Ancient cave paintings tell us that our ancestors had a fascination with spotted horses. These colourful equines clearly carried a special significance in historical cultures. It seems that graceful animals with unique markings have always captured the popular imagination.
Taking a stroll through history, our guide will journey through Europe, the British Isles, and the Americas to admire some of the stunning spotted coats that are still treasured today.
There are more than a dozen great spotted horse breeds. Let’s look at nine of the most popular – imagine saddling up and taking a fun canter with each of these amazing horses.
The Appaloosa is possibly the most beloved of all spotted horse breeds. Not all Appaloosas have spotted markings, though. No matter; we’ll turn our attention to the leopard and blanket coat patterns that make this magnificent animal stand out in all its spotted glory.
- An Appaloosa horse with a leopard coat has distinct spots spread across the entire body, right down to the hooves. The spots vary in size, shape, and density, and often appear on a white or light-coloured base coat.
- With a Blanket Appaloosa, most of the horse’s coat is a dark colour (bay and black, or even dun and chestnut). The back of the horse features a lighter area or a white patch. This area, which resembles a blanket, is where the spots are scattered.
You will often see a “halo” around the spots, made up of a fine layer of white hair. The breed has a pale sclera (white of the eyes) that makes its eyes more closely resemble those of humans.
The Native American Nez Perce people developed the American Appaloosa breed in the 1700s, and this animal has captivated horse lovers ever since.
The state of Idaho adopted the Appaloosa as their state horse in 1975, and the Appaloosa Horse Club is dedicated to preserving and promoting the breed. Appaloosa bloodlines have influenced several other horse breeds.
Riding an Appaloosa
Height: 14.2 – 16.2 hands
Hardy, strong, agile, and intelligent – this most famous of spotted breeds is no prima-donna. Appaloosa horses muck in wherever they can – from rodeo and ranch work to jumping and endurance events. They also make super family horses.
Most are easy-going by nature, but don’t be surprised to encounter a stubborn, strong-willed streak (ok, maybe a wee hint of the prima donna then!). That said, trail riding with an Appaloosa is surely a bucket-list item.
British Spotted Pony
The British Spotted Pony is an eye-catching charmer native to the British Isles. These ponies are relatively rare, which makes them even more cherished.
Spotting patterns vary widely within the breed. Dark spots on a white coat is the most common. You will also see the snowflake, which is the reverse of this- white spots on a dark base. Some ponies have the leopard pattern while others display the spotted blanket.
The British Spotted Pony is also characterised by white around the eyes and striped hooves. Mottled skin is not uncommon.
Riding a British Spotted Pony
Height: 8 – 14.2 hands
This pony has a sweet and friendly nature; often coupled with a mischievous sense of humour. It makes the most delightful companion. There is a Miniature British Spotted Pony measuring less than 42 inches, which makes it perfect for children learning how to ride.
Nez Perce Horse
We can thank the proud equestrian Nez Perce people for bringing us not only the Appaloosa, but a second spotted horse as a bonus!
The Nez Perce Horse is one of the youngest of our favourite spotted horses. The registry programme began in 1995, when four Akhal-Teke stallions were crossed with Appaloosas. The result: a unique breed of horse called the Nez Perce.
This welcome addition to the spotted horse family frequently features palomino or buckskin coats. They also proudly display the typical Appaloosa spotted coat or blanket.
Riding a Nez Perce Horse
Height: 15 – 16 hands
The Nez Perce Horse breed is lean and leggy, with a good turn of speed. They make confident jumpers and have more than their fair share of endurance. Whether navigating a trail or performing in the show ring, they’re versatile and comfortable to ride.
The Nez Perce Horse was bred to be a strong and capable athlete. The horses are often gaited, with a fast and smooth running walk.
Originating in Denmark, the Knabstrupper horse is one of the most prized spotted breeds in the world. In their over 200-year history, Knabstruppers have faced extinction at times, but periodic breeding with Appaloosas has helped to preserve these lovely spotted horses.
Some Knabstruppers have pale sclera, and many step out in light-coloured or striped hooves.
Riding a Knabstrupper
Height: 15 – 16 hands
The Danish delight is much loved across a range of disciplines, from dressage to show-jumping to carriage. They’re super-trainable and great for general riding, though they are known to have a majestic and lively side that may challenge learner riders.
