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A splash of color, a dash of attitude and a rainbow of gaits
By Rhonda Hart Poe
For those who know the Appaloosa as a "spotted Quarter Horse,"a little history about the breed might come as a surprise.
Originating in an area known as "the Palouse" - a region taking up roughly half of inland Oregon and Washington state, the Appaloosa horse has been historically credited to selective breeding by the Nez Perce and Shoshone Indians of the region. They bred for hardiness, stamina, courage (both in battle and in the hunt) and curiously - color. Lots of it. Legend tells that the Indians staged occasional raids into California and northern Mexico to acquire horses, often targeting the most outrageously patterned individuals. And bringing home Spanish bloodlines, many of them gaited, in the process.
The blending of color and gait, combined with the relative isolation of the population, soon led to a distinctive type: hardy, quick, dry and smallish by today's standards, fleet and smooth gaited, with a range of distinctive spotted coat patterns.
The horses became sought after, not only for their flamboyant looks - something akin to a cowboy Corvette - but also for their smooth, rolling gaits - referred to simply as the Indian shuffle, or Appaloosa shuffle. The story is often repeated that in a time when the average horse brought as little as $2, a good Appaloosa shuffler could fetch $50!
The Appaloosa horse had been a distinct breed for over a hundred years by the time a registry was formed in 1938 to trace and protect the bloodlines. At that time, no distinction was made between the many gaited "Appys" and non-gaited, and over the years, emphasis on stock horse performance, and Quarter Horse influence, all but erased the gait that had been so carefully bred into the horses.
The earliest recorded registration of a Walkaloosa was from 1965. The Walkaloosa Horse Association, once centered in the town of Otis Orchards, Washington, was purchased and moved in 1999 to Los Osos, California, by Pem Meyer, a lifelong horsewoman whose story parallels that of many who discover gaited horses. A neck injury from a car accident had left her unable to ride without pain. After 10 years she had all but given up on riding when a friend introduced her to gaited horses. She fell in love with certain lines and decided "on the spot" that she wanted to breed horses and protect the bloodlines of her favorites. That decision found her investing her money and time into both the Walkaloosa Horse Association and the North American Single-footing Horse Association (NASHA).
The Walkaloosa Horse Association maintains records of horses of both Appaloosa coloring and/or heritage and smooth saddle gait. "Horses don't have to be show horses to be registered," comments Association Secretary, Lee Waddle. "We provide recognition for the working class horse, as well as the luxury models."
Though the combination of color and gait is the ideal, horses of Walkaloosa breeding that do not exhibit one or the other trait at registration time are registered with an ID or Breeding Stock number, because gait often develops as a horse matures, or may be passed along to offspring, and color... well, Appaloosa color just does its own thing! If they do develop gait and/or color that is later acknowledged on the papers.
Says Lee, "We have made a lot of changes since acquiring the registry and are very proud of it. We make sure papers are returned in good shape and as quickly as possible." She adds that there are no membership fees and that once someone registers a horse, they are automatically placed on the Walkaloosa Horse Association mailing list and receive the Association's Newsletter, a quarterly publication that includes current stories about members and their Walkaloosa Horses, horses for sale, new registrations, transfer of titles, stallions available, etc.
To be eligible for registration horses must meet one of these qualifications:
- Be the product of a registered Walkaloosa stallion and mare;
- Exhibit Appaloosa coloring and demonstrate an intermediate gait - other than a trot; or
- Be the product of verifiable Appaloosa and gaited horse blood, for example a Appaloosa dam and a Paso Fino sire.
Contrary to popular assumption, horses do not have to be of Walking Horse descent. "Any combination of naturally gaited horse and Appaloosa coloring qualifies," Lee explains. Accepted gaits include Fox Trot, Running Walk, Rack, and Stepping Pace, basically any smooth saddle gait between a trot and a pace.
Because the registry is open to so many backgrounds of gaited horses, Walkaloosas come in many types. But the combination of colorful coat and smooth, natural gait is what makes them unique. "We look for color and gait," says Lee, "The complete pedigree is not necessary to register a horse, but it looks better on the certificate. Send nice pictures, as a color photo of your horse appears on the front of the registration papers."
Other characteristics to look for include large, kind, spaced eyes, a straight to slightly dished profile and a fine muzzle with mottled skin around the eyes and muzzle. The neck should be medium to long with a well-defined throatlatch, slightly arched and well set on the shoulders. Look for good depth through the heart girth, a moderately wide, well-muscled chest, well-defined withers, sloping shoulders and a relatively short, strong back. The croup should be slightly sloping, the hip long, and legs straight, clean and flat boned with good substance. Hooves should be striped and hard. Horses can range from 13 to 17 hands with 14.2 to 15.3 hands, 600 to 1,300 pounds being the most common range. Horses should show a kind disposition and willingness to work and learn as the Walkaloosa is meant to be an outstanding pleasure/trail mount, but also a working field trial, cattle or show horse.
For more information contact:
Walkaloosa Horse Association
2995 Clark Valley Road
Los Osos, CA 93402
Phone: (805) 528-7308
Fax: (805) 528-3128
Or visit: www.WalkaloosaRegistry.com