The 10 Most Unique Spotted Horse Breeds


There’s nothing quite as unique as a spotted horse. While you might assume that the cause of these spots is through genetic modification that has created a fairly new coat pattern, but this can’t be further from the truth. 

We all know that horses have been used in civilization for thousands of years. Spotted horse breeds were considered a prized possession up to tens of thousands of years ago, which is evident through the imagery of cave paintings that resemble spotted horses. It only makes sense that these polka dot horses are still a head-turner nowadays! 

Surprisingly, there’s quite a number of spotted horse breeds in the world, each with their own unique coat pattern and history. Here are the 10 most unique spotted horse breeds! 

Types Of Spotted Coat Patterns

Before we jump into the 10 most unique spotted horse breeds, let’s take a look at the types of spotted coat patterns. Each coat is totally unique and original to the horse, and in most cases, you can actually feel the spots. The hair of the spots is usually a different length to the rest of the coat!

  • Spotted Blanket – Where the coat is predominantly a solid color except for a white area that covers the back over to the rump and slightly down the hind legs. This white area will exhibit random spots. 
  • Frosted Blanket – The coat is a solid color with a coating of faint, small white spots that give the effect of “frost”. 
  • White Blanket – This is almost the same as the spotted blanket but there are fewer spots. 
  • Leopard – The most well-known spotted coat pattern. The coat is white with dark spots dotted all over their body, resembling something like a leopard. 
  • Fewspot Leopard – Where the coat is white and, as the name suggests, has few spots that fade over time. 
  • Near Leopard – Where the body is white with dark spots but the head and legs are a different color, which fades over time. 
  • Near Fewspot – The same as the fewspot leopard, except the neck, legs, and head which are a darker color. 
  • Marble – The coat is either red or blue roan and possesses small darker spots all over the body. 
  • Snowflake – Where the coat is dark all over with white spots that look like snowflakes. 

The spotted coat is controlled by a gene known as the leopard complex gene, which is why every horse with the same coat looks slightly different to one another. This is also why the spots might not show in every horse that carries the gene, which leads us to the next section – solid-colored horses who are registered as spotted breeds. 

  • White Cclera – In most horses, the coat around the eye is dark. For horses with a white sclera coat, this area is white, making it look slightly like a human eye. 
  • Mottled Skin – The coat is solid except for random areas around the genitals, muzzle, and eyes where pink and black mottled skin is exhibited. 
  • Striped Hooves – It’s common for spotted horse breeds to have striped hooves, where the hooves possess vertical lines running through them.

Spotted Horse Breeds

1. Appaloosa

  • Coat Color: Any base coat color dotted with various spots in random patterns
  • Country: United States 
  • Height: 14-16 Hands 

Possibly the most famous spotted horse breed, the Appaloosa is also one of America’s most popular domestic breeds of horses for their kind nature and impressive stamina.

In the 1930s, the Appaloosa numbers had decreased to so few that it took the commitment of one man, Claude Thompson, to bring back the popularity of the breed with his own herd. 

The reason the numbers had decreased was due to the Nez Perce War, where the Nez Perce relied heavily on their Appaloosa horses. Once the war was over, thousands of their horses were killed in an attempt to destroy the Nez Perce culture. 

Nowadays, Appaloosas are mostly used for riding purposes – both Western and English. These include show jumping, barrel racing, fox hunting, reining, and eventing. It’s also very common to see Appaloosas in Western movies due to their “wild” appearance and connection to Native American tribes. 

The Appaloosa is such a popular breed due to its kind and forgiving nature matched with its intelligence and endurance. These horses are agile and hardy, which is why they can easily adapt to any environment. 

Appaloosa Fun Fact

  • The Appaloosa was declared the official state horse of Idaho in 1975. 

2. Pony Of The Americas

  • Coat Color: Any base color with spots
  • Country: United States
  • Height: 11.2-14.2 Hands

Often called the POA, the Pony of the Americas is an interesting breed that was created by pure accident. The POA was created in the 1950s by a Shetland Pony breeder called Les Boomhower who was given an Appaloosa mare.

This mare was in foal after having been accidentally bred with a Shetland Pony, resulting in a colt called Black Hand. Black Hand was a slightly smaller horse (but taller pony) with the distinctive Appaloosa spots, which led to the development of the breed due to its ideal height for children and beginner riders.  

