The Appaloosa is one of the fastest horse breeds in the world, reaching top speeds of up to 41mph! To put that in perspective, famously known Thoroughbreds which are admired for their lean physique and whom are commonly attached to the sport of horse racing can reach speeds of 44mph!
So what is the story with these speedy horses? If you’re in the racing industry, are you swapping out Seabiscuit for one of these leopard-spotted race cars?
Continue reading to discover the Appaloosa breed!
1. An Appa-What? Appaloosa Breed Explained
If you’ve never heard of this horse, you’ve probably never seen one – and you’re probably not alone. This type of horse is very unique and once you see one, you will probably never forget the name!
This type of horse has a very distinct pattern on their coat which is what they are commonly known for (although not every horse of this breed has this unique coloring). Their spotting pattern resembles a cross between leopard spots and Dalmatian spots. Not only is their coat unique, they can often times continue this theme of design dark stripes through their hoof walls. They can come in all kinds of colors including but not limited to chestnut, bay, buckskin, grey and black. (Source)
The horses that do not have the distinct spotted pattern can still be registered if they have mottled skin plus another characteristic of the breed excluding the full spotted coat such as striped hooves or visible whites of their eyes (sclera). There are some horses of different breeds that also may have these qualities, but the combination of these characteristics is what defines the breeds and allows them to be registered – if the breeder or owner chooses.
2. Thoroughbreds Aren’t the Only Race Horses
Commonly when we think of race horses, the first breed to come to mind are the thoroughbreds we see lined up at the in gate of famous horse races like the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
However, The Nez Perce people (federally recognized tribe in modern day north-central Idaho) bred Appaloosa horses specifically to be speedy. In general however, the modern day Appaloosa is better known for overall athletic ability and their ability to be extremely versatile. It would be rare to see an Appaloosa at the Kentucky Derby, however you may just find one at some quarter horse races! These horses are trained and conditioned to use their genetic abilities to the fullest.
3. Not Every Appaloosa is Fast
Are all Appaloosa horses fast? This is a great question that I’ve actually thought a lot about. A few years ago I had a thoroughbred (again bred to race and be fast) who was about 17 years old and was anything but speedy. He was the slowest horse out there, and commonly I joked about it taking longer for him to walk out to the ring than it took to ride him. Every once and a while, the old man would surprise me and pick up some speed out in the the field, but that was about it! Much like my sluggish thoroughbred who had no ideas of hitting the race track, Appaloosa horses can be similar.
So, not every Appaloosa is fast and often times only certain horses that have potential to race are selected to be trained to be race horses. The Appaloosa horses that don’t have the natural speed are often times trained for other disciplines.
4. How Appaloosa Horses Were Bred to be Fast
Much like the breeding of all animals, we tend to breed the animals with the most desirable traits. For example, if a dog has very bad hip dysplasia (a common and undesirable condition seen in golden retrievers, labradors, and a few other large breed dogs) – those dogs are not selected for the breeding process. This is a pretty simple process if you’re a breeder and you have your selection of proper animals to keep the blood line healthy and desirable.
But what about the Nez Perce? Well similarly they prevented their horses from mating freely. Instead, they selected the horses who had undesirable traits and gelded them (which makes them sterile, and unable to impregnate female horses). In contrast, horses that proved to be healthy, fast, and bold in design were bred. The Nez Perce would often race horses against each other to see which were the best for hunting purposes. Eventually, this lead to the quicker and more athletic horses to be reproducing and creating a powerful and speedy lineage. If certain horses were strong and sturdy but not necessarily fast, they were still used for other purposes and often times were bred with fast mates for the perfect combination of traits. (Source)
5. Just Because You Don’t Want to Race, Doesn’t Mean You Should Not Own a Appaloosa
This breed of horse is extremely versatile and has really shown success in multiple disciplines including long distance and endurance riding, working cattle, ranch work, dressage, jumping and a lot in between. This may be a great breed of horse for someone who wants to do a little bit of everything. (Source)
However, this breed of horse can be anywhere from 14 to 16 hands (Source). For most people, this isn’t a problem. If you’re someone who may be on the taller side, you may slow your horse down with your feet dragging on the ground. In contrast, their speedy thoroughbred counter part can be anywhere from 15 to over 17 hands. This could be a huge difference in your selection process! Now this is strictly talking about full blooded and bred Appaloosa horses. If you happen to come across a horse that has appaloosa blood, but potentially has a mix of a taller breed as well – you may be golden! There are a lot of factors that go into buying a horse and sometimes even if you have your heart set on a breed – it may not be the right choice (or size) in the long run!
6. Undesirable Qualities of an Appaloosa Race Horse
Despite all these wonderful qualities, these horses are not the absolute perfect breed. One of the down falls of this breed is that these horses are an increased risk for developing Equine Recurrent Uveitis. This is an acute inflammation of the uveal tract of the eye. Symptoms of this inflammation include eye pain, photophobia (sensitivity to light) and potentially blindness. These symptoms can completely put an end to a horse’s racing and riding career.
This breed of horse is also at an increased risk of Congenital Stationary Night Blindness. Horses with this condition are usually symptomatic in low light situations like walking into a dark stall, or into a dimly lit wash stall, etc. That being said, this condition may not be too bothersome unless you’re riding in the evening hours or your indoor ring is poorly lit. (Source)
7. Popularity of Appaloosas for Racing and Riding
Appaloosa horses in general are quite numerous and used for a multitude of sports. The amount of registered Appaloosa horses currently is the third largest registery in the world, the top/largest registry being the American Quarter Horse Association. The registry does has some restrictions to which horses are eligible for registration ie: horses can only be within a certain range of height. This may have stopped this registry from being even larger!
These horses have been bred since their existence to be strong, sturdy and ready to work. Overtime, certain bloodlines have been bred specifically for certain ”jobs” like racing or ranch work. This has created a large amount of diversity within the breed as some of the ranch horses may have a stockier quarter horse like build than ones bred for racing.
Appaloosa horses can be extremely useful for all horseman (and women). It is true that these horses were bred to be strong and fast!
Despite some of their genetic flaws and health issues, they can be great working horses, show prospects and yes – race horses. If all else fails, most of them are just fun-looking and a good conversation starter!
Appaloosa Horse Breed. The Oregon Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2021, from https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/appaloosa_horse_breed/#.YbZxsy9OmfA.
Appaloosa Horse characteristics. Appaloosa horses. (2017, November 20). Retrieved December 12, 2021, from http://www.appaloosamuseum.org/appaloosa-horse-characteristics/.
Appaloosa. Horse Canada. (2021, October 20). Retrieved December 12, 2021, from https://horse-canada.com/breeds/appaloosa/amp/.