As barrel racing continues to grow and the Quarter Horse continues to dominate the sport’s biggest events, the common perception is that the breed is the ultimate barrel horse.
While the breed clearly is at the top of the rankings year after year, another breed – the Appaloosa – is commonly overlooked in its ability to be competitive.
The Appaloosa, originally used by the Nez Perce Indians in the northwestern U.S., is often mischaracterized as a wild, stubborn or crazy breed by many in the barrel racing industry. In what a spokesperson for the Appaloosa horse club calls “egregious misnomers,” the Appaloosa has been painted as a difficult-to-train breed.
Appaloosa History – a Story of Native American Abuse
Historically, the Appaloosa is a victim of the U.S. Army’s brutal tactics during the Native American
Wars of the 19th Century. What were once the fastest horses in the West were forcibly bred to draft horses in order to force the Nez Perce into agrarian lifestyles. The Appaloosa stallions were all shot, nearly wiping out the breed all together.
As the breed reemerged in the early 20th Century, Appaloosas were bred with Quarter Horses and thoroughbreds, developing into the breed we know today.
In the early days of the ApHC, Quarter Horses that displayed Appaloosa characteristics were also allowed to register, and in the 1970s solid Appaloosas, nearly identical to Quarter Horses, were permitted to register and show as well.
The Modern Appaloosa
Today, man solid Appaloosas fly under the radar at large barrel races nationwide. Ed Henle, a barrel racer from Hookstown, Pa., competed throughout much of his youth career on a sorrel ApHC mare.
“She was smart and extremely athletic,” Henle said of his old horse, HR Second Wind, who owns an ApHC world record in the Figure 8 Stake Race. “Even when her knee was the size of a softball, she still ran hard. She had a ton of heart.”
As the only horse in the history of Pennsylvania’s 4H to win all three contest events in the same year, “Windy” also holds multiple youth and open world and national titles in the ApHC.
Henle is now running SF Who Shot Doc, a Quarter Horse, and consistently finishing in the 1D of major IBRA events. He’s also training a five year old Appaloosa, who he considers very easy to train and very smart.
“I’m not sure if the Appaloosa’s have the extra gear that quarter horses have,” Henle said, “but they (Appaloosas and quarter horses) are both very competitive.”
Henle agreed that Appaloosas have gotten a bad reputation and that people are misguided in thinking that Appaloosas are stubborn.
“Each horse can be as stubborn as any other,” Henle said. “Appaloosas are no different.”
Merida McClanahan, head of marketing for the ApHC, attributed the bad reputation Appaloosas partly towards the assumption that any bad horse with spots is an Appaloosa. She said many of these horses are grade horses or even ponies but are perceived to be Appaloosas.
Too Hot and Too Crazy?
Aside from being seen as stubborn, Appaloosa’s also have the reputation of being
wild and crazy. Henle said much of this reputation could come from the fact that in actual ApHC events, horses run head-to-head against one another in a bracket-style barrel race, where
they could run over and over again until all other competitors are eliminated.
Horses must wait
at a starting line and wait for a green light, similar to that of a drag racer. This hypes up many horses and makes Appaloosas that would otherwise be calm more nervous.
When these horses are taken to open barrel races, they are sometimes perceived as more wild.
The Answer – ?
In the end, Appaloosas and quarter horses must be judged by each individual horse’s performance and not by the breed alone, McClanahan said. The Appaloosa, with its Quarter Horse and thoroughbred breeding, is capable of competing with these horses.
“Its about the match between horse and rider,” McClanahan said. “The training of any of the stock breeds makes the difference.”
I have both an AQHA mare and a ApHC mare and have experienced success with both breeds.
Photos courtesy of WikiCommons.
Photo of “Modern Appaloosa” is Tuff Trader – ApHC 10 yr old gelding.