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Breeding Appaloosa Horses
I’ve loved horses forever - or at least for as long as I can remember. I’ve owned, trained, shown, and handled several different horse breeds, but my two overall favorites are the quarter horse and the Appaloosa. Both breeds have a fascinating history, and many individual animals have excellent dispositions, conformation, and athleticism. When it comes to horse breeding, however, breeding Appaloosa horses is more fun, more surprising, and often more challenging. With some horse breeding programs, color isn’t important. It is with Appaloosas, though. I was very involved with horse breeding for several years. I was a small time horse breeder, keeping just a few mares. At first, I didn’t own a stud, so I had to pay for my mares to be bred. After that, my ex-husband and I started caring for and managing a registered Appaloosa stallion that had belonged to my ex-brother-in-law, so we had full access to the horse, along with year-long free stud service. In this article, I’m going to share my experiences with breeding Appaloosa horses, along with some horse pictures for you to enjoy.
Horse Breeder – owning a stud
Those just starting out with horse breeding will have to decide whether they want to keep their own stallion or pay for stud fees. Each scenario has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s discuss the disadvantages first. Most stallions are, by nature, very difficult to handle, especially for inexperienced horsemen. Generally speaking, sexually mature male horses that haven’t been gelded have one thing on their mind most of the time: breeding. The powerful instinct to breed can sometimes overshadow any training the horse has gone through, and this can become accutely evident when the stallion is in the presence of a mare in heat. I’m not saying this is always the case, however. The Appaloosa I mentioned earlier was an exception to the rule. He was a big leopard appy, named “Boss’s Spotted Adder.” He had been the Oklahoma State Cutting Horse Champion when he was younger, but by the time we got Boss, he was an old man and was somewhat swayback. He was still more than willing to sire foals, but he was amazingly gentle. Even when Boss was in his prime, the guys could work cattle all day on him and a blue roan mare we had named Juliette. Even when Juliette was in heat, you’d never know it by the way Boss acted – until the day’s work was over and the two were turned out to pasture together. Even very small kids could ride Boss bareback, with no problem. From my experience, however, stallions like Boss are rare.
Even if you find a gentle, easy-to-manage stud, you’re going to have to keep him up all year. He’ll require veterinary care, housing, exercise, grooming, feeding, and watering. He’ll go through a lot of feed and hay and a lot of your money. You’ll have to keep the stallion up for the entire year, even though you might actually need his “services” for just a few days in a twelve-month period. If you have a large number of mares, owning your own stallion might be a good idea, but if you own just a couple, you’d probably be better off to pay stud fees.
Another disadvantage to keeping your own stallion has to do with genetic diversity, which is usually a good thing. If you breed your mares to outside stallions, you’ll have a wide range of sires from which to choose. If you choose different stallions for different mares, the representative gene pool in your crop of foals will be much more diverse. This could be important should you decide to keep some of the fillies for your horse breeding program.
On the other hand, there are some advantages to owning a top quality stallion. You won’t have to watch so closely for when your mares come in season – the stud will let you know. You won’t have to load up your mares and haul them to a stud farm or purchase semen, either. You’ll have a stud ready and on call twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Mares don’t always “catch” with one or two breedings, either. When that happens, you’ll have to load the mare back up and take her to the stud again, unless you opt for leaving the mare at the stud farm for an extended period. When we were using Boss, he was kept in the pasture with the mares, and we just let nature take its course.
If your stallion is top quality, his services could provide you with extra income, too. Mare owners would pay his fees, plus you could earn more from boarding and caring for the mares while they're at your barn. Be sure, however, that you're set up for that responsibility and that you're willing to take it on.
Horse Breeding Contract
When you send your mare to a stud, you’ll need to have a detailed horse breeding contract. Believe me – many things can go wrong with what should be a simple, natural process. If you cover all the bases, written in black and white and signed by all involved parties, your chance of preventing future problems, questions, and issues will be increased dramatically.
