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Extinction by NAIS


Windt im Wald Farm
Geauga County, Northeast Ohio
since 1995

The Appaloosa Horse

Some 20,000 years ago an unknown French cave dweller entertained himself by painting a brown horse with a white blanket on its hip. Inside the blanket, the artist painted lots of brown spots. In China and in parts of Asia there are ancient paintings of horses with leopard-like spots all over their bodies. What do these two facts have in common and what on earth do they have to do with the Appaloosa Horse, a thoroughly American breed? They lend some credibility to the idea that the forerunners of the Appaloosa breed originated in the long ago, dim, misty past near a land bridge off the coast of Alaska that joined Europe and Asia to North America and migrated to western Europe.

Nevertheless, the first horses in North America were those brought to Mexico by the Spanish explorers. Many of these Spanish horses escaped, breeding on in the wild. These descendants of Spanish horses managed to migrate in the 1700s to the Northwest area of North America now occupied by Washington, Oregon, Montana, and northern Idaho. When Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition reached the Palouse River in northern Idaho, he wrote in his diary in 1806 that some of the horses belonging to the Nez Perce Indians had "large spots of white irregularly scattered and intermixed with black, brown, bay or some other color." At first, these spotted horses were called A Palousey, then Appalousey. Finally, the name APPALOOSA became identified with the Nez Perce horse-breeding program.

The Nez Perce engaged in a very thoughtful, selective breeding program that allowed them to develop a combination warhorse, racehorse, hunting horse, and endurance mount. They gelded stallions and culled mares that they considered less than perfect. The spotted horses that resulted from this careful program were characterized by hooves with a vertically striped white/dark pattern, pink skin around their eyes and muzzle, and a white ring around the eye. Color patterns varied greatly. Spots could cover the hips, the back, or over the entire body. A so-called "blanket" over the hip could be white, white with dark spots, or dark with white spots. It was also possible for the spots to occur in black, chestnut, or bay all over the body in a leopard pattern. Unlike today's Pinto horses, who always must have at least one spotted parent, the Nez Perce spotted horses might be the offspring of two solid-colored parents.

Tragically for the Nez Perce and their wondrous horses, more and more non-Indian settlers moved into the Palouse River area. Soon there were many conflicts resulting from the newcomers' thirst for Nez Perce land and disregard for both the tribe and their horses. After the Nez Perce War of 1877, the Nez Perce tribe and some 200 of their Appaloosa horses unsuccessfully tried to reach Canada to find peace and sanctuary, but there was to be no happy ending. The United States government confiscated some of the remaining Appaloosa horses, but the United States Cavalry, in one of the most shameful periods of its history, destroyed so many spotted horses that the Appaloosa as a breed was brought to extinction.

It wasn't until the 1930s that horses with Appaloosa markings started to attract attention at rodeos in the western portion of the United States. Unfortunately, these spotted horses were no longer the Nez Perce horses, but the result of breeding Quarter Horses and other breeds to produce horses with Appy coloring. Some of the more famous examples of this new Appaloosa were Wapiti, Red Eagle, and Bright Zip.

Wapiti, the offspring of the Quarter Horse stallion named Gold Heels and the Quarter Horse mare named Cuadroom, was a registered Quarter Horse, but he was an Appaloosa because he carried a spotted blanket over his hips, the result of roaning patterns that showed up in his dam, granddam, and great-granddam. At his death in 1979, Wapiti had sired 218 registered Quarter Horse offspring, many of them Appaloosa as well.

Red Eagle, sired in 1946, was the product of a mating between a purebred chestnut Arabian stallion named Ferras and a registered Appaloosa mare who was herself a granddaughter of Ferras. Thus, Red Eagle, though a registered Appaloosa, possessed over 50% Arabian blood. With one purebred Arabian parent, he was actually a Half Arabian/ Red Eagle was purchased by actor John Derek for use in a movie that never came to be made. Later he was purchased by Thomas Clay, for whom he sired 81 registered Appaloosa foals, including American Eagle and Red Eagle's Peacock, before he died in 1971.

Perhaps the most famous Appaloosa of them all has been Bright Zip, loved and admired by thousands of fans of horse trainer and clinician John Lyons. Millions of people have seen Zip in videotapes and in magazine and newspaper articles written by John Lyons. Many of those millions have been fortunate enough to see Zip in person or even touch him at Equine Affaire. Bright Zip, foaled on April 25, 1975, became even more respected after he lost his eyesight due to an allergy from a medication but still performed gamely and loyally by John Lyons' side almost until the very end in 2003.

Although the modern Appaloosa breed has become both famous and popular, it is critically important to remember the tragedy that befell the Nez Perce breeding program because of reckless lack of respect for the original Appaloosa. Without preservationist breeders to preserve the original Palouse horse, bloodlines were lost for good. The lesson for today is that in every breed of horses certain bloodlines are so rare that they are close to being extinct. Preservationist breeding practices to prevent the loss of certain bloodlines or even breeds may be the only way to prevent the kind of tragedy that ended the Nez Perce breeding program forever.

Diane Jones
Windt im Wald Farm


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