The height of the POA eventually began to increase when the Shetland Pony was dropped from the breeding program, and then replaced with Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, Mountain Ponies, and Arabians. This allowed teenagers and young adults to ride the horses. 

The Pony of the Americas has since become a popular breed for Western riding and herding purposes.

The breed is intelligent and fast, which is why it is used for endurance riding, showjumping, dressage, and three-day eventing. Their adaptability to various uses is mirrored in their calm-natured and easy-going personality. The breed is incredibly popular amongst beginners and children due to their smooth gait. 

Pony Of The Americas Fun Fact

  • As of today, the height standard of the POA is a minimum of 46” and no taller than 56”. These standards used to be far shorter when the aim of breeding was for children to ride the horses. 

3. Noriker 

  • Color: While in the past almost every Noriker had a spotted coat, nowadays, only 10% of the breed does. Most coats are white with black spots, or chestnut, bay, or black. 
  • Country: Austria
  • Height: 15.2-17 Hands

Also known as the Noriker-Pinzgauer, the Noriker is an Austrian draft horse breed known for its strength and size. The Noriker was given its name after the Roman province of Noricum, which is now Austria as we know it today.

The size and power of the horse was (and still often is) used to transport a variety of goods through the Alps, including salt, Celtic iron, and gold all the way to Italy. They would return to Salzburg with wine and spices. 

As you can imagine, because the breed was originally bred in and around the Alps, these horses are well adapted to tall climates and high altitudes. They can even live quite happily at altitudes of up to 6,000 feet!

All Noriker horses carry the leopard complex gene, but interestingly, it is estimated that only 10% of Noriker horses nowadays possess visible spots.

The reason for this is unclear, but with the way genes work, it can be assumed that these spots will disappear from the breed within a matter of decades. This means that if you ever come across a spotted Noriker, you’re very lucky! 

Noriker horses are primarily used for draft purposes due to their size and strength. The breed has a peaceful and adaptable personality, and they seem to be more than happy pulling goods and people in carts. They are also used for relaxed English riding purposes. 

Noriker Fun Fact

  • Kufenstechen is a traditional Austrian festival in the Feistritz an der Gail region, where Norikers play an important role. Unmarried men ride the backs of the Norikers and attempt to hit a wooden barrel with an iron hammer or similar weapon. 

4. Knabstrupper 

  • Color: Any base color with any spotted pattern
  • Country: Denmark
  • Height: 14.2-16 Hands 

Pronounced kah-nob-strooper, the Knabstrupper was first developed in Denmark in 1812. The origins of the breed are said to go back as far as the Viking era, but the breed was first established in the 1800s when a Spanish mare and a Fredericksburg stallion.

Research has suggested that the spotted coat of the Knabstrupper originated from the Chinese in the 1100s, who frequently traveled through Denmark to trade in France and Spain. The Chinese were known for their spotted horse breeds. 

Unfortunately, as breeding has been a bit of a gray area in the past, the Knabstrupper breed is considered rare. The breed is beginning to be bred with Appaloosas, however, which is working to secure the breed’s figures in the future. 

Traditionally, the Knabstrupper was used for carriage purposes, which is why the horse is often found at Danish festivals where the riders wear traditional Danish dresses. If you ever go to Denmark, odds are you will see a Knabstrupper pulling a carriage of tourists.

Due to the popularity of the range of coat colors and the rarity of the breed, the Knabstrupper is now bred in Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, the United States, and more. 

The Knabstrupper is a gentle horse with a rhythmic and graceful gait, with a similarly obedient and energetic temperament that makes them the ideal companion for English riding purposes. 

Knabstrupper Fun Fact

  • Not quite a fun fact, but due to inbreeding and a catastrophic fire in 1891 that killed 22 purebred Knabstruppers, the numbers of the breed have been declining. It is unclear whether any purebred Knabstruppers exist to this day. 

5. Walkaloosa

  • Color: Most common color is bay with any spotted pattern
  • Country: United States
  • Height: 13-16 Hands

The Walkaloosa is often mistaken for the Appaloosa due to their similar characteristics and coat patterns. However, the Walkaloosa is its own breed – registered and everything! Due to this common misconception, little is known about the Walkaloosa breed. 

The ancestors of the Walkaloosa are Appaloosas, Paso Finos, and Peruvian horses – giving the breed its distinctive slender build and spotted coat. While the breed was only recently registered, they have been around for centuries.