A typical horse breeding contract includes the name of the stallion and mare, their registration numbers, their color, date of birth, and the names of the respective owners. The sires and dams of the breeding pair and their registration numbers are often included, too. Of course, the breeding fee and the season booked are also listed.
The number of heat cycles for which the mare will remain at the stud farm should be part of the contract. While there, the stud farm will be responsible for caring properly for the mare. This includes the amount and/or type of feed, hay, and any supplements fed each day. Housing, grooming, and turn-out options might also be discussed in the contract. Generally, the mare owner pays a daily fee for board. After breeding occurs during the first heat cycle, the mare is usually checked by a veterinarian to see whether or not she’s pregnant.
Most stud farms require certain certifications of health before a mare is allowed on their facilities. These will almost assuredly include evidence of a negative recent Coggins test, which is for the protection of the equines on the stud farm. Other health issues might also be included in a contract.
Some contracts also require than a mare owner sign a liability clause. In other words, if the mare becomes ill or injured, or is stolen while at the stud farm, the mare’s owner can’t hold the stud farm liable unless the issue was a result of neglect by any of the farm’s employees or by its owner.
A traditional horse breeding contract provides a live-foal guarantee to the mare owner. Generally, a “live foal” is one that is able to stand and nurse without assistance. If that doesn’t happen, the mare owner is usually given a return breeding with the same stallion.
I know this sounds like a lot of “legalese,” but it’s extremely important. It addresses many of the rights and responsibilities of the owners of both horses. If you have questions or concerns with a breeding contract that’s been presented to you, discuss it with your attorney before signing. It would help, of course, if the lawyer was familiar with horse breeding and the terminology used.
The Appaloosa is my favorite of all horse breeds. You’ve undoubtedly seen Appaloosas, often easily identifiable by their loud spotted coats. You can see some examples of this in the pictures of horses I’ve included. Not all Appaloosas, however, have spotted coats, and it isn’t just the coats that are spotted, either. In most cases, their skin is mottled, too. This is usually most noticeable on the muzzle, the anus, and the genitals. Most Appaloosa horses also have striped hooves and white eye sclera, the tough covering of the eyeball. To be registered with the Appaloosa Horse Club and receive regular papers, the horse must have a spotted or mottled coat OR mottled pigment of the skin, along with striped hooves OR white sclera. Some equines that don’t meet the requirements might still receive what’s called “non-characteristic registration.” Their registration number will be preceded by an “N,” indicating their classification with the registry.
There’s a huge range of colors and coat patterns among Appaloosas. An individual might be white with many darker spots, or with just a few spots. The horse might have a base coat in practically any color, with white spots, a white blanket, or a frost. There might be a pretty even mix of white hairs and darker hairs, resulting in a roan coat. The Appaloosa might have other markings, too, like stockings or socks on the legs, or a star, strip, or blaze on the face. By the way, no two Appaloosas are exactly alike in their coat coloring and markings.
One of the most sought after coat patterns is the leopard. Leopard Appaloosas have a white base coat with fairly evenly distributed darker spots over their entire body. Leopard Appaloosas with just a few spots are often referred to as “few spot leopards.”
Appaloosa horses aren’t just popular for their good looks. The breed is also known for its ruggedness, surefootedness, temperament, stamina, and athletic ability. Many of the ancestors of today’s Appaloosa horses were owned and bred by the Nez Perce Native Americans who lived in the rocky, mountainous Northwest. The tribe needed horses that could navigate such terrain and thrive on less-than-optimum food. Unlike most other groups of Native Americans, the Nez Perce used selective breeding in order to produce better mounts. They bred the best to the best and gelded less desirable stallions and traded off inferior mares.
Today’s Appaloosa horse can be seen in practically every horse-related venue. You might see them in racing, in the show ring, as mounts for children, in endurance competitions, or rounding up cattle. An Appaloosa might be just as comfortable in an English saddle as it is in a western saddle, and it might go from stadium jumping to pleasure riding with a smooth transition. All the appies we’ve had were great all around family horses.
