Exotic Smooth Ride

The Appaloosa Patterned Gaited Horse (APGH) is not a new breed but one which was lost in time. Four registries currently represent these horses under certain specifics but the threads that tie them together are striking coat patterns and a smooth ride. These registries are all less then 26 years old, however historical evidence, established through a multitude of examples in art, show appaloosa patterns existed since ancient times. 11th Century artwork of Spain, France and Central Europe depicts APGH’s carrying saints or nobles and the period writings typically document a smooth riding horse.


The affluent rode horses, as carriages were not prevalent, and nobility desired an easy gaited, gentle natured horse. Horses that were striking in appearance were in demand thus the APGH came into vogue. As there was no word for ‘leopard’ in Spanish, it was common to describe all cats with striking patterns as tigers. The use carried over to describe the appaloosa patterns seen in horses and the term Tiger Horse.

Horses of the 1500’s nobility showed strong influences from Spain and were known as Spanish Jennets. The Jennet emerged as a gaited mount of historic record. It came in solid, appaloosa pattern and pinto pattern. The term ‘Jennet’ derives from à la jineta, which refers to the ‘balanced seat’ style of riding. Posting (rising to the trot) was not invented until the mid-1700s. Desire for comfort drove breeding to focus on a smooth gait which could be maintained over great distances.

The original Spanish Jennet disappeared due to the change of preferences in the nobility to carriages. The fashionable horse became solid in colour, to work in harness as a matched team. In addition, the development of haute école (later becoming dressage) in the 16th century, and the popularity of horse racing caused ‘ambling’ or gaited horses to phase out of European breeding. In Europe, the natural APGH was lost.


Trotting and ambling versions of appaloosa patterned horses spread to the New World and became a favourite of America’s Indians.  The word ‘appaloosa’ originates from spotted horses bred by the Nez Perce Indians,referred to as ‘A Palouse Horse,’ due to their proximity to the Palouse River. In 1937 a Western Horseman article entitled ‘The Appaloosa, or Palouse Horse,’ stimulated interest in these distinctive horses. The name appaloosa became adopted worldwide to describe spotted horses.

Usually, in print, Appaloosa refers to the breed, and appaloosa (lower case ‘a’) to the distinctive patterns.  Modern Appaloosa breeders bred away from gaited animals. The Walkaloosa Horse Association, Tiger Horse Association, Tiger Horse Registry, and Spanish Jennet Horse Society all came into existence to preserve gaited individuals and once more give equestrians the choice of a spotted, smooth ride. All four groups seek to establish the APGH as a breed of record.


The genetics involved in creating a horse with the appaloosa pattern and characteristics is an ongoing study although the Appaloosa Project (www.appaloosaproject.info) is making good headway with some genetically verifiable results. Two copies of each gene determine inheritance of a trait. If there is a mutation of one copy the individual will be heterozygous displaying the trait but transmitting it only 50 per cent of the time. So, if both copies of a gene are mutated, then that individual is homozygous in genotype and will always transmit the trait but will lack spots.

Exhibition of appaloosa pattern, as shown by the latest research, requires the inheritance of at least two factors. These are LP and PATN1. The APGH exhibiting spots, leopard pattern or blanket pattern are heterozygous and only transmit the LP trait 50% of the time. A few spot or snow cap APGH will not display spots, yet this is the horse homozygous in genotype for LP. The APGH’s rebirth is still in early stages and horses homozygous in genotype for LP with generations of gaited bloodlines are about as rare as hen’s teeth. From here, it becomes even more complicated.

The PATN1 is the trait that recent research indicates ‘turns on’ the LP. If a horse does not inherit PATN1, it may have the genetics for appaloosa colour, but will not exhibit the patterns associated with the characteristics (i.e. no blanket or spots will show in the coat). Then appaloosa roaning comes into play, as as well as suppression of PATN1 by other inherited factors. Do you have a headache yet?!



Today the APGH is used for endurance, trail  riding, cow work, showing and in many other disciplines. As a rule they are extremely athletic with tremendous strength and heart, and are people oriented by nature. They range in height from 13.2hh – 16hh and sport a range of base coat colours. If these unique horses appeal to you, where do you go from here? The multiple registries can be confusing when it comes to selecting an APGH, so break it down to very simple components.

If you are purchasing a horse only to ride, bloodlines are of very little consequences - after all, you do not ride papers! On the other hand, to begin as a breeder of APGH, the gaited portion of the pedigree is of paramount importance. Only generations of strong gaited bloodlines can assure consistent transmission of gait. The internet makes the search for this unusual horse simpler, but often the APGH is located at a vast distance from the purchaser. As a facet of supply and demand, the quality APGH will command a premium price.


To produce a well gaited foal with appaloosa colouring requires first and foremost that the prospective parents have the ability to transmit gait. After all, without the gait, these are really no different then your usual appaloosa. Generations of gaited horses in the prospective horse’s pedigree are necessary. The recreation of the APGH required the mating of patterned animals, often not gaited or minimally gaited, to non patterned, gaited animals to produce the desired pattern on a gaited horse. Unless you have vast knowledge in what conformations predisposition an animal for gait, this is a process that can and does loose gait in the first generation. Embarking on the first generation cross is not for the faint of heart.

The advantage of purchasing mares and stallions, first and second generation (or even third where available) who show gait and exhibit appaloosa pattern is obvious. The breeders of APGH have many challenges to produce quality, smooth riding horses with beautiful patterns. There are rewards too. In every breed of horses, there are the foundation horses, the sires and dams that help stamp future generations to become recognisable as a specific breed. The original APGH foundation horses were lost in history however, with the advent of the registries; today’s breeders have the unique opportunity to become part of this exotic horse’s new history. There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing the animal you produce could be one of these foundation sires or dams. Then, there is the pleasure of looking out in a field, where foals with unique appaloosa patterns gait beside their dams.


  • View multiple videos of the horse gaiting, with light rein contact and without artificial aids such as shooing for gait

  • Look for ‘thread’ in gait. Thread is the range of speed an APGH can sustain smooth gait. Often reaching gait speeds close to or at the speed of a canter. A horse that can only gait just above the speed of a walk is not as strongly gaited as the horse with good thread

  • The APGH should display a level of pattern that you are happy with as it is. Low patterned APGH will continue to ‘grow spots’ as they mature, but there is no guarantee that the animal will progress to a pattern that you like. Lower patterned APGH will not command as high a price and, if you are willing to wait, you can save some money in purchasing the APGH that has yet to mature enough to complete its final patterning

  • Get a gelding. A gelding’s value is determined by level of colour, training and quality of gait, but you don’t pay the additional cost for reproductive capabilities that you do not intend to use


  • Seek as many generations of verifiable gaited horses from full-blooded gaited stock as possible. At the very least, solid

  • horses in the pedigree should be registered gaited horses

  • Select bold patterns to increase the potential of strong inheritance of PATN1

  • Look for homozygous appaloosa pattern but do not sacrifice generations of gaited bloodlines for it

For more on the APGH visit www.atigradoacres.com