other horses. They prefer the ability to roam and interact with other horses. Even stalled horses need socialization and enrichment. They can’t just sit in a stall all day. These horses usually thrive best when allowed in the pasture as much as possible.

Of course, outside horses should have a safe shelter at all times. While horses can sleep standing up, this does not allow them to achieve REM sleep. Therefore, all horses will need to sleep laying down at least some of the time.

These horses tolerate cold much better than heat. They need plenty of water and minerals on hot days to maintain proper hydration. Offering them shade is important. In extremely cold weather, all that is usually necessary is a shelter where your horse can escape the rain and moisture. Waterproof blankets are also helpful.

These horses will need their hooves trimmed every 6-8 weeks. This depends on their activity level, environment, and body type. Some horses need shoes.

Their teeth are continuously growing as well. Uneven wear can lead to sharp points and edges. These can be painful and interfere with the horse’s ability to chew. A vet should check the horse’s teeth at least once a year, where they may need to be filed to become smoother.

appaloosa eating
Image Credit: Pixabay

Do Appaloosa Horses Get Along with Other Pets?

These horses are usually fine with all pets and other livestock. They are calmer horses that don’t spook too easily. They can make good cattle horses and get along fine with most animals that may be around your home, like dogs or cats.

In most cases, it isn’t so much your horse getting along with other animals. It’s the other animals getting along with your horse. You don’t want your large dogs chasing around your horse, for instance.


What to Feed Your Appaloosa Horse

An Appaloosa horse is designed to eat several meals throughout the day. They’re grazers, after all. Most horses should be eating grass and good-quality hay constantly. Clean and unfrozen water should also be available at all times. A salt block is also essential to help ensure your horse gets enough minerals.

A horse is usually pretty good at managing their own food intake. Constant access to grace and high-quality hay is preferable. An empty stomach leaves them at a higher risk of ulcers and other digestive problems. Therefore, it is best if they can eat a little bit very often.

Grain can be a useful supplement if you’re having trouble meeting your horse’s caloric needs. However, it is more calorie-dense, so it should be used sparingly. Foals should not be fed grain, as a “high-energy” diet can lead to bone and joint problems.

Change their diet slowly, as sudden switches can cause abdominal upset or laminitis, where the hoof bone separates from the hoof wall.

Keeping Your Appaloosa Horse Healthy

Appaloosa horse eating grass
Image Credit: rauschenberger, Pixabay

These horses are well-known for their health. They have been developed to be healthy and solid horses, which they are – most of the time. However, these horses are prone to a few health problems that can be quite serious.

For lighter-colored horses, sunburn is a possibility. This is especially true for horses that have a considerable section of the leopard pattern. Darker-colored horses usually aren’t at such a big risk. Usually, horses will get burnt on areas of pink skin, such as on their muzzle, lips, ears, and genitals. Even mottled grey skin can still get sunburned. Sunburns can lead to skin cancer, so prevention is essential.

Human sunscreen products are safe to use on Appaloosa horses as long as it is gentle enough to use around the eyes. Shelter and shade can also help prevent sunburns.

Night blindness can also be a problem for this breed. While this usually isn’t very serious, it can make the horse more prone to accidents at night since they can’t see. It is thought that the LP gene can cause night blindness, as it is only a problem in this specific breed of horses.

This tends to worsen as the horse ages, so you may not even notice a problem until the horse is a few years old. You will either need to stall your horse at night before it gets dark or arrange for them to have a seeing-eye horse.

Total blindness is also likely. Appaloosas are up to 8 times more likely to be completely blind when compared to other breeds. It is thought to be due to genetics, but the cause has not been heavily studied. They also seem more prone to developing equine recurrent uveitis, which also leads to blindness. This is also called “moon blindness.” Not all of the horses with this condition go blind, however.

Luckily, living with a blind horse isn’t much more different than living with a sighted one. Most horses adapt to their blindness quite quickly. They can still be used for riding and pulling carriages, especially if they are with other horses.


Breeding Appaloosas is not much different from breeding other horses. You should only breed healthy horses. Visiting a vet before you breed is preferable, as it will prevent you from potentially breeding horses with health problems.

A breeding soundness exam is preferable. This is used to identify and manage possible problems before breeding. You should then ensure that your horse is cycling correctly, as an improper cycle can make breeding difficult.

Many people try to get their mares pregnant in the winter or summer to have the foal early in the year. You’ll need to get your mare cycling to time with when you want to breed her. You should track your mare to figure out when she’s in heat and when she’s ovulating. They can only breed about 5-7 days every 21-day cycle.

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Are Appaloosas Suitable for You?

These horses are typically not extremely good at any one thing. Instead, they are sort of a horse-of-all-trades. They make decent riding horses but are versatile enough to perform a lot of jobs. Their personalities vary widely, though they are usually calm. What they were bred for matters.

If you’re looking for a beautiful horse, this is a reliable option. They’re also great options for hobby horse owners.

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Featured Image: sojourn-, Pixabay

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