Breeds of Horses That Come with Spots

Spotted horses have always been popular because of their comparative rarity and their 'look at me' quality. Some breeds have 'spotted' as one of their regular colours along with the more commonplace bay, black, chestnut, etc. Breeds which commonly have equines with spotted coats are the Appaloosa, Pony of the Americas, Falabella, Pinzgauer and Knabstrup.

Appaloosa(56040)Credit: Wikimedia

The Appaloosa (above) is an all-American breed. The Spanish Conquistadors took the first spotted horses to America in the 16th century. Later the Nez Perce Indians maintained a high degree of control over the breeding of the Appaloosa producing highly functional, tough horses that were versatile and colourful whilst having sound dispositions.

The Appaloosa has a huge following worldwide with over twenty countries having affiliate organisations. There are five main coat patterns:

  • Leopard has mainly white body with dark spots
  • Marble has mottling all over the body
  • Frost has white flecks on a dark background
  • Snowcap has widespread spots with the greatest concentration on the rump
  • Blanket has spots on the rump and hips.

To be considered an Appaloosa, four distinct characteristics need to be present. These are the coat pattern, mottled skin round the muzzle and genitals, a white sclera (area round the iris) and vertical dark and light striping on the hooves. The Appaloosa generally is compact and solid with short backs and straight legs. The mane and tail may be fine but sparse. Inherited problems can plague the Appaloosa including night blindness and hyperkaelimic periodic paralysis (HYPP). Some have high potassium levels which cause problems and the pink skin is susceptible to skin cancer.

Spotted PonyCredit: Wikimedia - Author mistvan

The Pony of the Americas (POA) (above) could be said to be an Appaloosa for young riders. The breed was developed in America and was originally a mix of Arabian, Appaloosa and Shetland. Later there were Welsh, Mustang and Quarter Horse infusions to develop a pony with fewer Shetland characteristics. Like its bigger brother, it has mottled skin, a white sclera, striped hooves and a colourful coat. The POA should have substance, balance and of course an excellent disposition. They vary from 11.2hh to 14hh so there is one of suitable size for most young people. The POA has a sloping shoulder and moderately long, sloping pasterns giving a smooth and easy ride at all gaits. They have a long stride at the walk, a ground-covering trot and a comfortable canter. There is no excessive knee or hock action. The hooves are rounded and open at the heels.

Falabella Horse(56129)Credit: Wikimedia

The Falabella (above) is another equine that is often spotted although other colours are seen too. A good Falabella should not exceed 76cm in height and is more like a miniature thoroughbred than a miniature pony. The Falabella first came under attention when Patrick Newtall, an Irishman, discovered some unusually tiny horses running with some Indian horses. By 1853, he had built up a herd of these tiny horses. Later, small English thoroughbreds, Criollos, Arabian and Shetland ponies were all introduced as the breed was developed.

Over the centuries, mostly because of inbreeding to keep the small size, the Falabella as a breed has lost vigour and does not always have a strong constitution. Inherited and congenital weaknesses mean that these ponies often need careful management. Its disposition is usually quiet, obedient and friendly.

The head should have 'horse' character rather than be of pony type. The ears are very small and set a good distance apart. It has a straight profile and small but open nostrils. The eyes are friendly and calm. The back is short and straight leading to a croup which slopes slightly. The mane and tail are full and flowing and the withers are quite prominent. The Falabella is generally regarded as suitable only as a pet although they can pull small vehicles. Falabella breeders have established a number of innovative led-in classes, including jumping, to show off their ponies. Most are not really strong enough to be ridden.

Two other equine breeds which have spotted animals are the Danish Knabstrupper and the Austrian Pinzgauer. The Knabstrup (Knabstrupper) has the same genes for colour as the Appaloosa. It is endemic to Denmark and has one of the oldest breed registries in Europe. The Knabstrup is also known as the 'tiger horse'. It has been very popular as a circus horse because of its eye-catching spots and patterns. It has an excellent disposition and great stamina. It is active and lively.

Knabstrup Horse(56039)Credit: Wikimedia

The Knabstrup (above) exhibits the same range of coat patterns as the Appaloosa with leopard being the most popular. The 'few spot' is almost completely white but its progeny will always be spotted. The Knabstrup has bloodlines of Fredericksborg and Iberian blood. As early as 1671, the 'few spot' type was popular as a carriage horse and as a mount for the monarch.

In 1812, a spotted Iberian mare gained an outstanding reputation for her beauty, stamina and speed. Flaebehoppen (Flaeb's mare) was deep chestnut with a spotted blanket and a white mane and tail. She also had excellent conformation. Her foals were always spotted even when the sire was a solid colour.

In 1813, Flaebehoppen gave birth to a colt which was patterned with multi-coloured spots. He also had a metallic sheen to his coat. Flaebehingsten as he was called became the founding sire of the Knabstrup breed. Flaebehoppen was mated back to Flaebehingsten. The resulting colt Mikkel was exceptionally hardy. He would be driven 40 kms to the racetrack then raced before being driven home again. The only time he was beaten was when he was 16 years old and injured during a race. The Knabstrup later went through some tough times but the breed has now re-established itself and today there are four types recognised by the Danish Knabstrup Association (KNN).

Pinzgauer HorseCredit: Wikimedia

The Pinzgauer is said by some sources to be the 'Austrian Noriker'. The Noriker is a German breed with the spotted representatives of the breed being known as Pinzgauer. About 2,000 years ago, heavy warhorses were being mated with local stock by the Romans. The result was a hardy, sure-footed, strong horse which was suited for agriculture, heavy transportation and war purposes. In the 16th century, there were infusions of Neapolitan and Andalusian blood.

The Pinzgauer stands between 15.2hh and 16.3hh and is heavy with a large head and thick, sturdy legs suiting it to heavy work in forestry and agriculture. The mane and tail are luxurious and often wavy. The Noriker now has one of the largest heavy horse populations in Europe. There are five sire lines. Leopard-spotted stallions come from the Elmar line, founded in 1896 by the stallion 80 Arnulf 55.

A notable exception to all these breeds was The Tetrarch, a spotted thoroughbred foaled in 1911. The Tetrarch was voted Britain's two-year-old of his century. Despite siring only 130 foals, he was the leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland and features in the pedigrees of such greats as Nasrullah, Tudor Minstrel, Seattle Slew and Secretariat. The Tetrarch was a mottled grey, known affectionately as 'the spotted wonder' and 'the rocking horse'.