It wasn’t until 1983 when the Walkaloosa breed was registered with the purpose of preserving the gaited “Appaloosa” breed. Walkaloosa, after all, are known for their smooth gait with an intermediate ambling gait and trot. 

The Walkaloosa makes an excellent horse for beginner riders due to their obedient and easy-going nature, which makes them remarkably easy to train and ride. They will do virtually anything they are told to do due to their good-natured outlook. Nowadays, the breed is used for trail rides, dressage, lessons, and cattle horses. 

Walkaloosa Fun Fact

  • Claude Thompson co-founded the Walkaloosa Horse Association, who was the same man who strived to preserve the Appaloosa breed. 

6. Colorado Ranger

  • Color: Any color with spotted pattern
  • Country: United States
  • Height: 14.2-16 Hands 
Source: Pet Guide

The Colorado Ranger was registered and founded by the 18th President of the United States, General Ulysses Grant, with its name taken from the Colorado High Plains where the breed was first registered.

General Ulysses Grant was given two stallions from Turkey (the Ottoman Empire) in 1878 who were then bred to ranch horses. The stallions, Patches #1 and Max #2, were sired – so now all Colorado Rangers trace back to either stallion. 

Nowadays, the Colorado Ranger can only be dual registered with the Appaloosa (it is estimated that 90% of Colorado Rangers are dual registered). However, they cannot be bred with pinto coloring, draft horses, ponies, or American Paint Horse breeding. 

As the Colorado Ranger was specifically bred to live on ranches (hence the name), the breed is still considered one of the most popular range horses to this day.

These horses have a good-natured temperament and are obedient, which is why they are also used for Western and English riding styles, including pleasure and trail riding. They are also as athletic as stock horses. 

Colorado Ranger Fun Fact

  • While a Colorado Ranger can be dual registered with an Appaloosa, an Appaloosa can only be registered with a Colorado Ranger depending on the bloodlines. 

7. Mustang

  • Color: Any color variation
  • Country: North America
  • Height: 12-14 Hands 

The Mustang is one of America’s most well-known wild horses. While not all Mustangs possess spotted patterns on their coats, due to their elusive history and the intermingling amongst other feral horse breeds, it’s common to see a spotted Mustang.

Mustangs are wild horses, but many horses are taken from their wild habitats to be tamed into domesticity to breed certain colors. 

While the Mustang is known as a wild horse, it is actually a feral horse. This is because the breed descended from the horses brought over to America by the Spanish, which were originally domesticated horses. This is why they can be tamed for domestic and breeding purposes. Indigenous people also breed Mustangs into their culture. 

Due to their feral status, Mustangs are notoriously free-spirited horses. Some Mustang breeds are fairly gentle and good-natured, while others are headstrong and stubborn. This is due to their instincts after surviving in the wild for so long, which is also why some Mustang breeds are shy and skittish. 

So, technically, the Mustang isn’t a spotted horse breed. However, as these feral horses live alongside other wild breeds (including those who carry the leopard complex gene), various colors and patterns have occurred in the Mustang breed for centuries. 

Mustang Fun Fact

Mustangs are one of the fastest breeds of horse in America (probably due to their feral lives and natural instincts). While on average they can gallop up to speeds of 25-30 mph, some have been recorded to reach 55 mph. 

8. British Spotted Pony

  • Color: Any spotted pattern but mostly leopard
  • Country: England
  • Height: 8-14 Hands

The adorable British Spotted Pony has existed in England for thousands of years – so long in fact that it is believed that these ponies derived from the spotted horse drawings found in a cave in France. 

This breed is fairly uncommon, and due to their rarity and unique coat, they are considered something like a prized possession. It makes sense, considering British Spotted Ponies were traditionally sent as gifts amongst the royal family to provide a pony for children. The children would either ride the pony or have it used as a carriage horse.

The popularity of the breed spread across Europe and other continents in the 1960s and 1970s, which has led to a significant decrease of the breed in their native land. Nowadays, however, the British Spotted Pony Society is working to protect the future of these cute ponies in Britain. 

The British Spotted Pony has been bred with other spotted horse breeds, such as the Appaloosa and the Knabstrupper, which has led to some confusion about the height requirements for the breed. While some British Spotted Ponies have exceeded 14 Hands tall, the pony must be shorter than 10.3 Hands to be registered as a miniature pony. 