The Colorado Ranger is a striking horse originating in the Colorado High Plains. The breed was officially registered in 1935 with the Colorado Ranger Horse Association.
Its eye-catching colouration comes from breeding local ranch horses, including Appaloosas, with imported Turkish stallions. In recent years there has been an increased focus on achieving the desirable leopard-spotting. Many Colorado Rangers are solid-coloured horses – spotted and solid are all welcome in this breed.
Riding a Colorado Ranger
Height: 14.2 – 16 hands
A versatile medium-sized breed that makes a good all-around family horse, Colorado Rangers are happy on the trail and the field. Colorado Rangers are staples of endurance events and are also widely and productively used as ranch horses.
Pony Of The Americas
While some of our favourite spotted breeds are centuries old, the Pony of the Americas has its origin in the American state of Iowa in the 1950s.
This pony shows off coat patterns similar to the spots and blankets of the Appaloosa. This is unsurprising, since the foundation sire was an Appaloosa-Shetland Pony-Arabian cross. I bet a few cowboys would have cried into their beers if no spots came out of the breeding.
Riding a Pony of the Americas
Height: 11.2 – 14 hands
These ponies are quick learners with willing and pleasant attitudes. They are good jumpers too, and their Arab blood makes them quite the “little-engine-that-can” in endurance riding contests.
The pony was originally bred for Western riding, including a class of competition where the horse is judged on its smooth gaits, lead changes, responsiveness to the rider, manners, and disposition. Classy pedigree indeed.
American Paint Horse
The American Paint Horse is a wonderful breed defined by its coat pattern of large patches of white, mixed with any other solid coat colour. The patterning is described as pinto; “splashes” of colour as opposed to the leopard-like pattern of many other spotted breeds.
These “slap-happy painter” patches come in various shapes and sizes – irregular, scattered, symmetrical or round. The solid colours of the Paint Horse are usually darker shades, like black, brown, sorrel, and sometimes chestnut.
Riding an American Paint Horse
Height: 14.5 – 16 hands
These equines have a calm and friendly temperament. Match that with their athletic abilities in events like roping, reining, and Western Pleasure (where the horse is judged on how pleasing it is to watch and ride), and you are sure to find the American Paint Horse a terrific partner for galloping into the sunset.
The Tiger Horse is one of the most intriguing of the spotted horses. The Tiger Horse breed is still relatively new and being further developed. The origin story of this rare gaited horse breed suggests its ancestors include the leopard-spotted Chinese Soulon and the gaited Spanish Jennet.
Riding a Tiger Horse
Height: 13 – 16 hands
Tiger Horses are known for their comfortable four-beat gait called the “shuffle.” Both breed registries, Tigre and The Tiger Horse Association, place emphasis on smooth, even-timed gaits. They are popular trail riding mounts.
The breed is considered a good ranch horse, but also performs well in distance riding and show-ring events.
Miniature Horse Breeds
Miniature horses are cuter, tinier versions of normal horse breeds. As such, they exhibit the same wonderful palette of colours, coat patterns, and characteristics as their larger counterparts.
Some exquisite spotted and patterned coats and colourings are seen adorning these “mini-me” versions.
Miniature horses were originally pets and companions in the courts of European nobility. In later years they were used to work in mines with Shetland ponies.
Riding a miniature horse
Height: 34 – 38 inches
These mini horses were specifically bred to be gentle with children. They usually have a kind nature, and can be a real treat for a “mini person” to ride. A word of caution: due to their small stature, they shouldn’t be saddled with a weight exceeding 20% of their own weight. For example, a 250-pound horse should carry a 50-pound child, and no more.
A miniature horse makes a perfect companion animal. They’re also popular as guide horses and perform delightfully in show events.
Are miniature horses the same as ponies?
Miniature horses are genetically different from ponies. In build and shape, they more closely resemble their larger horse breed counterparts and typically lack the compact body and short legs associated with the pony.
Is the Walkaloosa Horse a type of Appaloosa?
A Walkaloosa is a type of gaited horse characterised by an ambling gait and Appaloosa colouring. Walkaloosas aren’t recognized by the Appaloosa Horse Club. The Walkaloosa Horse Association was founded in 1983 to champion and preserve these spotted horses.
Are Icelandic Horses spotted horses?
Icelandic horses have a variety of coat patterns. Some Icelandics are spotted with attractive coats and are much sought-after.