Breeding Appaloosa Horses
Breeding Appaloosa horse is a lot of fun, but it can also be frustrating. No matter how well you plan, you never really know what a resulting foal will look like as far as color and coat pattern are concerned. It can be somewhat of a genetic “crapshoot.” I’ll give you a few examples from my experience as a horse breeder.
I’ve already explained that our stud, Boss, was a leopard. We bought Regal Rain, an Appy mare that was a champion reining and timed events horse. Regal had been born a blue roan, but as she aged, she turned almost white, with a few gray spots across her hip. Needless to say, we had high hopes for the breeding. Two athletic, champion parents that were both registered Appaloosas…what could go wrong? When Regal dropped her first foal, we were very disappointed. The little colt didn’t have a white hair on him. Sometimes appies will get white hairs, sometimes called “frost,” as they grow older, but the colt never did. We named him Boss’s Regal Raindancer and called him “Dancer,” for short. Even though he lacked color, he turned into a great horse.
Our second breeding of Boss was with a registered American Quarter Horse named “Poco Juanita.” She was a dark bay, with no white markings. The breeding resulted in a bay filly we called “Cupid.” When Cupid was just a few months old, she began to get some white hairs and eventually became a red roan. When Cupid reached breeding age, we bred her to a friend’s stud, an Appendix AQHA chestnut. The resulting foal was another roan.
When we bred Boss to a sorrel AQHA mare named Misty, we got a sorrel foal with a small white blanket over the hip. Later, we bred a Paintaloosa mare to a solid black AQHA stud and got another bay filly. Like Cupid, however, Wind Dancer attained a lot of white hairs mixed in with the dark red hairs, resulting in a frost or red roan coat.
Our biggest disappointment was with Regal’s second foal. The mare was bred to Boss again, but the foal was born dead. The little colt was one of the most beautiful horses I’ve ever seen – before or since the sad event. He had a snow-white body, with black spots scattered over his rump. His legs were black – all the way from the hooves to where the legs joined the body. The head and neck were black, too. Had he survived, we would definitely have kept him for breeding purposes.
I’m not a biologist or a geneticist, but I have read a lot about breeding Appaloosa horses, and obviously, I have a little firsthand experience. The coat pattern of the Appaloosa is based on something called “the leopard complex mutation,” or Lp, for short. Such a mutation is ancient in horses, and drawings of spotted horses have been discovered on the walls of caves.
The Lp gene is dominant, but it’s incomplete. That one gene determines whether a horse will have a spotted coat or not, although other genes come into play, too. Some genes enhance the Lp gene, resulting in more white hairs and more mottled skin. Other genes can have the opposite effect by restricting and lessening the occurrence of white. This sounds fairly simple, but wait – it gets more complicated.
There are homozygous Appaloosas and heterozygous Appaloosas. A homozygous Appy is one who inherited the Lp gene from both parents. A heterozygous horse has inherited the Lp gene from only one parent. According to research, a homozygous Appaloosa will always produce a foal with Appy color or other traits, no matter what color or breed it’s been bred with. There’s no guarantee, however, on the amount of color or the pattern of white hairs. Among the foals, all will be heterozygous.
What happens when two heterozygous Appaloosa horses mate? When a heterozygous stallion and a heterozygous mare mate, and both horses have spots, about half the foals will be spotted, according to the odds. The resulting foals will have a 25% chance of being homozygous, but they’ll also have the same chance of having no white markings at all. That explains the solid foals we had when we were breeding Appaloosa horses.
Pictures of Horses
I’ve included several horse pictures here. Several different Appaloosa coat patterns are displayed, which should help you understand the wide range of colors and patterns. I’ve also included some photographs of other breeds, just for your enjoyment. Some of these horses belonged to us, some belong to friends, and some came from a photo site of which I’m a member. Some of the photos of our horse are old and had to be scanned, so please excuse their lack of sharpness. I'm going through boxes of old photographs, and I hope to be adding more horse pictures soon, so check back!