Due to their height and personality, the British Spotted Pony is a popular breed for children and beginner riders. These ponies are energetic and remarkably lively despite their size, and they carry a well-mannered temperament which makes them ideal companions for children. 

British Spotted Pony Fun Fact

The British Spotted POny was originally a feral horse found in the British Isles, where their spotted coats provided a unique camouflage in the woodland areas and heaths. 

9. Nez Perce Horse

  • Color: Usually palomino, buckskin, dun, or dark bay with any spotted pattern
  • Country: United States
  • Height: 15-16 Hands 

A common misconception about the Nez Perce Horse is that it was the original name of the Appaloosa horse, but don’t be mistaken – the Nez Perce Horse is a breed in its own right.

The Nez Perce Horse was originally owned by the Nez Perce tribe, but after the war in 1877, the breed was almost entirely wiped out by the American Army. The tribe was then not allowed to own or breed any more horses. 

However, a breeding program was developed and financed in 1994 by the United States Department of Health and Human Services alongside the Nez Perce tribe and the First Nations Development Institute to preserve the special breed.

The breeding was accomplished by breeding Appaloosas from the Wallowa herd with Akhal-Tekés. These Appaloosas were from the region where the tribe originally bred the Nez Perce Horse breed. The breed was then officially given their name to honor the tribe. 

It’s common to mistake the Nez Perce Horse for the Appaloosa, but there are some different characteristics. For example, the Appaloosa is far stockier than the lean Nez Perce Horse, which is due to the Appaloosa’s Quarter Horse bloodlines. Virtually all Nez Perce Horses are also gaited. 

The Nez Perce Horse is a remarkable breed for its adaptability, talents, intelligence, obedience, and loyalty. Due to their range of abilities, these horses are mostly used for endurance riding, jumping, hunting, pleasure riding, dressage, and work activities. Their temperament is gentle, making them suitable for riders of all abilities including children. 

Nez Perce Horse Fun Fact

Before the war that wiped the breed out, the Nez Perce horse was prized amongst tribes and explorers as racehorses and buffalo hunters. 

10. Tiger Horse

  • Color: Any base color with any spotted pattern
  • Country: United States
  • Height: 13-16 Hands 
Source: Fish Subsidy

Despite their name, the Tiger Horse breed is a spotted, not striped, horse! The name actually derives from the direct translation of “el caballo tigre”, which means the Tiger Horse in Spanish, as there is currently no word in Spanish for leopard to match the horse’s leopard spotted coat. 

Interestingly, the Tiger Horse is a descendant of the ancient Soulon Horse, which was a leopard-spotted horse bred in China back in the Tang Dynasty.

They eventually made their way through Asia and Europe before entering the United States in the 16th century, where breeders were fully established to celebrate the unique coating. Even tribes such as the Nez Perce tribe, who were known for their love for spotted horses, fell in love with the special breed. 

There are currently two types of Tiger Horses: the “Heavenly Type” and the “Royalty Type”. The “Heavenly Type” is generally taller and not fully gaited (apart from the occasional “Indian Shuffle”), while the “Royalty Type” have a strong ambling gait and are slightly leaner.

There are also several coat variations of the Tiger Horse, including roan, leopard, and ghost. 

Due to their athletic build and intelligent mindset, the Tiger Horse is a popular breed for showjumping, dressage, eventing, and general riding. They have a sensible and gentle temperament and aren’t likely to be stubborn. 

As with most spotted horses during the Nez Perce war, the United States saw a decline in wild Tiger Horse numbers due to mass murder of the animals. However, due to careful breeding and associations designed to protect the horse breed, the Tiger Horse numbers have since risen. 

Tiger Horse Fun Fact

The Tiger Horse is named after the Spanish word “tigre”, which is used to indicate animals with patterned coats like a tiger or leopard (hence the name!). 

Conclusion

So, there you have it – the 10 most unique spotted horse breeds! As you can tell, there are far more spotted horse breeds than just the Appaloosa. Their coats are truly spectacular – no wonder these horses have been sought after for centuries. 

The best thing about spotted horse breeds is that as they all carry the leopard complex gene, no two horses look the same. Each spot placement is different and each pattern is unique, so it makes sense why people will pay thousands to own one of these magnificent animals. 

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