No one alive today has seen an Appaloosa horse as the Nez Perce Indians of the early 1800's conceived them, but on February 15, 1806, Meriweather Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition noted in his journal, "Their horses appear to be of an excellent race, they are lofty, elegantly formed, active and durable; in short many of them look like fine English coursers and would make a figure in any country."
The Appaloosa of today has gone through many changes since then. They are generally sturdy, colorful horses with great endurance and intelligence, but next to one of their 19th century ancestors, they would appear to be a different breed altogether. The horses were taken away from the Tribe in 1877 when the last of the Nez Perce surrendered to the U.S. Cavalry. The surviving horses were spread across the West and cross-bred with various breeds over the years. The elegant courser and war horse of the Nez Perce disappeared into the past.
Fast forward to 1995, the Nez Perce Tribe has just created a registry for a new breed of horse called the Nez Perce Horse. Tribal members concerned with the youth of the Tribe and the lack of work and direction began a new breeding program to bring back the historical horse of the Nez Perce and to re-establish themselves as breeders of fine horses. The Young Horseman Project was started and after much thought and discussion, the Tribe acquired 4 Akhal Teke stallions and 33 Appaloosa mares to begin the breeding program.
The Akhal Teke, an ancient breed from an area of central Asia, north of Iran, is elegant and slender with smooth, elastic gaits. Their temperament is gentle and sweet-natured and they are known to form a close bond with their human companions. Their endurance is legendary and in their home desert environment can subsist on small amounts of food and water. Their look has been described as serpentine and greyhound-like and they are long-bodied with pronounced musculature. One of the more unusual things about these horses is the sheen that their coat develops. It can look like molten or highly polished metal. It is said that when an Akhal Teke was presented to Queen Elizabeth of England by the Russians, the royal stable hands spent quite a bit of time trying to remove the "polish" they thought the Russians had applied to the horse. Some Akhal Tekes also have a hooded appearance to their eyes, which gives them a distinctly oriental and exotic look.
The offspring of these Akhal Teke - Appaloosa horses are being registered as Nez Perce Horses and are already displaying the best of both breeds. Most are showing the elegance of the Akhal Teke along with the sheen on the coat and in some cases the hooded eye. Many have the blanket or spots of the Appaloosa and the white sclera, striped hooves and mottled skin that is so unique to these horses. The horses of this new breed display a gentle, sensitive nature and are intelligent and eager to please. They are generally curious and enjoy the company of people. Both breeds, the Akhal Teke and the Appaloosa are highly intelligent and both are known for their endurance so the Nez Perce Horse is suited for many equestrian disciplines including endurance riding, competitive trail riding, dressage, jumping, ride n tie, western pleasure, cutting, reining and even driving.
The Nez Perce Tribe has begun a legacy that will again push them to the forefront of premier horse breeders.